At her middle school computer science summer camp, Kia was one of a handful of girls, and the only black girl. When she came home each evening, she told her mother that the instructors focused more intently on the boys. They weren't mentoring the girls in the class equally. The 12-year-old was already an active gamer and wanted to know more about computers, but she felt like she wasn't being provided the best opportunity to learn.
Around the same time, Kia's mother, Kimberly Bryant, entered the startup world in San Francisco and was appalled by the low number of minorities represented. It shocked her, coming from the field of biotechnology, which she said had much more diversity.
"That's when the issues came together personally and professionally," Bryant said. "I didn't want [Kia] to be unmotivated and...feel like she couldn't learn these skills or thrive because of the attention she got in class."
Bryant decided to start Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that would introduce girls from underrepresented communities to computer programming. Before this venture, Bryant was a successful electrical engineer and worked in the biotechnology field for more than 20 years. She lived in Birmingham, Alabama as well as up and down the East Coast before moving to the Bay Area.
Launched in 2011, Black Girls Code aims to provide computer programming knowledge to a new generation of coders, specifically minorities that are underrepresented in the industry. The program is funded primarily by donations, and companies such as Rackspace and Symantec have sponsored events.
Black Girls Code teaches programming languages such as Scratch and Ruby on Rails to girls age 7 to 16 through after school programs and workshops. The six-week after school course allows girls to explore technology concepts with trained instructors and teaching assistants. A summer enrichment program offers week-long intensive classes in robotics and programming. In 2012, Black Girls Code funded a Summer of Code camp in cities across the country through an Indiegogo campaign. The organization has also hosted bilingual workshops in partnership with the Latino Startup Alliance.
Starting Black Girls Code was a huge sacrifice for Bryant. But she is a risk-taker, and believes that characteristic has served her well throughout her career.
"It's nowhere near as lucrative as biotech, but it is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my career," she said. "It pays me in benefits each and every day."
The name "Black Girls Code," though crucial to its mission of representing minorities, isn't something Bryant emphasizes with the girls in the program. However, they see the makeup of participants and in the name on the website. It's always in the background, and they identify with it.
"[They] latch on immediately and take a lot of pride with the name," she said. "They internalize it based on the environment, there's a reflection of them in mentors, and they take pride in the concept. It's something that's meant to support them specifically, and they are starting to thrive and flourish and blossom in that supportive environment."
Although this organization focuses on girls of color, Bryant was adamant that she is a huge advocate for all youth —boys and girls — learning to code. Not necessarily because they will become computer scientists or programmers, but because they need to have the knowledge base in today's world.
In the Bay Area, where Black Girls Code is well-established, Bryant has seen girls become leaders in their communities. They start clubs at school. They enroll in computer science courses and learn other programming languages. They compete in hackathons and app-building competitions.
Seeing girls thrive in this environment is inspiring to Bryant, but she always brings the conversation back to the reason she works so hard for this mission: Kia. Bryant constantly encourages her to push farther, harder, to take risks. After Kia attended the first Black Girls Code camp, she became more determined to succeed as an entrepreneur. Bryant feels confident in her daughter's growth as a young woman and as a programmer.
"It's inspirational to see my daughter gain self-confidence," she said. "She talks about being a business owner as opposed to being a game tester like before. I've seen her whole vocabulary change."
In her own words...
What is your advice for women in the tech industry?
"It's important to make sure all of our young people are exposed to tech from the creative side and they use it as a tool. And mentorship, I talk about that all the time. Having mentors, women or men, to help guide your path and answer questions and be there as you are going on this path."
What do you like to cook?
"We eat out a lot. Thai food or Mediterranean food. I cook more Southern dishes, but I don't have a lot of time to cook these days."
What is one thing you make sure you do every day?
"Taking some time for myself, be that in meditation or some quiet prayer, so I can focus and recenter myself. Not on goals necessarily, but I like to center myself each and every day."
What do you like to read?
"I'm more of a horror [fan], Ann Rice, Steven King fan when it comes to reading. I'm also a huge movie buff. We go every week, multiple times a week. I'm a big sci-fi fan."
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- Chip Foley: Tech architect. Stadium builder. Gadget nut.
Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.