Women in Tech

Ladies Learning Code looks to the younger generation

Girls code in Halifax as part of cross-Canada event

Ten-year-old Sylvie Clancy-Edwards works on her flying taco at National Girls Learning Code Day on Saturday in Halifax.
Sylvie Clancy-Edwards, 10, works on her flying taco at National Girls Learning Code Day in Halifax.   Victoria Walton

Eri Fujita was the first one to arrive to build her very own video game on Saturday. The eleven-year-old got out her laptop and sat at the front of the room at Volta Labs while other girls and their parents arrived.

National Girls Learn Code Day is a Canada-wide event; this year it took place in 26 cities simultaneously. The day, which is put on by Ladies Learning Code Canada, helps inspire girls ages eight to 13 to become more computer literate.

The girls were each making a superhero game, with help from mentors and their parents. Fujita, a student at École du Carrefour, had never worked with code before and was excited to have something to take home.

“After you make a game, you can play it yourself and you can say, ‘Guys look at my game’ and they’ll say ‘Whoa where’d you get that game?’ and I can I say made it,” Fujita said with a smile.

Eri Fujita came to the Ladies Learning Code event with her dad Tim Aggett, who works in the tech field.
Eri Fujita came to the Ladies Learning Code event with her dad Tim Aggett, who works in the tech field.   Victoria Walton

Jen Liu has been involved in Ladies Learning Code Halifax since it began in 2013, first as a volunteer and now as chapter lead. The goal, Liu said, is for girls “to have a good memory of creating something on their own, so in the future if they think about math, science, coding, they don’t feel scared.”

There were eight mentors to help out the 15 sets of parents and girls. One of the mentors was Gabe White, who taught herself to code.

“Events like this get girls interested early on, so that when they’re in high school they’re not dropping math or sciences,” said White.

During Saturday’s workshop, the parent-child duos worked with game-making site Scratch.

“It’s a very easy to use interface,” said White. “It’s almost like using Lego to build a game.”

Some participants already had experience with technology. When asked who they play games against, Sylvie Clancy-Edwards’ hand shot up.

Sylvie Clancy-Edwards and her mom Moirah Clancy get help from one of the mentors at the Girls Learning Code event.   Victoria Walton

The 10-year-old said she likes to play against an A.I, or artificial intelligence. She added that she doesn’t take any computer classes at St. Catherine’s Elementary, where she is in fifth grade, but likes science and math.

“I’ve been to other coding things,” said Clancy-Edwards who made a taco and rainbow fly across the screen during the event.

Moirah Clancy said her daughter plays a lot of games and she wants her to know how they’re made.

“The mentors are great examples of paths that you can take with coding and different jobs you can have,” said Clancy, “but also the fun you can have doing it.”

Workshop instructor Emily Wilson has been working with computers since her undergrad.

“When I got to university they were talking about how few women were going into coding,” said Wilson. “I saw this opportunity, maybe if I go into coding I can push more people to do that.”

Event instructor Emily Wilson tells the group how to work with Scratch, a simple online coding site.
Event instructor Emily Wilson tells the group how to work with Scratch, a simple online coding site.   Victoria Walton

Women are still the minority in computer science. At Dalhousie University, there were 607 undergraduate computer science students last year, but only 14 per cent of them (87 students) were women. At the graduate level, 36 per cent were women.

Now finished her masters in computer science, Wilson works as an Android developer and has worked on official apps for Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central. These were projects she never thought she’d be working on and that’s because the workplace, as with universities, doesn’t have a lot of women.

“It’s definitely clear how male-dominated it is,” she said. “We need to get more women into the industry. If you have more diversity in developing products, then you’re going to have a better product at the end of the day.”