30 Sep 2015
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Waikato of University hosts free coding workshops for girls

By Catherine Knowles

The University of Waikato is hosting computing workshops for girls this October, with the aim of encouraging female students to consider a career in computer science.

Taking place October 2 and 9, the free workshops have been designed to teach girls basic coding and website development in a fun and safe environment.

Geared toward anyone with an interest in IT and technology, attendees have the opportunity to gain some real life skills and don't have to have any previous programming experience.

Workshop one will teach the girls the basics of HTML and CSS, and Workshop two will expand on this with a focus on Javascript.

Therefore, to attend the second workshop students should have attended the first, or have learnt about HTML and CSS at school.

If a student already knows HTML and CSS, they can dive straight into the second workshop or choose to attend both.

All computing resources are provided, but students can bring a USB drive to take their work home.

Computer Science senior tutor, Nilesh Kanji, has been offering secondary school students level one papers through the STAR programme since 2009 and has noticed there are fewer girls coming through.

“We want to increase the number of females. There is a perception of what computer science is but it’s changed a lot, there are a lot more things you can do.

“Things like developing apps for phones, five to 10 years ago these sorts of jobs didn’t exist,” she says.

“Things are a lot more visual now and that might appeal more to girls, and girls bring a different point of view, so it’s good to get that range of opinion,” says Kanji.

Grace Nolan, a Waikato University student and computer science advocate, says when she first got her hands on a computer her parents hated it.

“It was a Nintendo Super Mario Brothers game. They tried to ban me but it didn’t work,” she says.

However, this early exposure (she was seven at the time) got her interested in technology, and she proceeded to delve deeper into computers.

“I was always interested in menus and changing things,” she says.

Nolan has now nearly completed her undergraduate degree in Computer Science.

As an advocate for women to take up the subject, she helped start CS3, a support group for computer science students, and actively seeks opportunities to spread the word that computer science isn’t just a subject for boys.

“I gave a talk at my old school (Waikato Diocesan) and we had to move to a bigger room, there was so much interest,” she says.

With technology now playing a part in all aspects of everyday life there are far more opportunities to get involved, she says.

“You can work with your passions, take something you are interested in and add computer science to it. I just want girls to know it’s an option,” she says.

And this option can bring many rewards, according to Nolan.

For the past two years Nolan has been a Google Student Ambassador and gone on retreats in Sydney, and has received a scholarship to attend the world’s largest conference for women in IT, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, being held in Texas next month.

She has also been awarded a Summer Research Scholarship to carry out a literature review of research into women in computing. Following this she hopes to develop code camps aimed solely at girls.

Nolan says receiving the scholarships provides validation of her skills, which is important as it can still be tough for women to gain respect in IT.

“There is still a lot of bias and women are not taken seriously. Boys are often louder and dominate conversations, girls tend to sit back and watch a bit more, and women tend to undervalue themselves,” she says.

Nolan says the two computer workshops being held at the University will encourage more girls to consider an IT career.

The workshop are being held at the University of Waikato on Friday, 2 October and Friday, 9 October from 12pm-3pm.

They will be open to any female student from year 9-13 who would like to learn how to create websites.

To register or ask a question, email to Nilesh Kanji at nkanji@waikato.ac.nz with your first and last name, the school you attend and say that you want to register. 

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