Twitter Bets On Girls Who Code

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In 1967, 25-year-old Damyanti Gupta immigrated to Detroit with one goal—to be an Engineer at Ford Motor Company. Only there was one problem: there were no female engineers at the company. When a hiring executive flatly told her that “we don’t have any women on staff”, she mustered her confidence and replied “if you don’t hire me, then you won’t have that benefit.” A few weeks later, Damyanti was hired as Ford’s first-ever female engineer.

Gupta (pictured) and her story are just one of many that inspired Reshma Saujani to found Girls Who Code, a new, New York-based initiative designed to help teach girls how to code so that they can pursue careers in technology and engineering. And what’s especially awesome about Saujani’s organization is that it has the steadfast support of a number of companies, including Google, GE eBay and Twitter.

As Saujani tells me, the goal is simple: “To close the gap for women in the computer science and engineering fields.”

Twitter has taken a special interest in Girls Who Code, both financially and in an active volunteer capacity, which is a first for the social media company. Not only did Twitter make a financial donation (one of the first philanthropic donations for the company) to Girls Who Code, but several of the company’s engineers spent time with the most recent class of young women. Adam Messenger, Twitter’s VP of engineering, is on the organization’s board.

And last week, Twitter held a fundraiser with employees for the organization. The event was the first formal fundraiser Twitter has held at its offices—co-founders Ev Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey all donated to the cause.

Girls Who Code has developed an eight week curriculum for computer science education, pairing intensive instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development with mentorship from developers and entrepreneurs. The Summer-long class ends with a special project, where the girls actually develop an application. After the program ends, the organization encourages the graduates to still participate in hackathons, one-on-one meetings with volunteer engineers and more.

Twitter Software Engineer Sara Haider, who co-chairs Twitter’s female engineers group with Olivia Watkins, have been spearheaded the company’s efforts with Girls Who Code, spending time with the current class of young women, helping each develop Android apps built off of Twitter’s API.

Haider explains, “Girls Who Code aligns with our vision for how we want to tackle the issue of the supply of women in engineering…this looks at the other end of funnel which inspires young women to enter engineering.”

The top five projects from the summer demoed their applications to a group of engineers, including Haider. One of Haider’s favorite project was from a young woman who loved to read and wanted to create a way to share her literary experiences with others. She created a book club app that used Twitter to engage in conversations around books via hashtags.

“When the girls finally did demos, they were so eager and excited in classroom to show off their works…these girls inspired me,” she recalls.

Saujani says that this summer’s program resulted in a number of girls who are now planning to head to college to pursue a CS degree, but weren’t at the start of the class. And she plans to launch Girls Who Code in five different markets in the next year.

Damyanti Gupta happens to be my mother-in-law. I’m not only in awe of her story, but all the stories of hardship along the way in her nearly 35 years with Ford. It turns out that being hired was only the beginning of an uphill battle in a sea full of male engineers. It’s that battle that often turn women to professions outside of Engineering. I’m hopeful and inspired that organizations like Girls Who Code will make gender a non-factor for every girl who chooses what she wants to do with her life. Damyanti would be proud.