Thinking big with Tech Divas from Black Girls CODE

By | 4 minute read | July 7, 2021

Nearly five years ago, an IBM colleague introduced me to Black Girls CODE, an organization dedicated to training young Black girls to write code. Instinctively, I jumped at the chance to volunteer.  I first learned how to code in college, and still dabble in it though my current role as a senior technology lawyer for IBM Research doesn’t require that skill.

My eagerness to volunteer for Black Girls CODE sparked from a desire to inspire young Black women and girls to aspire to technical jobs.  I wanted to foster a new generation of Black and female IBM developers by serving as a role model and encouraging the girls to develop new skills and think big when it comes to STEM.

Through in-person workshops and virtual hackathons, I served as a technical mentor for Black Girls CODE’s tech divas – young girls from the ages of seven to 17 – teaching MIT’s Scratch, a programming language for kids, along with workshops for “how to build a website” and on building mobile apps. So, when in 2020, IBM and Black Girls CODE committed to working together, I jumped at the chance to serve as Executive Champion for the relationship. Collectively, we wanted to make a lasting impact.  The answer? Think big!

A team of women IBM leaders gathered and customized a hybrid workshop-hackathon program where the Black Girls CODE tech divas would code solutions to help solve a global issue. The girls would work with STEM professionals to obtain workplace learning experiences, including the reality of “office hours.” In addition, IBM would introduce tech divas to senior IBM technology leaders who looked like them.  The plan came to life in 2021.

Last week, after completing two IBM-sponsored virtual Design Thinking and problem-solving workshops in mid-June, Black Girls CODE tech divas teamed up with IBM mentors to participate in the Call for Code Challenge.  The Challenge required submitting 20 lines of code, a videotaped presentation, and a 250-word description of their code-based solution to pressing societal challenges.   We designed the weekend hackathon to expand a tech diva’s career knowledge, push them out of their comfort zones and tap their creativity.

Tech divas throughout the United States including, Georgia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Detroit, New York, Washington, DC, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, as well as a participant from Nigeria gained valuable professional lessons — like how to work hard and never give up! They also learned how to build websites and build AI chatbots — and apply them to the critical humanitarian issues of climate change and racial justice.

The three-day event created a highly energetic learning environment for 10 teams of tech divas aged eight to 17 years old. With over 40 IBM mentors from across the United States helping the tech divas, the solutions ranged from mobile apps, websites, and dashboards. In addition, all teams used IBM technology such as Watson Assistant, NodeRED with Cloud Foundry, Toolchain, IBM Cloud Natural Language Classifier, IBM Carbon Design System, and many others.

On the first day of the Challenge, IBM introduced the tech divas to Kitty Chaney-Reed, IBM Vice President, Enterprise Operations, and Evelyn Anderson, Master Inventor and Distinguished Engineer.  The tech divas asked questions, sent emojis, and received their task for the challenge: Think Big. The energy in the virtual meeting room was contagious, uplifting, and inspiring.

The tech divas spent their weekend developing code, and practicing their presentation for distinguished IBM executives and community judges, who picked three winners based on the ideas design, innovation, creativity, and completeness of the solutions.

Thinking big

The winning team, Mission Compost, included Jocelyn Hooks (10), Payton Gary (12), Genevieve Jean-Pierre (17), and Whitley Shields (13).  Their solution, Organic Connection, focused on an all-purpose web application that allows users, including farmers, food vendors, and consumers, to help bring about zero waste and green space by connecting users to mapping technology for heightened visibility of pick up and recycling points for waste. The second-place tech divas created a web-based application for voting information. The third-place winning solution focused on a website to provide equal pay resources to aid young women of color in the workplace.

The winning teams will receive money prizes: $300 to each tech diva in first place, $150 for second place, and $50 for third place plus IBM, Black Girls CODE, and Call for Code swag.  In addition, Mission Compost received dedicated virtual office space, continued expert mentorship, and the chance to pitch their idea to several top IBM executives in August. One tech diva said, “I didn’t think I’d have this much fun coding and learning from my teammates and mentors!”

It’s an exciting time for IBM and Black Girls CODE.  IBM is building IBM Technical Workshops to roll out to 15 chapters of Black Girls CODE, including South Africa to expose tech divas to IBM Cloud and Machine Learning and introduce them to more black female leaders at IBM.  IBM is setting out to prove in our relationship with Black Girls CODE that we all can work together to solve big problems and have fun no matter the age or background. We are being intentional and thinking big!  And that is a win for everyone!

 

Call for Code was created in 2018 in partnership with Creator David Clark Cause, Founding Partner IBM, Charitable Partner United Nations Human Rights, and the Linux Foundation. It has grown to over 400,000 developers and problem solvers across 179 countries.