Black Girls Code initiative ready for expansion

Organisers call for more volunteers, equipment, and venues to cope with additional demand

The third South African Black Girls Code (BGC) event, to be hosted on 14 September 2013 by ThoughtWorks Africa, marks a point of expansion for the initiative in Africa as it focuses on increasing the number of black women in IT.


BGC was founded by black electrical engineer, Kimberly Bryant, with whom ThoughtWorks has partnered from the initiative’s inception. The South African offering of BGC has been tailored to take into account the culture of the local community.


The core objective of BGC is to expose girls of school-going age (seven to 17) from underprivileged backgrounds to the world of software engineering in order to get them thinking of a career in IT.


“Even though technology is becoming more pervasive in grass roots communities and girls are consuming technology in much larger numbers, very few of them are thinking about actually creating it themselves,” says Nyari Samushonga, a ThoughtWorks business analyst who is part of the team leading the BGC initiative in South Africa.


“We want to show them at an early age how much fun it is to write code so that, when they are considering career options, IT is right up there at the top of the list.”


For the first two South African BGC events, held earlier this year, ThoughtWorks partnered with two non-government organisations (NGOs), The Tomorrow Trust and the Kliptown Youth Program, in identifying girls with an interest in computers.


The first event proved so popular that some 50% of the girls returned for BGC 2, triggering a change in emphasis for the ThoughtWorks team and volunteers.

“We realised that for BGC to be an effective tool for capacity building, we need to go further than just introducing girls to IT. We need to nurture their interest and growth in the field. So, instead of each BGC event covering the same material, in the expectation that there would be new girls each time, we would like the same group of girls to progress through an informal curriculum and develop practical skills.”


However, to achieve this and also keep bringing new girls into the initiative, more volunteers, equipment, and venues are needed.

“In order to provide as much personal attention as possible, we like to have one mentor for every two girls,” Samushonga says. “A class of 48 girls therefore stretches our team – and, making available 24 computers for five hours over a weekend can be difficult when we have project deadlines to meet.


“But, confronting these logistical issues has given us the idea of having like-minded, non-ThoughtWorks people join the initiative. By building partnerships with local colleges, universities and corporations, we could access their computer laboratories in their down time. With more volonteers from outside ThoughtWorks, we could run multiple venues simultaneously – even in different cities – reaching more girls.


“We could also have more frequent BGC events. Most underprivileged girls don’t have access to computers at home. But, they need practice time to consolidate what we teach. More frequent events would not only provide that but also enable continuity in the mentoring of each girl.”


ThoughtWorks’ approach to teaching girls to write code is based on the principle of encouraging them to express themselves through technology.


“Writing code is about deciding what you want to achieve, planning your path to that outcome, and then executing your plan,” Samushonga says. “So, we’re teaching a life skill and building personal confidence.”


If you’re interested in being a BGC volunteer or sponsoring venues or facilities, please contact Nyari Samushonga on 010 003 2728 or on 072 050 8300.

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