Dad Creates Software-Coding Cartoon Heroine to Draw Girls Into Tech

By Nicholas Rizzi on March 10, 2014 6:55am 

 Anthony Onesto, a techie and Staten Island father of three, started a campaign to produce a pilot for his cartoon, "Ella the Engineer," aimed at getting young girls interested in software engineering and coding.
Anthony Onesto, a techie and Staten Island father of three, started a campaign to produce a pilot for his cartoon, "Ella the Engineer," aimed at getting young girls interested in software engineering and coding.
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Anthony Onesto

HUGUENOT — Anything boys can code, girls can code better.

A father of two girls who was disappointed by the scarcity of women in New York City tech jobs has set out to inspire the next generation of female software engineers with an animated hacker heroine.

Anthony Onesto, the director of technology talent development for the online marketing and design company Razorfish, developed the idea for his children's cartoon, "Ella the Engineer," in a bid to kickstart young girls' awareness of careers in computers.

"I realized there's no heroine or hero for little girls that have a computer software engineer background," said Onesto, who lives in Staten Island with his 11-year-old and 6-year-old daughters, wife and 8-year-old son. "There's a gap here and I started asking around and doing an informal focus group with some female engineers. They all sort of said there's a huge gap and we'd absolutely support it."

In the cartoon, Ella will solve real-world coding problems like fixing a traffic signal, with the help of her talking smartphone and tablet sidekicks. Viewers will then be given a challenge to complete on- or off-line, Onesto said.

Onesto took to Indiegogo this week to raise $50,000 to help hire a team to bring a pilot to life so he can pitch it to television networks.

"I'm not a cartoonist, I'm not an animation professional, I have the concept and I know we need something," Onesto said.

Onesto said he first noticed there was a significant lack of female software engineers and coders in his field last year. He then started to ask around other startups and technology companies he's worked with in the city, who all reported the same issue.

He realized that while his children were eligible for computer software coding programs once they reached high school, there were little to no options targeted towards girls between ages 4 to 11.

"In the media-world atmosphere that kids have, none of them have software engineering backgrounds," he said. "If we could get them socialized at an early age, and go into the line of work, it could benefit society. There's a ton of benefits on why this would make sense for a company and for the community as a whole."

And while Onesto has received lots of positive support for the project, he's still waiting to get a burst of donations to his project. So far, he's raised only $300 but said he's working on gaining more exposure for the project.

If his Indiegogo campaign falls short, Onesto said he will donate the money he raises to programs already helping get girls into computers, like Black Girls Code or Girls Who Code.

"If it doesn't make sense from a budget perspective [to do the pilot], we're going to donate it," Onesto said. "It's a win-win either way."

Details on the Indiegogo campaign can be found here.

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