Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant helping little girls change the world – interview
Photo contribution by Vianka Villa
Kimberly Bryant spent years in the corporate world as a software engineer climbing up the ranks in a field where very few women of color, and women in general, held a seat in the boardroom.
In an interview with Oprah, Bryant talked about her first engineering job where her manager (who was instrumental in her development and she admires) initially introduced her as a “twofer,” meaning the company got double points for hiring a person of color and a woman.
Bryant said the use of these type of words were an example of the bias found in the tech industry.
Bryant eventually left the corporate world with intentions of starting her own business. She began attending tech conferences where she found very few women participants.
“Many of the conferences in the tech space, there weren’t women, that was odd to me because I came from a diverse company. It didn’t make any sense why there were no women,” she said.
While pursing her entrepreneurial spirit, her daughter began taking an interest in game design and had aspirations to be a game tester. Bryant ultimately sent her to a coding camp at the prestigious Stanford University.
“That camp was life changing for [my daughter] and went from seeing herself as a video game tester to wanting to build the games. Her abilities changed as a result,” she said.
However, the camp had the high percentage of boys and Bryant was concerned about her daughter’s enthusiasm for coding.
“I was afraid that the little boys would discourage her from seeking her passion. At that time there wasn’t an organization that would help her grow,” she said.
Bryant decided to start Black Girls Code (BGC), an organization dedicated to building software engineer skills for girls.
“It was really about finding and creating a support network for [my daughter] and I began to build a non-profit,” Bryant said.
In the beginning, Bryant self-funded the organization and used a lean startup methodology to build BGC. Google and other corporate partners recognized the importance of Bryant’s mission and signed up as a sponsor.
“Google took a chance on us and stayed with us after we remained a lean organization and allowed us to grow,” Bryant said.
At the core, BGC’s mission is to help empower girls to whatever field they enter but “want to level the playing field for whatever career they are in with their male peers,” Bryant said.
BGC programs began with game development, “a natural place to start since girls enjoy video games and can use their creativity to storytell,” Bryant said.
“You’re learning design, story making and a lot of different ways of coding [with gaming]. It’s the most ideal entry point for girls,” she continued.
Since the inception, BGC has added programs around web design and robotics.
“We want the girls to see it all so they could find the thing they are most interested in,” she said.
BGC started with a staff of two and hosted 2,000 students, now they have a staff of five and have served close to 8,000 students.
Bryant shared advice for parents who may not have a clue about coding but would like to expose their children to these opportunities.
Bryant said to look at other tech organizations in your area and tap into those programs including, hackathons and maker and science fairs.
“Don’t forget about the Maker Movement,” she emphasized. It’s fun to take your kids to a Maker space and learn a new skill.
Bryant said one way to get your girl interested in coding is to have her go with friends.
“Girls are extremely social and they don’t like doing it alone. Have them in a low intensity place and have them code with people like them,” she said.
At home, Bryant suggests online programs such as MIT’s stratch.edu for classes.
The tech industry at large can seem scary if a child or parent hasn’t been exposed to its culture and desired skill sets. Bryant said taking a few classes or attending a camp can help open the door to new interests and opportunities.
“The tech industry has more than coding. There are finance people, etc. The best way to get involved is to be involved. I would also say a lot of time women are steered away from coding because they say they may not be good at math. But that isn’t a hindrance of coding, because it’s just another language you’re learning,” she said.
Bryan believes that as girls and women progress in the technology, the industry will benefit from the different perspectives.
“Women are better equipped to be a coder because of the logic and creativity it takes to make a product. I feel the industry could improve upon itself if more women innovate and contribute,” Bryant said.
While there is still work to be done for women in the tech industry, Bryant shared that women need take the initiative and get involved.
“This is still the dark ages of the tech industry and women still have to take the helm and run with it,” Bryant said.
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Our interview was conducted at Girls in Tech Conference in Phoenix, AZ. Read more about the GIT conference at AZTB.
Graphic provided by Black Girls Code