#196 – Girls Who Code, with Chrissy Ziccarelli

Unpacking Education June 28, 2023 28 min

Girls Who Code recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as an organization, having served over 500,000 girls and women during that time. Chrissy Ziccarelli, the Senior Director of School and Community Programs at Girls Who Code, joins us for today’s episode to share more about this impactful work supporting girls and women in the fields of computer science and coding.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Girls Who Code is building a pipeline of women in tech. . . . One of the best ways to spark girls’ interest is to share stories of girls who look like them.

Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit organization Girls Who Code

Changing an Image

Chrissy shares some history about the role of women in computer programming and engineering. She explains that when computers were first introduced, about 40% of computer scientists were women. However, when the personal computer was rolled out, it was marketed to men. This promotional campaign changed the public perception of who belonged in the field of computer science, making it seem like computers and computer-related careers were meant for men. This shift resulted in fewer women entering the profession.

Girls Who Code is trying to remedy this perception problem and help girls and women see themselves as belonging in this space once again. Chrissy says, “We feel it’s not just important to educate women on how to code, but you have to really change their perception, so they feel like it’s somewhere they belong.”

Tune in to this episode to learn more about Girls Who Code, the opportunities it provides, and how you can learn more. Here are some highlights from this episode:

  • About Our Guest: Chrissy Ziccarelli is the Senior Director of School and Community Programs at Girls Who Code. She has been with the company for 7½ of their 10-year history. Her primary focus is on the after-school clubs program, the largest program for Girls Who Code, serving over 6,000 girls in all 50 states.
  • Reshma Saujani: Reshma is the founder of Girls Who Code. A lawyer and politician by trade, she began noticing that girls were underrepresented in tech classes and career fields. Chrissy recalls, “She couldn’t stop thinking about this dearth of women that she saw working in technology or even in the pipeline to get into those jobs in technology.” While she was not a computer scientist herself, she developed Girls Who Code to remedy this discrepancy.
  • First Model: Chrissy explains the first way that Girls Who Code approached the underrepresentation of women in tech. She says, “They came up with a model that is now one of our summer offerings that was an immersive experience where a classroom of 20 girls worked within a tech company to both learn the basics of computer science and also understand what it really meant to work as a computer scientist within a for-profit company or within a start-up.” She says the strongest benefit of this experience was the bond and network that was developed among the 20 girls working with each other.
  • You Are Capable, You Belong: While Girls Who Code provides coding education and experience, their biggest focus is helping women see that they belong in the field. Chrissy says, “It’s more about believing in themselves and feeling like they’re belonging, rather than saying, ‘You don’t know this, let us teach it to you.’ We start from the space that is, ‘You do know this, and you are capable of it, and here are ways that you can find that connection or see yourself versus your interest in whatever industry you want to be in using technology.’”
  • From Grade 3 to Age 24: Girls Who Code offers a variety of program opportunities for a wide range of age groups. Clubs are offered at all levels and are especially popular in middle school. The summer immersion program consists of 75 classrooms each year, where participants design websites, learn about AI and machine learning, explore cybersecurity, and meet industry experts and corporate partners. For older students, college loops and workforce programs are offered to help students transition into the professional world and get jobs in the industry. Chrissy says that they are “trying to support everyone at the right stage throughout the pipeline.”
  • Goals: Girls Who Code uses metrics to monitor their success, and one of their goals is to close the gender gap in entry level tech jobs by 2030. With a smile, she also says, “We always joke that we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job.”
  • 10th-Anniversary Celebration: To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Girls Who Code put on a 3-day CodeFair. Chrissy says, “CodeFair was like nothing I’d ever seen before.” This “museum slash experiential tech exhibit” offered immersive tech-rich experiences. These activities allowed students to interact with art and technology in ways they may not have expected. Experiences ranged from photographing your aura and programming a hexacode to listening to plants grow and experiencing a metaverse disco.
  • What’s Next?: In addition to “world domination,” which founder Reshma Saujani jokes about, Girls Who Code would like to double their impact in the next 10 years and serve over 1 million girls and women.
  • To Learn More: The best way to learn more and to get involved is to visit their website at GirlsWhoCode.com. The Programs page offers an overview of programming opportunities to explore. You can search by ZIP code to find a club in your area, and if one is not available, you can start one for free.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What is Girls Who Code?
  • What is this organization’s mission?
  • What programs do they offer?
  • What part of their program are you most curious about?
  • How can you learn more about Girls Who Code?

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