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'Black Girls Code' Workshops Hope to Change the Future Face of Tech

By Rosa Goldensohn | December 15, 2013 11:06am
 Chelsea Market was filled with the sounds of tapping on December 14, 2013 as dozens of preteen girls joined in a group hack.
Black Girls Code
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CHELSEA — Lake Sheffield, 12, of Brooklyn, tapped furiously at a game on her phone, whacking a virtual mole that popped up from a green background.

Lake, along with fifty girls aged 7 to 17, was not just playing with an app. It was a game she built, and she was checking to see that it was working.

On the second floor of Chelsea Market, across from Google headquarters, the organization Black Girls Code ran a workshop aimed at teaching computer programming skills to girls of color.

On Saturday, the fifty or so girls, some experienced coders, many coding for the first time, were learning to make mobile apps.

“We get to see what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Dejah Lucas, 13, from the Bronx.

“It totally explains why my apps crash all the time,” added Olivia Kelly, 12.

According to the National Science Foundation, minority women make up fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers. Black Girls Code aims to equip girls with concrete skills and to give them a social experience.

Kenan Banks, 33, an engineer at Google and a volunteer, said that he hoped programs like this could diversify the field. “You’re culturally isolated across the tech industry,” said Banks. “Black faces are few and far between.”

The workshop had a waitlist of 70, which organizers said indicates high demand for such programs.

"It’s not going to happen at the schools my kid goes to," said Roxanne Neilson, a carpenter and welder from New Rochelle who brought her daughter Martha, 12.

"If you go to private schools, they are taking this kind of class every day. Our kids are getting one weekend."

Lake Sheffield, for one, said she would keep on coding, class or no class. She loves to do it.

"I don’t know," said Sheffield. “It’s just in my blood."