We recently said farewell to the twenty terrific young women of the Akamai Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. They learned and grew so much over their seven weeks with us, and we will miss them!
At their graduation ceremony, Tom Leighton spoke about how much is possible if one is intelligent, curious, and hard working. I see that every day at Akamai, and I saw it in spades among the girls in our program. They approached each new opportunity with gusto, whether it was learning about the internet, algorithms for genome sequencing, data visualization, data structures, or personal robots. They were always curious and asked great questions. They brought the same energy to coding, and the Girls Who Code staff said they often had to pry the girls off of their computers at the end of the day to send them home. It was wonderful to witness their satisfaction in making things work - whether debugging the ball physics in their "Pong" game, or building a personal web site.
The results of the girls' efforts shone through at the graduation ceremony. They spoke very eloquently about what this summer meant to them, and they demoed some impressive apps. One group built a motion-sensitive Raspberry Pi and Arduino-based "Spectra" smart mirror that displays weather and Twitter feeds. Another group built a data visualization about domestic violence by NFL players and their resulting criminal sentencing (or noticeable lack thereof). There was an app that provides an introduction to piano playing along with performance advice. A "size me" app tells you what size clothes to buy at different stores (given the vast inconsistency in women's clothes sizing). Each team was keen to keep working on their app and add further enhancements.
It was impressive to see what the girls were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, especially considering that many of them had very little coding experience coming into the program. Even more rewarding was seeing them confident and empowered to create the technology that they want to see in the world. At Akamai, we talk about the importance of "diversity of thought." Many of the apps these girls chose to create are different than what boys would likely have built, and it is a richer world when their ideas are realized. I can't wait to see what they will go on to build in the future.
The point of Girls Who Code is to both educate and inspire, and our program was very successful on both accounts. One major factor was the top notch Girls Who Code teaching staff and program manager. Another was the excitement and engagement from women and men at all levels at Akamai in planning for, talking with, teaching, and mentoring the girls. The girls and staff reported feeling very welcome from day one. A huge amount of credit is due to Akamai director Bhuvana Hussain, who worked tirelessly as program coordinator to pull everything together, and who accompanied the girls to many of their events. Some of the girls and staff reported wanting to be Bhuvana when they grew up!
Here are a couple of quotes from our girls that make me proud. These come from a Cambridge Chronicle newspaper article, published here: http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/article/20150811/NEWS/150819256/?Start=1
"I am blown away by how many women are doing this stuff. Before this program I thought that technology was a 'guy thing' kind of, but now I am realizing it's way more open to women and that I could definitely do it."
"Akamai has been amazing. They have exposed us to such a wide range of female employees here and being able to talk to them in-depth about their jobs has been incredible. The program has been a good way to see reality."
The benefits of the program go both ways. Bhuvana said that being with the girls left her feeling energized, and many of us feel the same way. It is so satisfying to see these girls discover the power and possibility of technology, to see that this career path is open to them, to see them gain confidence and inspiration, and to know that we helped make that possible.
I hope that this is the beginning of a long tradition at Akamai, and that those of you who work elsewhere will consider hosting a Girls Who Code Summer Immersion program at your own company.
Our girls invented a call and response based on an Akamai slogan. So I'll close the way they closed their graduation ceremony - with a loud, confident and enthusiastic:
"FASTER! FORWARD! The future is NOW!"
Kate Jenkins is a principal architect at Akamai.