City schoolgirls code for a bolder tomorrow

Techies mentor girls for 3 months to build innovative apps that solve community problems

Published: 22nd August 2016 04:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd August 2016 04:47 AM   |  A+A-

BENGALURU: Coding is a passion, says 33-year-old Dhana Lakshmi Kodithi who mentors schoolgirls on how to build an app.

“There are not many women who take to coding after finishing their engineering. This is primarily because we have failed to realise the importance of teaching the nuances of coding in schools. We need to expose our girls to a varied curriculum that also involves coding and let them pick what they like,” says the senior lead engineer at an IT firm in Bengaluru.

Kodithi heads a team of 12 mentors who teach 25 schoolgirls how to code and build apps.

“In my school there is cyber association, but it basically an all boys thing. They just have one girl in the team. So, when I got an opportunity and a platform to build an app, I took it and eventually fell in love with coding,” says 13-year-old Aditi Neti.

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“How do we expect the rise of women technopreneurs when we don’t even introduce them to coding while they are growing up, especially with the prevalent social stigma — ‘coding is for boys’ — that needs to be destructed in times where a generation of us is still struggling for gender equality in the year 2016,” Kodithi says.

Women make up a very small percentage of software developers – 11.2% according to one 2013 survey – and the presence of sexism in the overwhelmingly male tech industry has been quite widely reported.

Khyathi Rachakonda, Rachel Ranjan, Adi Krishna Ne, Diya Sinha and Diya Anup — all eighth graders from National Public School, Indiranagar have built an app — Elixir — under the guidance of their mentors Kodithi and Senthil Kumar. “Elixir is an app that acts as a platform for cancer patients and survivors to share their experiences anonymously. In the age of nuclear families, support groups still remain a taboo in India. With this app, we have aimed to prosper the culture of support groups,” explains Diya Anup.

The campaign to teach girls coding was launched in 2013 at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in the US. Women Enhancing Technology (WeTech) was launched with an aim to train women and girls to develop the skills needed to fuel technological and economic growth.   Institute of International Education (IIE) under WeTech launched the school girls and university women programme in Bengaluru in 2014.

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As part of the project, tech heads from leading IT firms mentor schoolgirls for over a period of three months during weekends to come up with an innovative app that solves community problems.

“Over the past three years, the programme has worked with over 300 young girls and similar number of women have volunteered to be mentors. The schoolgirls come from a mix of public/government and private schools and the mentors come from IT companies. The programme is supported by corporate funding and the classes are provided at no cost to the girls,” says Megha Bhagat, Consulting India Programme Manager,  WeTech.

The girls who are part of the programme are from eighth to 12th grade and come from a mix of schools in the city. Last year the programme extended its reach to girls coming from disadvantaged communities and BBMP schools.

“The concept that when you provide young girls the opportunities to not just use technology but create technology, they do it differently than boys, has been validated by this programme,” says the 31-year-old.

Currently it only extends to school girls.

“Every year I watch girls from very diverse backgrounds come together and become technology experts in just three months. It has been a soul rewarding experience,” says Bhagat. 

Throughout the year, apart from the mobile app coding, We Tech also organises exposure visits to tech companies, incubators, startup eco system partners.  WeTech organises a pitch event at the end of three-month long learning programme. The girls pitch their apps to a panel of judges during the event.

This year, the girls pitched their apps to three women entrepreneurs, Sarita Mishra, founder of Green Cosmos, Anu Sridharan, co-Founder & CEO of NextDrop and Monika Shukla, Co-founder of Lets Endorse. The app that won the graduation pitch was CarbonSins -- built by schoolgirls of Army Public School, K Kamraj Road.

The winning team — Sachi Sathaye, Noynika Shukla, Arshya Loomba, Tanisha Khera and Anarghya Rao — was mentored by Girish Bommakant, Abhishek Roy and Vaishnavi Vaithiyalingam Kalaichelvan from another leading IT firm in the city.

The app aims at creating awareness among people about their contribution in polluting the earth in terms of their individual carbon footprint. It guides users on how to reduce one’s carbon footprint and allocates reward points to the lowest generators among the premium members. The app is tailored to map size of an individual’s contribution in CO2 emissions.

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