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Last month Mayden Academy alumni Ruth Waterfield, Aimée Wyld and Lucia Velasco travelled to Taunton to lead coding workshops at Skirting Science, a Soroptimist International event where hundreds of high school girls can find out more about careers in STEM. Lucia Velasco told us what happened on the day.

Soroptimist International is a community which works internationally for the improvement of women around the world; ‘Soroptimist’ coming from the Latin soror (meaning sister), and optima (meaning best). Each year they run an event called Skirting Science in the South West, which provides a series of STEM workshops for high school girls. This year we joined companies and organisations including Rolls-Royce, GCHQ, the Met Office and the University of Plymouth to showcase the huge variety of options in tech and science careers.

We set off in the dead of night (or at least it felt that way, with an eye-watering 5am start) to arrive at Taunton School with plenty of time to have a cup of tea and set up laptops, information packs and free pens in the science lab. Soon after, our first group of girls arrived.

We talked through HTML (the structure of a website), CSS (used to style websites), Javascript (which makes sites interactive) and some of the tools of our trade. Using the code of a don’t-touch-the-sides maze game, the girls completed tasks to:

  • Change the sizes, shapes and colours of the maze in their browser
  • Edit the code for the maze
  • Add the code to be able to win or lose games
  • Add more functionality of their choice. Some students changed the maze colours when you clicked in certain places or when you finished the game, others played around with text.

My favourite part of each class was teaching them about the browser’s inspector feature; with this trick, you can temporarily change pretty much anything you can see on a website using the inspector, including text, colours, sizes and shapes. One of the girls asked me incredulously: “Can I change the text on ANYTHING?”

“Anything,” I replied.

“What, even in school?!”

“Even. In. School.” Sorry, teach!

A couple of the students already knew a lot of this stuff, so they helped others work through the tasks – I really hope they go on to become developers. They were wicked-smart, patient and great teachers. I’d love to have them on my dev team one day. Maybe they’ll become Mayden Academy trainers, and continue to pass knowledge onto more budding women in tech!

At the end of the session we answered some questions about life as a software developer, what it’s like being a woman in tech and (my favourite question) whether you could become a hacker.

My fellow workshop presenters Ruth and Aimée had just as much fun as I did, and had this to say about the day:

Ruth: “We were able to have really encouraging discussions about what being a developer involves and what kind of skills you might need. It was such a joy to see students faces light up as they realised that the code they had written had made a change they could see. In a short space of time we were able to open up the possibility of becoming a developer to them and dispel some common myths.

As people working in the tech industry, I think it is really important that we communicate openly about what being a developer really involves – creative problem solving, working collaboratively in teams and logical analysis – so that it becomes an inspiring option for young people.”

Aimée: “I really enjoyed seeing the students get stuck in with the practical activities and helping them debug any issues they encountered. There were always a couple of students in each class who would try to break the game, which was great to see – what better way is there to learn how something is working!

Getting more women into tech is so important, as no one should ever feel discouraged from entering into any sort of industry by any sort of social stratification. The only important factors should be your interests and motivations. Giving students the confidence to enter into whatever sort of work they are passionate about is really important, along with showing them that there are more doors open to them than they might realise.”

It was a great day for all of us, and I hope we can get involved with the Soroptimists again soon.”