'Girls Who Code' take on male-driven IT industry - WFSB 3 Connecticut

'Girls Who Code' take on male-driven IT industry

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(WFSB photo) (WFSB photo)

A national program that encourages young women to pursue careers in technology and engineering is gaining momentum but isn’t offered in Connecticut just yet.

Three Connecticut teens are hoping Girls Who Code, a New York-based organization working to close the gender gap in tech fields, will find a place closer to home.

The girls said they have been traveling to Mass Mutual in Springfield, MA every day for the last six weeks to learn more about technology. It’s a field they all said they’re passionate enough about to pursue as careers.

They’ve been learning computer coding, robotics and web design.

Yasmine Laurent of Girls Who Code said the nonprofit's ultimate mission is to inspire young women to take jobs in information technology, or IT. She said it’s a field that’s dominated by men.

The seven-week summer immersion program is intense and selective, according to Laurent. Right now, it’s only offered in 14 states, including Massachusetts.

Ketaki Pawar, 16, of Newington, is one of the three teens who was selected from Connecticut. She’s a junior at the Academy of Aerospace Engineering.

"I definitely think that computer science is for me,” Pawar said. “I found it, and I'm good at it."

Pawar, Nivi Nath of Farmington and Taylore Westbrook of Glastonbury said they were all bitten by the IT bug early in their lives.

“I know I've always been into computer science since Freshman year,” Pawar said. “I got introduced then, in high school, so I got hooked to it."

The three are the only high schoolers in the state to get into the program.

“That experience of figuring out yourself, doing the whole thing yourself is really rewarding and that's not very traditional,” Nath said.

Like most rewarding experiences, the girls said this one had some bumps along the way.

“Working with a team of people coding, it's very difficult,” Westbrook said. “It's harder than I thought."

“The first line of code I wrote I was probably really confused,” Nath said. “I didn't know what it would do."

Despite the challenges, all three said they plan to take on the IT industry in some way. Currently, less than half a percent of high school girls select computer science as a college major.

Girls Who Code said its mission is to build confidence.

"It's definitely building that pipeline, which currently doesn't exist,” Laurent said. “We're preparing girls. We're inspiring them. We're providing them with the skill set to be prepared to enter into the industry."

Laurent said that in five years, there will be over a million tech jobs in the country and not enough people with the skills to fill them.

“Only 29 percent of our population, men and women, will be skilled enough to do it, and only about 3 percent of those will be women,” she said.

Girls Who Code has several partners like Mass Mutual that sponsor its programs and clubs. It said some of the top tech companies in the world like Facebook, AT&T and Twitter have invested in it.

Anyone looking to learn more about Girls Who Code and the application process, check out its website here.

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