Author Spotlight: Reshma Saujani

Reshma SaujaniFive years ago, Reshma Saujani created the nonprofit group Girls Who Code to increase the number of women in computer science. The group impacted tens of thousands of girls, yet Saujani still heard from families longing for coding programs, so she wrote a book to expand the group’s reach. Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World (Viking Children’s Books, August 2017) breaks down complicated coding concepts into real-life examples and serves as an invitation for girls everywhere to learn to code and change the world. Read on for our exclusive interview with Saujani…

Share examples of your group’s impact.

Our girls are what inspire me every day. When we teach girls to code they become changemakers and have the opportunity to live choice-filled lives. Aysha is a Syrian refugee who attended our Summer Immersion Program in Miami. She showed love to her new country by building an app to help Americans get to the polls. Before her involvement with Girls Who Code, she said she never thought college was realistic. Now she’s a sophomore majoring in computer science at Pomona! There’s Trisha who is a 16-year-old in Naperville, Illinois. She raised $100,000 on Shark Tank for her company ReThink, a Web app to prevent cyberbullying.

GirlsWhoCodeWhy write a book to expand your message?

We know we have to shift culture, and books are an incredibly effective way for girls to see themselves as coders. I started to research books to teach kids to code and couldn’t find any; so I decided to write one.

Explain your approach.

One of the best ways to spark girls’ interest is to share stories of girls who look like them. So we created five relatable characters that act as guides through the nonfiction book and are featured throughout our 13-book series. We also wanted to break down what people think are complicated coding concepts using real-life examples. You’ll see that we explain the concept of algorithms through a muffin recipe or a morning routine.

Why is your message so important?

Our culture is telling girls that computer science is not for them. From the 1980s to today, from movies like Weird Science and Revenge of the Nerds to TV shows like Silicon Valley on HBO, we have created a myth of the programmer as a dude in a hoodie, who hasn’t showered in a week, sitting in a basement somewhere, staring at his computer. Young girls look at this image and say, ‘I can’t relate; he doesn’t look like me.’ You cannot be what you cannot see. Literary representation matters, and we hope that girls will be able to seem themselves in these characters and — as a result — see themselves as coders.

What impact would you like the book to have?

I hope that girls are inspired to learn to code with us through our Summer Immersion and Clubs Programs. The Summer Immersion Program is a free 7-week summer program for girls in grades 10-11 to learn computer science, get exposure to tech jobs and join a supportive sisterhood of girls who code. Our Clubs are free after-school programs for girls in grades 6-12 to use computer science to impact their communities and join our sisterhood of supportive peers and role models.

Learn more at www.girlswhocode.com!

Check on the full interview in the Fall 2017 issue of STEAM Ahead!

Interviewed by Kerry Singe
Photo credit: © Adrian Kinloch

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