Last week, some special guests brightened the XANT headquarters with their love of learning and infectious enthusiasm.
Pink water bottles, drawstring bags, tulle and pigtails filled a conference room as 37 girls, ages 7 to 14, hunched over laptops, creating code that moved a zombie through a digital labyrinth toward a flower.
As 10-year-old Sloan typed a series of slashes and symbols, the zombie lurched forward.
“I got it!” Sloan exclaimed as her zombie avatar gobbled a wiggling daisy on the screen.
The zombie activity was just one in a weeklong Girl Code camp hosted by XANT on its Provo campus, which ran July 14-17.
Closing the gender gap in tech
“Research tells us that in middle school, 74 percent of girls express interest in science, technology, engineering and math, but when choosing a college major, just 0.4 percent of high school girls select computer science,” said Perthenia Eilers, director of XANT’s project management team in the technology division.
Coding camps geared toward girls are just one way that tech companies, from engineering giants to scrappy start-ups, are hoping to help close the gender gap.
“We are facing a challenge that is really so much bigger than just the tech scene here in Utah,” said Dave Elkington, XANT CEO and founder. “It’s a national strategic challenge to get more women into science, math, technology and engineering fields.”
As a 2014 article in “Time” reports: “By 2020, U.S. universities will not be able to fill even a third of the country’s 1.4 million computing positions with qualified graduates. The industry needs to tap the other 50 percent of the population if it hopes to find candidates for crucial jobs.”
Right now, only 12 percent of computer science degrees go to women.
So when Elkington’s wife, Alese, suggested the company hold a coding camp for girls, he jumped at the chance. They registered their 9-year-old, Lauren, for the event — alongside daughters, granddaughters, nieces and cousins of other XANT employees.
To see why XANT started Girl Code, watch the brief video above.
Bright futures, indeed
Lauren and the rest of the girls not only spent time coding, they worked individually and in teams on problem-solving activities, including an egg-drop experiment, playing Mine Field and other team-building and innovation games.
And, of course, they coded and coded and coded.
“I like making the websites,” said 10-year-old Annie. “It’s all really cool. And it’s cool to come to where my grandpa and uncle work because this is a coding place where they make cool stuff. I think that maybe some day I want to be an engineer and make cool stuff too.”
Even for the girls who didn’t come to camp with aspirations of an engineering career, their tech-savvy mentors got them all thinking about ways that coding can impact whatever they choose to do in life.
Her bubbly voice humming a million miles per hour, 9-year-old Tennessee said:
“And it just got me thinking that I want to be an artist when I grow up, but maybe I would want to use code to add more to my art — because I could make it all digital. I could make my art change colors, or I could put lights into it. It would make my art feel like it is alive. Because it’s kind of like art and coding are alive.”
Helping girls see the excitement of technology and science through the formative years of their life is exactly what XANT hopes to do.
Girl Code camp, which targeted elementary- to middle school-aged girls, is just one of several “Women in Tech” initiatives the company sponsors and hosts.
- SheTech Explorer
- Lego League
- UVU Prep
- Scholarships offered at Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
The programs have been carefully chosen in an attempt to connect with girls over the course of their entire lives.
“The idea is to continually let girls know that science and technology careers are real options for them over the full range of their early years,” said Lindsey Armstrong, XANT senior vice president of international strategy, who addressed the girls on the final morning of the camp. “I tell the girls that there will be a day, in their lifetime, when everyone knows how to code, just as everyone now knows how to write.”
There is still more to do, and XANT’s Do Good Foundation is actively considering other events and models that fit into the “Women in Tech” initiative.
Modeled on a 1-1-1 commitment, inspired by Marc Benioff and Salesforce, XANT donates 1 percent of employee time, 1 percent of company revenue and 1 percent of our product to worthy local causes. The foundation encourages other organizations to do good in similar ways.
As code camp came to a close, the girls gathered in a large room to present their final projects to an audience that included their parents, XANT employees and local media. After a resounding round of applause, each girl was presented with her very own Raspberry Pi computer so she could practice her coding.
As the girls left the room, Sloan told her dad about how she is going to make a gymnastics app with her new device.
Sounds like a plan, Sloan. Sounds like a plan.