There were mocktails and dancing, Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Clinton. But now that the DJs have gone home and Google’s $50 million initiative to get girls coding has launched, who’s doing the work? And where’s all that money going?
The recent launch event for Made w/ Code was a celebrity-laden, nightclub-themed event that seemed to be a success (our invite got lost in the mail), and Google’s big investment and slick website certainly drew attention. But as one columnist pointed out, “using glamour as a selling point can only go so far.”
After all, when we talk about coding, we're mostly talking about school and work. So who will be teaching the next generation of women in computer science, and who will receive funding to do so?
For starters, Google’s slick Made w/ Code website is a big part of the initiative, and will play host to a number of different web-based programs and educational tools. And it is indeed a nice website, mostly dodging the pitfalls of pandering. For example, there are a number of accessible projects using Blockly, a visual pseudo-coding program that uses interchangeable blocks instead of baffling symbols and abbreviations. Users can program a bracelet pattern for a 3D printer (OK, maybe a little bit of pandering), a social media avatar, or a looping beat sequence.
Aside from learning resources, presenting role models is a huge part of the initiative, with a series of videos of female mentors who use coding to do cool work like activism, animation and video game design. And you can even interact with the community on Google Plus, the social network that is all the rage with the kids.
Kidding aside, there’s some good stuff in there. But as you may have guessed, Google is only the ringleader, and the project is just as much a convening and funding channel for organizations that already have boots on the ground in this arena.
The main partners include Girls Inc., an organization with chapters all over the United States and Canada, devoted to empowering girls with a focus on STEM education. It’s not surprising they are a main partner, as just about every major STEM funder has Girls Inc. high on their list. Girl Scouts is another big partner, which may seem like an odd fit, but the group has actually been building up its informal STEM education work for years, and also is a favorite among funders. MIT Media Lab, Mozilla Webmaker, Sew Electric, and Shapeways are the other main contributors to the program.
Made w/ Code has also named six nonprofit grantees so far. They are:
- Black Girls Code, a nonprofit devoted to closing the digital divide by offering classes and programs like one-day hackathons and summer camps.
- Code.org, featuring online tutorials to teach beginner's lessons in coding, but also classes and camps.
- DonorsChoose.org is partnering with Google to give $1,000 or more to teachers who guide four or more girls through intro to CS classes by Codeacademy or Khan Academy.
- Girls Who Code is a relatively new program that, in just a couple of years, has expanded to five cities to provide mentorship, organize clubs, and offer summer immersion camps.
- National Center for Women & IT for its Aspirations in Computing program, which offers mentoring, scholarships, internships and other resources.
- Technovation, an online-based tech entrepreneur competition.
You can see that beneath the flair, there’s a core of top-notch, but pretty run-of-the-mill STEM education work like mentoring, competitions, afterschool, and summer programs. The Google influence, it seems, is the focus on engaging interfaces and trendy, web-based learning programs, along with the wrangling of the various groups together to build up a national critical mass. That, and a few mocktails to help the medicine go down never hurt anybody.