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Students get a taste for coding at Xero’s Girlcode workshop

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Ruth James

Feb 2, 2020

How hard is it to convince a 15 year old girl to give up a week of her school holidays to spend it with a group of students learning to programme and create a ‘thing’?

The answer is…very hard, especially if they’ve never had any prior experience in programming before. But on 20 January, 11 amazing young women took a chance and said “YES!”

The group of young women came from a range of cultures, backgrounds and prior experience in tech – from never coding before to studying engineering at Auckland University. Within the group, they recognised their diversity and embraced it, creating a safe and inclusive environment for themselves.

We kicked off the workshop by encouraging the group to get to know each other. Through icebreakers and trust exercises, they built up a sense of trust and support for each other.

We showed them around our office and introduced them to some female developers at Xero who shared their journeys in the world of tech. We also shared some history of women in technology, presenting trailblazers like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper as well as more local heroes like Brittany Teei, Ezel Kokcu and Pearl Robin

Getting to know the ‘real’ tech sector

After lunch on the first day, the Girlcode team kicked off the learning part of the workshop. A big shout out to our friends at OMG Tech who allowed us to borrow some laptops for students attending who didn’t have their own device. 

The learning blocks covered:

  • Creating a simple webpage using HTML and CSS, the basic building blocks of all websites.
  • Make interactive webpages using JavaScript. Learning how to make parts of the page appear or move around as the user clicks buttons.
  • Creating a web server using node.js and learning about server-side code. Practice using GitHub, a tool that helps teams work together and keep track of everyone’s changes on a project.

Alongside this, the students followed an Agile framework including scrums, stand ups and sprints.

Exposing the students to a ‘real world’ experience of what it’s like to work in tech is super important. There are a lot of misconceptions and negative stereotypes out there about the tech sector, so showing what it’s really like is critical. We let the girls experience this through ‘donut dates’. Each student was paired up with a Xero and had 30 minutes to get to know them. During the ‘date’ students could ask questions that were meaningful to them, understand the range of opportunities within a tech company, as well as hearing personal stories of encouragement and inspiration. 

Yza talks to Monica Makau from our Security team on a ‘donut date’.

Learning from taking a chance

After two days of learning and two days of creating the group came up with this:

An interactive platform to ask questions and give feedback. Given the short time in which they’d learnt how to create and build the platform from scratch. It’s pretty impressive what they achieved in just a week. 

On Friday afternoon, the group presented to a small group of Xeros who they had met that week.

They talked about their preconceived ideas of what the workshop and office space would be like, and how stoked they were to find they were wrong! They shared the wisdom learnt through their donut dates, a live demo of the platform they created, how they embraced and enjoyed the learning environment and how this differed from the classroom environment they experienced at school. 

The girls identified some key takeaways:

  1. Squeezing an 8-week long programme in a week is intense, but due to the encouragement and support within the group they were all able to keep up. 
  2. They learned how to step out of their comfort zone. 
  3. This workshop expanded their understanding of diversity and inclusion.
  4. Learning about opportunities that tech could take them in the future.

I was a bit emotional knowing that in one week this group of strangers had created a ‘live’ product. They learnt together and trusted each other to take risks and formed some amazing friendships. 

They’re also ambassadors for learning to code. They’re also strong role models for taking a chance and stepping out of your comfort zones. 

Rabiah, Laish, Kayla, Aimee, Yza, Emily, Olympia, Jamie, Annaliese Marie (aka AM), Chantelle, Penelope and Samantha – thank you for saying “YES!”

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