“Let’s do something about it!” There’s no waiting around for someone else to fix things for these guys, they’re taking matters in their own hands — from skiing to raise money for the leprosy-afflicted to rewriting an unbiased history of India and Pakistan; recycling tyres and pushing solar energy to solutions for the hearing impaired and making earthquake relief count. Motherland picks out a bunch of promising superheroes from across the country, determined to light up the world we live in.
Back in high school, Aashna Shroff was one of only two girls studying computer science. Today, she’s a Stanford sophomore in computer science with a minor in economics, and the founder of Girl Coding Camps (GCC) — an initiative out of Hyderabad that seeks to fight gender disparity in the world of coding. “When airbags were invented, there were reportedly more deaths in cars than before. It was discovered later thatairbags were invented for a man’s body, and as a result, women were dying. Had a woman been on board while designing airbag prototypes, this wouldn’t have happened. Having a diverse team is beneficial to the product; it is better economics,” Shroff says.
GCC came out of Shroff’s Stanford experience. The initiative, now a year old, has hosted multiple workshops in five schools across Hyderabad, culminating in a “hackathon”, where participants from different schools could participate. A team of Stanford students helped her organise these camps, the first of which was held in her alma mater, CHIREC International School. “There aren’t as many girls in coding in the US either, so there were a lot of initiatives on campus to ensure that girls took it up. I wanted to bring that back to India, and encourage young girls to not shy away from the subject.”
Keeping that in mind, GCC lays emphasis on introducing their participants to women in technology. “We asked them to name famous men in the world of tech and they had Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Bill Gates, Satya Nadella. When we asked them to name women, they couldn’t come up with one. One of our goals is to show them what role women have played in technology, women whose names have been left out or neglected. We would begin our workshops with presentations about them, and keep bringing them up later as well.”
The workshops introduced 10th graders to web development, mobile app development, and hands-on thinking in the field of information technology, teaching them how to build and develop their own websites and apps. “Some of them made their websites ‘cool’, while others made them interactive. For mobile app development, we used a software called the MIT App Inventor, which makes it easy to develop your own Android apps. I think the underlying themes of these workshops were that we made them interactive and fun,” Shroff says, recalling how many of the participants were amazed at the fact that they could develop their websites and apps right there at the workshop, instead of working on them for weeks and months on end as they had previously assumed.
Over the next year, Shroff wants to reach out to government schools that don’t normally have access to computer science training. Further, she wants to set up GCC clubs in the schools where they held workshops so that can keep up with their training. “What I love about computer science is that it helps you solve problems. When you are learning how to code, you are also developing a way of thinking, something I don’t want young girls to be discouraged from,” Shroff says, with the larger vision of bringing more diversity into coding for future generations.