A Movement Encouraging Girls to Code and Make Games

This post is a hearty plug for a lot of cool stuff happening in order to address the gender gap in Computing Science.

So this evening I was rereading an article by Mike Carbonaro, Duane Szafron, Maria Cutumisu, and Jonathan Schaeffer entitled “Computer-game construction: A gender-neutral attractor to Computing Science” and thinking about why designing computer games is such an amazing tool for introducing women and girls to Computing Science.

As we know the participation of women in Computing Science is at an all time low.

According to the 2006 Taulbee survey (www.cra.org), the percentage of Computing Science bachelor’s degrees granted to women in the U.S.

between 1994 and 2006 ranged between 14% and 18%, with 2005/06 having the lowest percentage at 14% (Carbonaro, Szafron, Cutumisu, Schaeffer)

Or this 2008-2009 statistic from Women in Science and Engineering Canada showing the male to female ratio in Computing Science is far lower than most disciplines.



So how do we get more girls in Computing Science? How do we get more girls making games? How to we fix this massive gap?

A really awesome woman who has tried her own remedy to this is Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College. This amazing podcast from All Things Considered sums up the story pretty well.

I encourage reading the full article, but here’s a snippet.

What Harvey Mudd recognized and explicitly addressed were ways to get women interested in computer science, so students like Finlay who’ve never been to computer camp have their own introductory classes. The kids with experience have theirs. Know-it-alls in any section are told to cool it so no one is intimidated. As for the content, Finlay says it’s designed around problems they can relate to.

“They had all these really fun assignments — sound editing Darth Vader’s voice; every single answer on the quizzes was 42, in a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Finlay says. “It was so much fun; it was so much fun.”

Finlay, who had planned to study art and psychology, found a new passion in computer science.

Along with changes to the introductory courses, Mudd works hard to keep women interested in the field. First-year students attend a giant conference for women in computing. There are research opportunities and coursework that involve solving real problems for major companies…

So wait. Whoa. Girls like fun things? Like… games? Who would’ve thought.

And on that note. Lets talk about initiatives that empower women through fun activities!

1) Rails Girls

Rails Girls is a global organization that runs weekend workshops to teach women and girls how to develop web-based applications in Ruby on Rails.

Their mandate:

Our aim is to give tools and a community for women to understand technology and to build their ideas. We do this by providing a great experience on building things and by making technology more approachable.

Learn sketching, prototyping, basic programming and get introduced to the world of technology. Rails Girls was born in Finland, but is nowadays a global, non-profit volunteer community.

Rails girls is an amazing community and their Vimeo videos showing the hack-a-thons make me tear up a little. They perfectly capture bringing together practical skills that can be used to develop vital tools to advance women in the work place, and initiating a fun friendly environment to facilitate learning.


fo586z0e7nawg9wv32792) Dames Making Games

Dames Making Games is a not-for-profit Toronto based organization, committed to being an:

educational feminist organization dedicated to supporting Dames interested in creating games. We aim to:

  • Demonstrate the value of diversity in a broad range of disciplines related to games
  • Highlight the achievements of diverse Toronto-based gamemakers
  • Provide a community and venue for dames to confidently explore playing, discussing, and creating games

The organization is a radical, inclusive and progressive place, and I would say one of the first of its kind. Also Maren, Andy and I met one of the founders when we were recently in Toronto and she was very cool.


3) Ladies Learning Code

Is another Toronto based not-for-profit dedicated to teaching women and girls the basics of Computing Science in a collaborative environment.

They also run workshops for girls ages 13-17. They also have a mailing list and a network for developers and graduates seeking jobs.

And this is probably shallow of me, but I think they have the best web-design. 🙂


4) Girls Who Code

Right now they are working their way across the United States. Code is a US based organization that “works to educate, inspire, and equip young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields.”

“Girls Who Code empowered young women from New York City’s five boroughs and will launch programs in New York, Detroit, San Francisco, and San Jose in 2013.”

I like this site and program because it puts an emphasis on racial diversity and that is important! Computing Science is a pretty white-dominated field and getting women of colour coding is super important.

So that is a brief list of some cool programs that have started introducing women and girls to Computing Science in a fun and engaging way. However the reach of these programs are still very small! For instance we do not have much in the way of independent not-for-profits in Edmonton (that are dedicated solely to women in games, or women in Computing Science).

We do have some great opportunities through WISEST at the University of Alberta. Including an Aboriginal outreach program called “Tales from the Science Buffalo” that fuses indigenous knowledge structures with a euro-centric outlook on science.

I really hope to see in the future more programs like these spring up especially here in Alberta! Also if you are currently running one, let me know and I can add it to the list!!

  • SarahBeck
  • Currently works as a software developer of EA. She has a BSc in Computing Science and enjoys JRPGS, anime, and Ruby on Rails. You can find her on Twitter at @sarah_bytes. Opinions are my own.