Event: Girls Who Code

Past Events

Congratulations to BSA's Girls Who Code Class of 2016! - August 10, 2016

On August 10, BSA’s students, their family members, and some special guests all gathered in the Lohrfink Auditorium at Georgetown University for the graduation ceremony . The ceremony kicked off with a warm welcome from the teaching staff, who expressed pride for all that the girls had accomplished. Akhira Muhammad, the lead teacher, spoke about how much the girls had learned and how far they’d come throughout the program. “Today, I’m proud to call you all programmers, engineers, and scientists,” she told them.

Girls Who Code teachers speak
The classroom's teachers welcome guests to the ceremony.

After Georgetown’s Interim CIO, Judd Nicholson, kindly welcomed everyone to the event, teaching assistant Sam Schwartz introduced BSA’s Chief of Staff Ha McNeill. “BSA | The Software Alliance believes that much of the growing demand for coders can and should be filled by girls like you,” she remarked, “You are the role models of today and of the future.” McNeill also thanked the partners who supported the classroom, including BSA member companies Symantec, IBM, Microsoft, and Dell. One of the night’s highlights came when she announced that the laptops Dell had been loaning the classroom were not simply loaners – they were gifts for the girls!

Girls Who Code react to laptop announcement

The girls were ecstatic to learn that the laptops were gifts.

Following the exciting announcement about the laptops, Ha introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Heather Higginbottom, the first female Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. Higginbottom congratulated the girls and praised their decision to learn coding. She discussed the origin of the term “software engineer,” revealing that the source was a woman: Margaret Hamilton, the coder who developed on-board flight software for the Apollo missions to the moon. At that time, software programming wasn’t considered to be a real science. Fortunately, Hamilton’s creation of “software engineer” helped make computer science the legitimate and respected field that it is today. Higginbottom pointed out that Hamilton’s contribution to computer science began on a smaller scale – with the simple creation of a new term – but that her impact gradually increased, as she kept pursuing her goal of making computer science a widespread subject. Higginbottom encouraged the girls to do the same with their aspirations, whatever they may be.

Girls Who Code with Heather Higginbottom

The girls pose with Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

Next, three girls from BSA’s classroom stepped up to the podium to share their thoughts on the past seven weeks of the program. “Girls Who Code isn’t just about learning to make a website or learning to make a robot dance,” said Anya. "It teaches you to be brave in a small way, so eventually you can be brave in a bigger way.” Nidhi shared that the program has allowed her to feel comfortable being in a computer science environment: “Girls Who Code provided me a community of like-minded girls who deal with the same problems I’ve had to deal with,” she explained. Becca spoke about the utility of Girls Who Code’s curriculum – even for those who don’t go into computer programming. “I wouldn’t trade the skills I learned this summer for anything,” she declared, “I am now a more knowledgeable person. I know more about coding, but I also know more about Capitol Hill, NASA, the lives of women in professional environments, and many other things.”

Student speaker 1 

Becca talks about the valuable knowledge she has learned from Girls Who Code.

The girls split into groups to pitch their final assignments, which they’d created using coding languages they’d learned during the program. The Concept Crew presented a website that provides support options for those who have been sexually or domestically abused. Next, Team Reboot introduced their project, a website that guides users to metro-accessible crisis resources in the DC area. Code Blue shared their creation, an educational site where users can play games and activities to learn how to code. Team Shine Bright finished off the presentations with their mobile app, Makeup Buddy, which offers makeup advice to users. 

Finally, it was time to graduate. Each girl proudly walked across the stage to collect her diploma and shake hands with her teachers. After the official ceremony, the girls rejoined their groups and set up science fair-style booths, allowing friends and family a closer look at their projects. Although the program was ending, the room was full of chatter as the girls discussed the future of their websites and apps. Today, these girls are officially Girls Who Code alumnae. Tomorrow, they’ll be computer scientists who can help make the world a better place.  Congratulations, BSA’s Girls Who Code Class of 2016!

Girls Who Code class of 2016 with certificates 

BSA's Girls Who Code class of 2016 proudly display their certificates.

The Technology of Life: A Visit from a Bioelectrics Researcher - August 4, 2016

On August 4, Pae Wu of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), spoke at the BSA classroom. Wu is a scientific consultant for the agency; for the last year she has been studying bioelectrics, researching the convergence of biology and electronics.

Wu grew up in North Carolina and is a graduate of Princeton University and Duke University. Growing up, she enjoyed physics and originally planned to pursue a career in robotics, but after leaving Princeton with her Bachelor’s degree, this plan morphed into becoming a researcher. Wu had the chance to try researching through grant work at Duke, but quickly realized that she did not enjoy being stuck in a lab all day. In the end, graduate school gave her perspective on what she actually wanted to do with her education, which was more dynamic research. The girls were eager to learn how Wu eventually found her calling, and Wu advised them to “keep your eyes peeled and be open to opportunities that may not be on the traditional path…and be open to what the possibilities are at your university.” The girls asked for advice on a wide variety of topics, ranging from tips for group work, to maintaining motivation when learning something new. Wu revealed that she had a lot of difficulties in college, and confidently told the girls to constantly persist in the subjects they love. “Just because something doesn’t come easily to you doesn’t mean you’re not good at it,” she promised.

Group photo of Girls Who Code and Pae Wu 

Coding is Out of this World: A Visit to NASA - July 27, 2016

On July 27, BSA’s classroom visited NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to learn about the role of coding at NASA. Raquel Marshall, Project Manager for the Office of Education and the Women of Goddard AC Chair, welcomed the girls and introduced Chris Durachka, the Associate Chief of Data Systems for the Applied Engineering and Technology Doctorate (AETD). Durachka taught the girls that coding is “the pulse of satellites and spacecrafts,” and noted that coding accuracy is so crucial that NASA’s software engineers only write two or three lines of code per day.

 Sphere of Science NASA

After Durachka’s presentation, the girls visited Goddard’s “Science on a Sphere” (pictured above), a visualization system that allows data to be projected on a 6-foot-diameter sphere. Using this device, the girls looked at activity on the sun, the oceans’ currents, weather patterns, and footage from the Mars rover Curiosity.

Goddard is proud to employ more than 30 female coders; many of these women came to a networking lunch with BSA’s classroom. The girls were thrilled to meet these “Women Who Code,” and peppered them with questions about internships, career paths, and working at NASA. The Goddard coders shared personal stories about overcoming struggles as women in tech, and advised the girls to always ask for assistance when they need it. “People want to help you,” said a graduate school intern, “and most of the time, you won’t be the only one who needs the help.”

Networking Lunch NASA 

After lunch, the girls broke into smaller groups to see various projects that NASA’s high school interns were working on, and to learn from a couple of Goddard’s software engineers. The interns’ projects showed off a variety of applications for coding. For one project, the interns had developed a website that served as an archival index for past and future intern projects. Another group exhibited small robotic arms that they had programmed to function as a larger space station’s robotic arm would – to help astronauts lift large objects while in space. The interns were enthusiastic about their work and eager to talk about their experiences working at NASA. Katherine Bender, the Education Specialist for NASA’s Office of Education, spoke about the internship opportunities that Goddard offers, and invited the girls to apply for the following summer.

GWC arrive at NASA


Women in the Workforce: A Mentorship Workshop at Microsoft - July 21, 2016

On July 21, the BSA and Lockheed Martin classrooms took a field trip to Microsoft’s Center for Innovation and Policy, where they participated in a Mentorship Workshop. The event gave the girls a chance to connect with female professionals from BSA | The Software Alliance, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, The Columbia Group, PhilanTech, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House. Victoria Espinel, President and CEO of BSA | The Software Alliance, and Susan Mann, Senior Director of Intellectual Property Policy for Microsoft, welcomed the girls and introduced a panel of women who led a discussion on career planning.

Mentoring Panel 

The panelists came from a variety of different backgrounds and discussed the unique career paths they had taken. Ha McNeil, Chief of Staff for BSA | The Software Alliance, shared her experience interning at the White House, where she gained recognition and a promotion for her attention to detail on even the smallest projects. Dahna Goldstein, Founder and General Manager of PhilanTech, LLC, spoke about the importance of taking risks and sharing your ideas. Jessica Phan, Associate Director of the White House Internship Program Management & Administration, revealed that she was offered her current position while interning at the White House, because her supervisor noticed her showing maturity by taking responsibility for her actions. The girls asked the panelists questions about networking, job interviews, and being a woman in tech. Mѐlika D. Carroll, Policy Advisor for Senator Brian Schatz, offered wisdom on how to handle being the only woman in the room, advising the girls to be confident and proud of the fact that they are women. “Even if you don’t feel confident, act confident,” she instructed, “and don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas.”

Mentoring Room 

After the panel’s conclusion, the girls participated in a speed-networking session, and met with women from BSA, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, the Columbia Group, Capitol Hill, and the White House. This was a great opportunity for the girls to ask the mentors one-on-one questions and to hear personalized advice. Many girls expressed uncertainty over their career interests and were surprised to learn that several mentors had felt the same way in high school. Each mentor handed out business cards and an invitation for the girls to connect with them at any time. The afternoon ended with an ice cream social, and a chance for the girls to thank and say goodbye to the women who had inspired them.


IBM Strategist Inspires the Next Generation of Inventors - July 20, 2016

On July 20, Lisa Seacat DeLuca stopped by the classroom to talk to the girls about her career and her many, many patents. Lisa is a technology strategist for IBM Commerce and is the most prolific female inventor in IBM history. She has filed more than 450 patent applications within the US and abroad, and more than 225 of them have been granted to date. She is also a TED speaker, author of a children’s book that teaches kids how to count in binary, and a mother of two sets of twins! Lisa shared her academic background and career path with the girls, who were enthralled with her story. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school in Montana, Lisa applied to Carnegie Mellon because her boyfriend wanted them both to apply to the same school. Then, she was accepted and he wasn’t! Thus began her path to a computer science career. She told the girls, “If you want to do something, you can do it. You don’t need anyone other than yourself.” Her presentation was followed by a spirited Q&A session, during which the girls peppered her with questions about patents, creativity, confidence, and time management. She encouraged the girls to go outside of their comfort zones and to “ignore the voice in your head that tells you that you can’t do things.”

Lisa DeLuca Group Shot 


The Mind of an Inclusive Designer - July 19, 2016

On July 19, Kat Holmes, the Principal Design Director of Inclusive Design for Microsoft, visited the classroom to speak about using design to improve accessibility. Holmes believes that this begins with viewing disabilities as opportunities, rather than disadvantages. “I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can make technology work for lots of different people,” she explained, “because the exclusion traditionally thought of as ‘disability’ makes us produce solutions that are better for everyone.” To illustrate her point, Holmes revealed that the telephone, the typewriter, keyboards, and e-mails are all innovations born as solutions to disability. She also showed a video about Haben Girba, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, and the inclusive technology that has helped Girba overcome the challenges of her disability. The girls were amazed by the power of inclusive design, and one of them remarked, “I didn’t know it was possible for someone who’s both deaf and blind to achieve all that [Girba] has, and that’s so cool.”

Kat Holmes Group Shot 


Hacking for Capitol Hill: The Congressional Hackathon - July 12, 2016

On July 12, the BSA classroom participated in a Congressional Hackathon, hosted at the BSA DC office. The girls arrived at BSA in the morning and met with team members of the “data driven politics” start-up company Quorum Analytics, including co-founder Jonathan Marks. Marks launched right in, introducing his team and telling the girls about Quorum and what the life of a software engineer is like. After he gave a brief overview on cloud computing, APIs, the power of big data, and how it all fits together, the young coders were eager to begin the projects.

The girls were divided into groups, with each group to work on a project for a different member of Congress. Each Representative had requested certain information about his or her office or constituents – information that the girls would be able to find using coding. Using Quorum’s vast amounts of data on legislation, members, and districts, the groups worked to answer the Representatives’ queries.

Girls Who Code BSA Hackathon

That afternoon, the girls visited Capitol Hill to present their projects to the Members of Congress and their staffers. The first group showed Congressman Darrell Issa charts tracking Congress’ productivity during his time in office– which they represented by showing graphs displaying the amount of legislation that had been passed during the last several sessions of Congress. Issa was very impressed with the girls’ work, and even challenged them with some questions. At the end of their presentation, he remarked, “I know of very few companies that don’t already have more men programmers and will, in fact, have a more open door when they see women with equal talent to men. And obviously, I see a room full of people with talent.”

Congressman Darrell Issa with BSA Girls Who Code 

The next group presented to Stephen Dwyer, the Senior Policy Advisor and Digital Director for Representative Steny H. Hoyer. These girls examined the availability of education programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, and then compared it to the number of programs encouraging women in such fields. Their findings revealed that there are few STEM education opportunities targeting women. After expressing some disappointment over these results, the group mentioned that they felt fortunate to be a part of Girls Who Code, and were hopeful to see more opportunities like it arise for other young women. Dwyer promised to pass along their findings to Congressman Hoyer, and agreed that providing education in STEM to all students should be a priority.

Following this presentation, a third group looked at productivity, this time for Congressman Bill Johnson, who was represented by Senior Legislative Assistant Laura Wilson. Wilson was intrigued by the data the girls presented. Before departing, she thanked the group and let them know on behalf of Congressman Johnson how proud he was to see them participating in the Girls Who Code program.

Congressional Hackathon audience 

The next group presented to Chief of Staff Eve Lieberman, who was in attendance representing Congressman Jared Polis. The girls showed Lieberman word clouds that illustrated what Polis talked about the most on Twitter, in press releases, and emails to his constituents. The final group had the opportunity to present to Congresswoman Barbara Comstock about women in STEM. They illustrated discussion trends between women, STEM, and other topics by creating a word cloud of her tweets. After thanking the group for their data presentation, Comstock shared personal anecdotes from her time in school, mentioning how glad she is that STEM programs are becoming more available to women.

Congresswoman Barbara Comstock learns from Girls Who Code 

After the presentations, the students heard from BSA’s VP of Legislative Strategy, Craig Albright, Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks. The day ended with a delicious ice cream social! During the social, the participants declared the day a success, and, one student mentioned “this really helped me learn that I can incorporate both politics, helping the community, helping the United States, and doing what I’m really good at – which is STEM and coding. I’m trying to incorporate both and I feel that this exercise in particular really helps me to further my passion.”


Cybersecurity 101: A Field Trip to Symantec - July 8, 2016

On July 8, the girls visited Symantec’s office in Herndon, Virginia. Symantec is a BSA member company known for its security products and solutions. The class was welcomed by Bill Wright, Symantec’s Director of Cybersecurity Partnerships, who introduced them to the company and its mission to eliminate risks and threats in the information technology world. Afterwards, the girls toured Symantec’s Security Operations Center (SOC), where they met Meg Layton, Leader of Managed Security Services at Symantec. Meg gave the girls a threat briefing, detailing the dangers of specific threats like zero-day attacks; she also talked about the skills needed to take down such attacks. The group also spoke with a panel of women who work at Symantec to hear their advice for girls pursuing careers in technology.

BSA Girls Who Code visits Symantec 


Welcoming the BSA Classroom - June 28, 2016

The day after the Summer Immersion Program kicked off, BSA | The Software Alliance’s President and CEO Victoria Espinel came by to speak to the classroom. After talking to the students about her experiences at Georgetown Law School, working at the White House, and becoming the leader of BSA, Victoria asked them her own question: “Why did you decide to participate in Girls Who Code?”

The range of answers to this question was diverse. One girl noticed that she was one of just three girls on her high school robotics team of 30 people, and she hopes that Girls Who Code will be a place where she can meet more girls who share her interests. Another student shared that she’s interested in engineering and feels that learning to code will be of use in the field. Some of the girls revealed that they want to try something new – and what better place to start than coding?

The girls were interested in everything that Victoria had to say, and they even came prepared with their own questions: the discussion in the room touched on everything from internships, to questions on policy, to women in leadership roles.