On a recent Saturday morning, Kelly Quinn, 9, peeked over her laptop with a quizzical look and asked her instructor, Kelly Marble, to look at the screen with her.

From left, Salena Selon, Kelly Quinn, Shayla Selon and Sydney Smith, participants in the Dunwoody-based Band of Coders/Girls Academy program. (Photo Dyana Bagby)
From left, Salena Selon, Kelly Quinn, Shayla Selon and Sydney Smith, participants in the Dunwoody-based Band of Coders/Girls Academy program. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

They scanned words and data, whispering to each other. Soon Salena Selon, 10, and her sister, Shayla, 12, joined them, and finally Sydney Smith, 11, stood behind them watching as they discuss ed next steps and keyed in information.

The young girls are participants in the Dunwoody-based Band of Coders/Girls Academy, a program with the mission of introducing girls to the science of coding. The girls and Marble were working out last-minute glitches before launching an app called “Special Hands.” The app, geared toward children with special needs, includes simple self-help games and learning activities.

“We have to help out the community,” said Sydney, who came all the way from Stockbridge, Ga., to take the six-week course.

girl coders

“For kids who have cancer and can’t go outside, we dedicated our time to make games to help them feel like they are getting out of the house,” said Quinn, who lives in Dunwoody.

Staying inside on a warm, sunny day to work on computers is no problem for these girls. Salena and her sister, Shayla, came from Rex, Ga., for the course. Salena said when working through a difficult step is eventually solved is “an exciting moment.”

“If it gets hard, we help each along the way,” she said of her friends.

“You have to make sure you do all the steps. If you skip something it won’t work,” Shayla added.

Quinn said some people believe coding is as “hard as rocket science.”

“It’s not if you take baby steps, and then once you start doing this you can’t stop. I love it because you get to express yourself in a different way,” she said.

Closing the gender gap
Creating an app means creating code, and in the tech industry, men outnumber women in large margins. According to a recent government report, 37 percent of computer science bachelor degrees went to women in 1984; in 2013 that number plummeted to 18 percent.

In order to be able to fill the growing number of tech jobs in the U.S., pushes are being made to recruit women and other minorities into computer science and coding programs at younger ages.
Amy Quinn, mom of Kelly, is thrilled the program exists in her city and that her daughter has an interest in a field where there is a need for girl power.

“Computer science and coding is the future of where jobs are going. The gender gap in technology is real,” Ann Quinn said. “This program has sparked her interest and I hope she continues to stay engaged.”

Rhonda and Wil Smith, parents to Sydney, have computer and science backgrounds – he is a STEM teacher and she is an IT consultant, one of the 18 percent of women with a computer science degree.

“She comes by her techie background honestly,” Rhonda Smith said. “She has loved it. This is the first we are seeing her develop an interest outside dancing and performing arts.”

Wil Smith said it is exciting to see his daughter move beyond being just a user of technology. “Now she is a developer and going behind the technology to see how it works. We’re pretty excited about that,” he said.

Band of Coders/Girls Academy is the social initiative of Band of Coders, a software development firm working to close the gender gap, said Kelly Marble, program manager. “This is a social enterprise which is for-profit, yet community driven,” Marble said.

The program was founded in 2014; so far, more than 335 girls have completed it.

“Our projects are project-based with an emphasis on empowering girls and their communities,” Marble said. “Our mission is threefold: to decrease the gender gap in technology; introduce girls to a collaborative environment; and identify skill-sets for girls to change their community.”

Registrations for summer camps are being accepted now. For more information, visit bandofcoders.com/girlsacademy.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.