The Georgetown University Women Coders, also known as guWeCode, launched the second annual Coding Party in the Healey Family Student Center on Jan. 18 to promote more women to engage and participate in the field of computer science.
The event, which was attended by about 50 people, was open to both students and faculty, and it divided the participants according to skill level. Each skill level was provided with a series of challenges that could be completed and cashed-in for prizes, such as gift cards and speakers.
According to Georgetown associate professor of computer science and Co-Founder of guWeCode Lisa Singh, the event was designed to allow new coders to get experience with computer programming, while also catering to the abilities of upper-level coders who want a challenge. Singh said the event additionally aimed to encourage more women to take an interest in programming.
“The goal with this event was to bring people of all skill levels, from ‘newbies’ to advanced coding in the same room, but with each still able to do their own thing,” Singh said. “I think it is very valuable for a beginner coder to see some women over at the advanced coding table.”
Julie Hockett (COL ’17), a senior guWeCode board member, said the objective of the coding party and of the organization as a whole was to give participants a sense of accomplishment and to inspire interest in computer programming in the Georgetown community.
“At guWeCode, we really stress completion; we stress projects that allow you to actually, tangibly do something. We want you to walk out knowing ‘I did something. I coded. I made the computer do what I told it to,’ which is the feeling that keeps us going,” Hockett said.
Singh said the goal of guWeCode is to allow women to familiarize themselves with basic computer science concepts.
“The mission of guWeCode is to introduce people, in particular women, to some of the concepts of coding,” Singh said. “I don’t necessarily want every girl to become a [computer science] major, but I do want to see a broader understanding of the basics of code.”
Maya McCoy (COL ’17), another board member, said that she sees programming skills as a necessity for almost any career.
“Practically speaking, there are so many jobs that will require even just a basic level of computer science understanding, so just being able to look at a piece of code and having some idea of what it might do could be really valuable,” McCoy said.
The official mission of guWeCode is to build digital literacy for today’s job market, and raise the odds of more women considering careers in the technology field, according the group’s website. So far, the organization has seen significant success in achieving its goal.
According to Singh, the percentage of women in the Georgetown undergraduate computer science program at the time of the club’s founding hovered right around the national average of 17 percent. Three years later, the female participation at Georgetown rose to 40 percent.
Singh said the interest in coding shown by female students has been impressive. At its first meeting, 75 women were in attendance. Today, over 500 students are subscribed to the group’s mailing list.
Despite the progress, Singh said she still wants to see more women in higher academic positions in the computer science field, since graduate and Ph.D. positions remain predominantly male even with the increasing number of female undergraduates studying computer science.
Singh said, in addition to seeing more women take part in computer science, there also needs to be more racial and socioeconomic diversity within the field as well.
“Coding quite literally creates our technology, so, in the future, I think it would be great to see more diversity in computer science, Singh said. “The umbrella of ‘women’ is a great place to start, but there is also more diversity than just gender.”
Hockett and McCoy both said they felt coding is becoming increasingly significant in society and encouraging minorities to join the field is crucial going forward, as they are often heavily underrepresented in the field of computer science.