The future is now: Girls work by themselves and everything works

Twelve girls aged 13 to 15 made 5 web pages (from scratch!) in 4 days, with the help from Google, Microsoft and their mentors. Below is my experience of this machinery called #PostaniITGirl.

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Author: Haris Dedović

Sunday is the day hated by many. Some call it the most depressing day. And the poor Sunday, charged but not guilty, has this reputation because of someone else – Monday. I hate Sundays as well. Actually, I hate it for some different reasons, but never mind. On this Sunday I woke up fresh- we did not go out last night. Usually we hated Saturdays, and not because of Sundays, but because of Fridays. Again, that’s not fair.

There was a training in the UN House which I had to cover and write something about. I’m thinking- just another event article. 5W, a photo, equipment, and bah- bye.

But that did not happen. In the room there were 3 trainers, 12 girls, 6 women who were organizers, Jeremy, and myself. I don’t know what Jeremy’s role in the project was, but I’m sure for that particular moment he wasn’t doing anything. I came there to get few statements from the participants and a photo or two, although Aleksandra covered the photo part more than well.

During the break I talked with the training participants and asked them how they felt and what their impressions were. I had to keep in mind that I was pretty clueless about coding and the young girls would need to explain everything from scratch to me, and they did. They started laughing as they couldn’t believe there was someone younger than 50 who didn’t know anything about coding. Well, I’m sure there are some things they don’t know about too.

So they start explaining to me from the beginning: “First we got some papers to draw what we would like to make”, says Amina, while her colleague interrupts: “they made something for students, but we also wanted to do something to help students, but since their idea was similar we didn’t want to look like we copied them, so we changed the idea into a webpage for travelling.”

Some girls heard about the training on TV, others via Facebook, and some were informed by their teachers, and I found out that at least half of them wanted to choose coding as their future career.

And then I said through my teeth: “Well, it sounds boring to me…”

The answer was more than clear, because every one of them, interlacing with the pitch of their voices, said: ”It’s not, not, nooot!”And then it was clear to me why they wanted to do coding in the future – they actually liked it!

As everything was clear there, I approached their trainers and talked to them briefly- they were IT students who are already serious coders.

On my question how is everything going on, one of the trainers answered: ”The girls are too smart.” I added laughing, “Are you already afraid for your work?” They also laughed and continued: “The girls are young, but they already know so much. It’s great, because while we were growing up, there were no opportunities like this for girls. And also we noticed something interesting. They say they talk about coding in their schools and with their peers. I’m not sure if anyone ever mentioned coding in my school, and now the kids are talking about it during recess”, concludes one of the trainers while they are serious not to prolong their 5- minute break. The break really lasted for 5 minutes.

And probably many of you wonder- but what is news here? Well, apparently for us the news is that females also code, that they can do it by themselves, and that they are great at it. For them, it’s probably old news.

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Tea Šušić: I believed that in life nothing is impossible

tea 1The world of information and communication technologies is so vast and diverse that everybody can find something that they would like to pursue in this field. From making apps, building robots, flying drones to graphic designing and other creative challenges. Another good thing about this industry is that regardless of your limitations you can find a way to adapt your working environment to your needs and make the IT work for you. Tea Šušić, a 25-year old graphic designer from Zadar, has done exactly that, and she keeps on building up on her skills and knowledge as an aspiring graphic designer in Croatia. She holds a degree from the Faculty of Graphic Design and is currently working with a non-governmental organization “Zamisli” (Imagine) in Zagreb. Tea is also a person with hearing impairment. Read more about her path to success in our interview below.

IT Girls: How and why did you decide to study graphic technology?

Tea: I completed my secondary education at the School of Natural Sciences and Graphic Technology in Zadar with a focus on media technology. It was in high school where I first got to work with multimedia, website development and graphic design software. Due to my hearing impairment I was much better at visual media. I became interested in graphic technology and the possibility to create different visual projects. When I finished high school I wanted to go to university and specifically Graphic Design because I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.

IT Girls: Did the fact that you have a hearing loss ever hinder your plans to pursue a career in graphic design? How did your fellow students behave at university?

Tea: Hearing loss is no obstacle for doing graphic design. In fact, better-developed visual perception can result in a special graphic expression, and a special way you see reality. My professors at university always treated me with respect and acknowledged my efforts. They included me in all the activities, even presenting in front of other students. Of course, in those situations I had assistance from the sign language translator, as well as during oral exams. I followed all the lectures with the help of a typist who typed everything that was being said onto a screen and this is how I was able to follow everything. Thanks to the support of the translator and typist, I completed my studies without having to repeat any year, and without any leftover exams. Many people around me, especially from the Deaf Association, tried to talk me out doing university studies. They were saying that it is impossible for a deaf person to study at this level. However, my will power and motivation was stronger than their negative forecasts. I believed that in life nothing is impossible. Of course I had to put in more effort than people who hear well, but I wanted to prove myself, and others that I can do it. And I did it!

IT Girls: During your studies you also did an internship. How was your first work experience? How did people accept you in their work environment?

Tea: I did my first professional internship at a big printing house where I got familiarized with the entire printing process, from placing an order, preparation, printing to distribution of the printed product. During my internship I had the support of a sign language translator. My coworkers were very friendly and they tried to explain the best way they could how the workflow went. My second internship was at a company that does graphic design and printing of promotional material. There I didn’t have a translator, but I communicated with everyone through email, which is how I received my tasks.  

IT Girls: Do you code? How can coding help you in graphic design? Are those two connected and how?

Tea: Three months ago I started a course in web application development. Coding and graphic design are a good match because in order to make innovative and informative web applications you need to know how to do computer programming, from the most simple such as contact forms to the more complicated processes. 

IT Girls: Which programming languages are you learning about and why those?

Tea: I am learning how to work in C#, ASP.NET, SQL, ADO.NET and XML. It’s a software package offered in this course, probably because they are easily applicable and sought after in the labor market.

IT Girls: What are you major interests and what would you like to do in the future?

Tea: I am interested in graphic design, but also wider graphic technology, different types of printing on different materials. I like to see the final product, with print on it. I’m also interested in digital and art photography, which is something I would like to do more in the future.

IT Girls: What would be your message to girls and young people in general who wish to take on coding and graphic design?

Tea: It is important to do something we like, we are interested in and something we take pleasure in doing. If we are interested in something then we will be ready to put in an extra effort and learn how to do it. It is important for any occupation, including graphic design and coding. Also, one has to be ready to embark on lifelong learning because the graphic technology sector and coding tend to develop fast with the development of new technologies, and it is a trend we need to follow. Things we learn at university might be considered already obsolete by the time we enter the labor market, because in the meantime other graphic software or programming languages will have been developed. Therefore, it is important to keep abreast of new inventions and new technologies.

Nagin Cox: “Dare to do mighty things”

“Find what you are interested in doing and find what you want to pursue. After 20 years I am still passionate about what I do.”

Dr. Zainab Nagin Cox is one of the leading scientists involved in NASA’s mission to explore Mars. Nagin graduated from Cornell University with a BS in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering and a BA in Psychology and was commissioned as an officer in the US Air Force. She worked in F-16 Aircrew Training and received a Master’s degree in Space Operations Systems Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. As a captain, she served as an Orbital Analyst at NORAD/Space Command in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs. In 1993,she joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and has since served as a systems engineer and manager on multiple interplanetary robotic missions including NASA/JPL’s Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mars Exploration Rover Missions and the Kepler telescope mission to search for earth-like planets around other stars. She is currently on the mission operations team for Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) – NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover.

ITGirls team had the chance to meet this inspirational woman in April this year, when she visited Sarajevo. Dr. Cox revealed to us how NASA uses Computer programming to explore space, but also how she personally feels about coding.

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When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?

I knew that I wanted to work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on interplanetary, robotic missions when I was 14. Growing up in a ‘religiously restrictive’ household made me think: “Why can’t I do what boys do?” And so, I started exploring to find something that brings people together instead of dividing them. When I was a little girl, Star Wars and Star Trek were extremely popular. For a while, I wanted to do something related to science fiction, but then I realized there’s a real space programme and that was something that one could be involved in, but it was also about something peaceful and for the whole of humankind. I wanted to do something for all the humanity, so I set my mind on becoming a space engineer.

What do coders do in NASA? What is the connection between space operations and writing a code?

The rovers that travel to space are computers you make do what you’d like them to do. The interesting thing about writing a code for space ships is that the code is far away. We don’t write the shiniest, fanciest codes, that’s not the goal. The goal is an understandable, reliable code that does what you want it to do efficiently. Writing code for rockets, for space ships, is more about working with other software developers, so that your code interfaces with what other people write. I don’t need a coder who is going to sit in their office and never talk to anyone. The new coders are the ones that can communicate, have social skills, write good code and are modest enough to understand that that code needs to be well-tested, reliable, and – here’s one that’s always tough – they need to be decent writers. You need to be able to document your code. Some of the space missions last for number of years, it’s important that the coders are able to write down what the code does, in case there’s a bug and the developer is not available at the moment.

What is unique about your job?

I start every day by looking at new images from Mars that most humans have never seen. Also, I wear two watches on my wrist – one showing the Earth time and one showing the time on Mars.

What would be your message to inspire young girls to pursue a career in coding?

Girls are already interested but the key is to keep them from thinking “that’s not feminine, that’s not girly“. One of the things that I have noticed about coding and apps is that there is almost a set of products that are about how to write a code that enables you to have a better system for organizing your jewelry, or a code that will turn a bar in your closet so all your dresses show up. These things show that coding is also used for what is ‘traditionally’ considered feminine projects. What I want to say is, just find what you are interested in doing and find what you want to pursue. After 20 years I am still passionate about what I do.

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In Bosnia and Herzegovina, girls learn how to code their way to future careers

Inspired by the idea of the digital revolution, a group of young employees of the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina have launched the IT Girls project.  The idea is to attract young girls to the world of Computer programming in order to be more involved in ICT sector and to increase the opportunities in choosing a future education and career.

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Young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a lower-middle income country in the Balkans, struggle to find their place in the labour market. Youth unemployment rate is above 60%, and it particularly affects young women. However, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the country seems to be growing, creating more jobs and opportunities, in particular for young people. However, one of the highest paying occupation groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the possibility of rapid growth, the ICT sector is highly male-dominated.

Computer programming (often shortened to “programming”) is a process that leads from an original formulation of a computing problem to executable computer programs. Programming involves activities such as analysis, developing understanding, generating algorithms, verification of requirements of algorithms including their correctness and resources consumption, and implementation (commonly referred to as coding) of algorithms in a target programming language.

A group of young employees of UN Women, UNDP and UNICEF identified that girls have the same access to technology as boys, but are less confident to pursue a career in this field. Wanting to change that, they merged capacities and in February 2016 started an initiative named “IT Girls”. The rationale behind the initiative lies in the cross-cutting commitment for the participation of women and girls in the labour market and their equal involvement in all career directions. These are outlined in frameworks for protection and promotion of women’s rights and national policies and legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The IT Girls team is formed of young UN Women, UNDP and UNICEF staff trying to make a positive impact in the lives of girls and to increase their involvement with IT.

IT Girls works to bridge gender gaps by raising awareness of the importance of coding as an entry skill into IT, increasing confidence of girls by promoting female role models in the ICT sector and acquiring skills through training.

In light of the initiative, the first web development training for young girls was organized in the country’s capital, Sarajevo. Twelve girls, aged 13 to 15 worked in teams to develop their own web applications. During four days of training, girls learned how to use HTML, CSS and JavaScript to bring their own website ideas to life. Five web social projects were created as a direct result of the training: Game of Code, Studying Funning, Travel Fun Dolphins, BiH Students and Passion for Fashion.

“The girls have successfully mastered the techniques that we have taught, and I’m glad to hear that they are now talking about programming and IT as something interesting and attractive to pursue a career in”, said Rialda Spahić, one of the “IT Girls” trainers.

I’m so happy because I had the chance to participate in making my own website. As much as I love programming, I never imagined I’d actually see a result of it in this short period of time“, said Uma Nea, a member of the team that produced Game of Code web application.

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IT Girls team established successful cooperation with the private ICT sector and NGOs that work in similar areas. The initiative continues to grow, focusing on awareness raising activities through social media and the web platform and expanding the training geographically and demographically, reaching out to remote and diverse communities. In future, the team wants to start working with educational institutions to advocate for mainstreaming coding in schools and to broaden the participation of girls and women in Science, Technology, Economics and Mathematics.

The cooperation was established with Microsoft in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Authority Partners, Mistral Technologies, OSB Engineering & IT and Atlant BH. These companies have provided incentives for girls to encourage them to code and have participated in the organization of free-of-charge training.

We want our initiative to grow bigger and better. We want the digital revolution to reach every girl in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we are sure we’ll make it”, said Aleksandra Kuljanin, Communication Officer at UN Women CO BiH and a co-founder of the IT Girls initiative.