I can remember the first time I played a videogame, a small circle figure traveling around a maze chomping on dots captured not only my attention but my imagination. A secret dream I’ve always held on to was to one day make a game of my own. My love of videogames springboarded my love for computers and tech and is the reason you are reading these words on the SpawnPointBlog today.
That same love of all things nerdy is shared by an amazing organization called Black Girls Code. I became aware of them via Twitter and one my favorite shows, “The Melissa Harris Perry Show” on MSNBC. She profiled the group in her “Foot Soldiers” segment titled, “Why Girls Should Be Geeks,” and I knew that at some point I needed to reach out to them.
Well this Saturday, August 17th the New York chapter of BGC along with Hidden Level Games will be holding their first “Make a Game in a Day” class that is a part of their Summer of Code. Any parents out there with young girls should run and be a part of this wonderful program.
To give you a little info on what is going on with BGC and this Saturday class I reached out to Donna Knutt and Peta-Gay Clarke who were kind enough to answer some questions about the program via email.
Check out our interview below:
SpawnPoint: Please introduce yourself and give some background about Black Girls Code.
Donna Knutt (DK): I am Donna Knutt and I’m the Technical Lead for the New York Chapter of BlackGirlsCode. I run my own Web development company right here in New York, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with code and creating things. When I came across Black Girls Code, I jumped at the chance to be part of such an amazing organization!
Peta-Gay Clarke (PC): I am Peta-Gay Clarke and I am also the Technical Lead for the New York Chapter of BlackGirlsCode. I work as a Technical Analyst for a bank in the heart of New York. I am a graduate student at Pace University and most importantly, I am a mom to an amazing little girl. I first came across Black Girls Code via a facebook post. Once I read what this organization was doing, I thought, “We have to get this program to New York!”
DK & PC: BlackGirlsCode was founded in 2011 in San Francisco by Kimberly Bryant, a Biotechnology/Engineering professional. Kimberly decided to launch BlackGirlsCode to meet the needs of young women of color who were underrepresented in the STEM fields. Programs are geared towards girls ages 7-17 and range from Web Design classes to mobile app development classes, and even trips to tech companies. BGC’s goal is to provide girls with skills in computational reasoning and computer programming. We want to expose them to role models in the tech space and inspire them to become the next generation of tech creators and entrepreneurs. From BGC’s inception to now, much has changed but our mission remains the same: to empower girls of color to make a lasting contribution to society through the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries.
SP: What are some of the classes that BGC has offered in the past?
DK & PC: We’ve had classes such as Build A Webpage in a Day, Mobile App Development, and other programming workshops. We’ve also done national video game challenges across the US with our other chapters in Altanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. The New York Chapter is really excited to launch our very first Game Design Workshop this Saturday Aug 17 at Pace University!
SP: Can you go into some detail about the Summer of Code “Make a Game in a Day” class? What are some of the rules, and what will be taught? What programs will you be using?
DK & PC: Our “Build a Game in a Day w/ Beta” workshop is this Saturday, August 17, 2013. It’s being held at the Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems from 10am-4pm. The workshop will focus on game development with Beta! Beta is an arcade puzzle platform designed to make learning how to code more fun. The Beta team of developers which includes folks like, Errol and Patrice King along with Chris Moody created the program to use codePop, a tweet-sized game programming language. Players are given a great deal of control including the ability to create and customize every aspect of their game world. The workshop is designed to encourage student-driven learning, as participants think analytically, design, play, and code in real-time. What’s unique about Beta is that it blurs the line between playing a game and creating a game. So we’re excited to see some of the things that the girls will create and do with Beta. To learn more about Beta! Visit: http://www.betathegame.
SP: Playing and later wanting to make video games proved to be my gateway into technology. What are your hopes for the young ladies going through your programs?
DK & PC: We hope that by introducing our girls to coding and STEM in general at such a young age, that we will help bridge the digital divide and help build their confidence to become tech leaders and creators. We’ve also seen that our girls have built lasting relationships with other participants in the class and those relationships can take them even further in the field.
SP: Did gaming in any way inspire you? If so, what games did you play, are there any that you would “pass down” to any young women you know? Or are there any games out there now that would get them more into tech or programming?
Donna: Gaming definitely inspired me to continue learning code. I was an avid Metal Gear Solid player. I also enjoyed games like Ico and Baldur’s Gate (a lot of RPG stuff). These games inspired me to learn more about coding so I can one day build my own game. I’m happy to see that there are a lot of initiatives out there now to get more kids involved in coding and game development (Beta for example and the Hopscotch app).
Peta: I wouldn’t say gaming inspired me to learn coding but it definitely allowed me to develop a love for technology. For me, growing up, I wasn’t your average girly girl. I think at one point I had every video game system you could imagine… from Atari to Nintendo. However, the game I played the most was on my grandmother’s PC she bought back in the 90’s. It was a Tandy 2000 and it came with a MS-DOS Operating System. It was a Mario-like game but it had a math learning component. I remember being addicted to that game and playing it day-in and day-out.
SP: What advice would you give to young girls who are curious about tech or programming?
Donna: I’d say go for it. Have them ask their parents to sign them up for workshops, and participate in community-driven events where they can meet other curious coders and hack it out together.
Peta: Take a leap of faith. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the rate which technology is growing, having a technical skill is imperative today and will be even more so in the near future. Furthermore, technology itself is such a broad area. If not programming, there’s the hardware area, networking area, security area. All areas that at least one member of the New York Chapter has a skill in.
SP: What are some of BGC’s future goals? What can we look forward to in the future and what other programs will you be providing down the road?
Donna: Black women make up only 3% of the computing workforce. I experienced that firsthand in my computer science classes in college. I was definitely part of the minority in my classes. So our goal moving forward is to continue to create a space for our girls to thrive in the tech space. We have a responsibility to our girls and as cliché as it may sound, they are our future. So we plan on creating more innovative ways to introduce our girls to STEM, and we plan to continue connecting with community partners to help bridge that divide. There is so much opportunity, especially here in New York City, and we want to make these opportunities available to our girls. We want our girls to be able to say, “I built my first app at 7 and programmed my first robot at 10.” Now wouldn’t that be a nice opener at a job interview?
SP: Lastly can you tell folks where and how they can find more information about BGC?
BGC: We can be reached at:
For anyone interested in registering their girls for our workshop this Sat. Aug 17, 2013: http://nycsummerofcode2013.eventbrite.com
To register for future workshop or volunteer with the NY Chapter, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to thank Donna and Peta for taking time out of the schedule to be a part of this article on short notice and also for helping being involved in such an important undertaking.
As for what this means for gamers, I will say this: Many people of color have asked, pleaded, and made their voices heard about their representation in not only the games we have now but how we want to be represented in the future, not only on the small screen but in the meeting rooms when these games and concepts are being birthed.
The success of Black Girls Code means many things: a closure of the technology gap, tech workplaces that are even more inclusive than before, and a generation that is more technologically advanced and aware than we ever were. And hopefully while some these young ladies are taking over the world, they will make games that we will all enjoy.
Black Girls Code, thank you for making the world better one young geek at a time!