Opening Doors We Once Thought Were Closed
For this post, we asked Sophia Richter, Hellgate High School Student and member of ChickTech Missoula’s Leadership Team, to share her experiences as a high school girl in tech.
Although I was never directly told that girls are incapable of coding, I lived the majority of my 17-year-old life believing that women don’t code because technology is a male-dominated game. Society has embedded subtle cues into multiple aspects of our everyday lives that prevent many women from ever attempting to achieve their dreams in STEM careers. Some never even get the chance to have those dreams. This is extremely detrimental to our community as a whole, and especially to the female population.
From a young age, I have been determined to never let gender boundaries stand in my way, not even in my pursuit of coding. I began coding in seventh grade when I joined a team competing in the Technovation Challenge. The task seemed extremely daunting to me: compete against teams from around the globe to create an app that solves a problem in your community. It was not only scary to me because I had no coding experience whatsoever, but also because I did not know how to solve a problem in our community with only an app. How was that possible? It turns out that just by creating apps, innovating, and solving even one small problem has the potential to have a great impact on the community. We ended up coding an app that identified small businesses and tours around Missoula that would help visitors interested in the area. Although the app didn’t get very far in the competition, it opened a door for me. I began to understand that something as small as a few hours coding an app could impact a community in a number of ways. I discovered that this app had the potential to boost the economy, increase tourist populations, and help local businesses, all in a few lines of code.
The next year, I was so excited to compete in the Technovation challenge again, I did all of the recruiting to find a high school team. Although it was surprisingly difficult to convince high school girls to code, I eventually got together a three-person team and we began coding an app that we were all very proud of. The app was named MoodToast, and it was designed to aid those struggling with diagnosed or undiagnosed depression. It attempted to do this by administering a 15 question test, tracking test results over time, offering suggestions to alleviate depression symptoms, and it also included an easily accessible call button to the national suicide hotline. Not only was I proud of our coding accomplishments and solving the multiple logistical challenges that we faced in coding this app, but I was proud of the app’s potential to help so many people struggling with depression. MoodToast taught me that coding is not only typing numbers and letters in seemingly random orders, but that the reason coding is so important is because it can create something out of nothing. And that something can do so many things for so many people.
After two years of Technovation, I began to take online coding classes and teach myself basic level coding in various languages, with a concentration in Java. It was not too long after that I was asked to join the board of ChickTech to provide a voice for young women like myself. I agreed almost immediately. Since then I have helped ChickTech work towards the goal of improving female representation in the various areas of technology. Most recently, ChickTech has been working on a High School Kick-Off event, which will occur on April 14th, 2018. This is a great way for high school girls to learn about different areas of technology and coding, and for adults to volunteer in helping these high school girls receive these opportunities.
No matter what background you have, or how much you think you can possibly do, coding is a great skill to have. Coding gives you the ability to create something out of a blank page, it allows you to make a difference in the community, and it can be a platform for expression. Increasing female representation in STEM is incredibly important. In fact, multiple studies have found that women in STEM improve a country’s economy, and also have the potential to increase their country’s GDP. Women are important for social awareness and continue to encourage other young women to follow a path in STEM as well. It is so amazing what a difference women can make when we are given adequate opportunities, and that is why we need to encourage female learning and growth in technological sectors.
If you are interested in becoming involved as a student or adult, or have questions about our program, please feel free to contact either myself or another member of the Leadership Team. One great opportunity coming up is the High School Kick-Off event.