Start-Ups

Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant: Engineer. Entrepreneur. Mother.

Inspired by her daughter's experiences, Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls Code to teach programming to girls from underrepresented communities.

Black Girls Code
Kimberly Bryant is the founder of Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that teaches coding to girls from underrepresented communities.
 Image: Black Girls Code

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."

bgc.jpg
Girls participate in a Black Girls Code workshop.
 Image: Black Girls Code

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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About

Lyndsey Gilpin is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She writes about the people behind some of tech's most creative innovations and in-depth features on innovation and sustainability.

21 comments
lodewijkadlp
lodewijkadlp

The most racist thing is that she will be helping black people only. Single them out and try to help them and only them.

It's not as if she's offsetting some inherent unfairness either. Everyone can own a computer (in America!), even the generally impoverished minorities. Everyone has access to the freely accessible tutorials from which I and countless other coders have gained knowledge. All you need is to get off your lazy ass.

So is she saying black girls are lazy?

wnematollahi
wnematollahi

Outstanding! God bless her!


I recommend to Kimberly Bryant that, once her model is well-established, that she reach out further to the rural poor, which includes blacks and Latinos, but also First Americans and Appalachian whites. She will need a lot of help to extend her mission beyond the Bay Area. Any volunteers?



MidnightMauler
MidnightMauler

This is AWESOME!  This is just another opportunity for techies and community advocates to expand the knowledge base and general exposure for young women.  LOVE IT.

young.yvonne
young.yvonne

eaglewolf I agree.  What a shame you could not come up with better questions.  You are insulting Ms Bryant and your readers.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

...and who teaches the program? A pale male.

eaglewolf
eaglewolf

Would you ask a man you were interviewing - totally exclusive of race - what he likes to cook or read?

This sort of thing is what continues the gender gap in technology.   There were a multitude of questions that could have been asked that would have furthered the reader's knowledge of the person and the program.

ktmack
ktmack

@lodewijkadlp  I do agree that the title of her program "Black girls code" is just as racist and excluding as "White guys code" would be.  I do however feel that it is a great thing to try to encourage more minorities to become programmers because I do believe that being a minority in an interest area erects barriers.  I feel that if none of your friends care about coding then it's likely you won't even learn about it in the first place, or you may experience pressure to quit because it's weird. I think it's sad that some people who might love programming might never discover it or give up due to social pressures.  I do also feel it's possible there may be some sexist or racist remarks or attitudes, especially at this immature age, which doesn't help. 


However, I do feel there must be a different solution that does not require segregation.  As a female studying graduate level computer science, I love working with guys of all races, and I would hate it if we were segregated and any sort of "us verses them" mentality arose.  I feel that girls should learn to work with guy programmers in the early stages so they can be better at working with them later when they join the work force.


But what is a better way to overcome the social barriers and provide a safe and encouraging environment for young minorities?  I'm not really sure.

MonicaZA
MonicaZA

@wnematollahi I volunteer. I'm moving back to the South later this year and will focus on rural areas (like where I grew up).

jsargent
jsargent

@wnematollahi  If you check out the picture you can actually see a broader spectrum of children in the class. I just hope that she gets support for this from everyone.

jsargent
jsargent

@chrisbedford  What's wrong with that? Why is that such a big deal for you? 

jsargent
jsargent

@eaglewolf  Perhaps they wanted to say that an everyday woman with a family is doing this and not some geeky person or some big business CEO. I liked seeing that she really got in to this with the hands-on approach. I just wish more people would do this. It's as much about inspiring other women as it is showing what people can do. If there are women that took offense then I might have a different opinion.

yodi.collins
yodi.collins

Respectfully, I do not believe racism was intended by naming her program the way she did.  I interpret it as a message: "yes, black girls code!"  The message is targeted at anyone who thinks that black female + Information Technology is an impossible proposition -- particularly black girls.  Additionally, I agree with your comment that social pressures can and do contribute to the disconnect between minority females and IT professions.  Ms. Bryant is simply attempting to bridge an observed gap in the best way she can manage; her efforts will likely benefit a great number of people, male and female, regardless of ethnic background.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

@jsargent Didn't you get the memo? White men are evil and responsible for all oppression of all non-white males since before the beginning of time. /sarc

jsargent
jsargent

@mudpuppy1 @jsargent  Unfortunately he only read half the memo and he still thinks he should be the one with sour grapes.

jsargent
jsargent

Does anyone believe that there is something wrong with a white male helping with the lessons? If they do then tell us why, if they don't then why make the comment? Well Chris tell us why? Obviously you should be able to tell us otherwise you would't have added your comment.

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