The Accidental Coder

Written by: Betty Gronneberg, Founder of uCodeGirl

downloadI was a teen girl in college majoring in Statistics in Ethiopia, determined to make formulas, numbers, and probabilities my friends when I saw my name listed, among others, on the bulletin board of the Mathematics Department. I had to ask our math professor, the department head, about it.  “Congratulations, you have been selected to study Computer Science,” he announced. “I am?” said I surprised, and mumbled something like, “I didn’t know this was a possibility for me. I didn’t know…” Professor looked at me, “But you are good at this. We will teach you how to program.” I was hand-picked and given a chance to participate in the country’s first-ever offering of a Computer Science degree. That was 1991.  My affliction point. I have never worked a day in my life in Statistics.

I had struggled at first, even turning on the boxy IBM PC, a dummy DOS based terminal attached to AS 400 processor. We used the structural programming language called BASIC to write GOTO loops and conditional statements, and much more. I might have crashed the system with never ending loop. I am not saying. We then graduated to Fortran and PASCAL.

My friend, Selam, and I were the only two females selected. Together, we spent many hours in that computer lab, surrounded by dummy terminals, writing, failing, re-writing, failing and then succeeding some, and printing programs in that ever annoying buzzing sounds a printer of that era makes. Together we studied hard. We needed to score the same as the boys. Sometimes, we dared and said, “better” than the boys. You see, grades were scale based, which means your grade is as good as the top performing student. We did ask for the boys help, every now and then. They were gracious and helped us debug our program.

From Student to Teacher

Fast forward to 2016 in the United States. After many years in the technology industry, a master’s degree in Software Engineering, I can say that my job was gratifying as well as worthwhile. The software I wrote has helped hospitals deliver optimal patient care and save more lives in the process. I had developed numerous websites that connected companies to the people they serve. The information they shared had helped people be well informed and make different decisions in all aspects of their life. My favorite remains to be building and launching the first website for United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

However, in those many years, I saw no one that looks like I come through to the technology workforce pipeline. Turns out, four out of five girls are being left behind from participating in the rewarding and exploding technology career. Issues ranging from a misperception of what a Computer Science career is to not being confident enough to pursue it. When in fact, technology continues to be embedded in everything we do and many more tech positions remain unfilled.

coder

I want to help change that narrative. I want to say to a teen girl what my professors said to me. I want to say, “Come. You are good at this. We will teach you how to program”. To give her a chance, and an opportunity to tap into her existing curiosity and potential.  I didn’t want her to wonder, “I didn’t know this was a possibility for me. I didn’t know…” Because I believe early exposure and enrichment to the love of coding can be the gateway for a girl to be the driving force of innovation and not just the consumers of it.