Ready, Set, Code: Viacom Hosts Girls for a Summer of Learning

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom
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Twenty-five software engineers walk into a room. How many are women?

This sets up like a joke, but the answer is not funny: three.

Or that is the average, anyway, based upon research from Girls Who Code, an organization determined to equip girls with the computing skills necessary to compete in a 21st century job market.

Viacom is deeply committed to changing those numbers by supporting education for women in STEM and increasing gender diversity in the technology industry. The company recently partnered with Girls Who Code for a seven-week summer program to provide 20 girls with 250-plus hours of intensive computer science instruction and exposure to more than 50 workshops, speakers and demos. The girls will take field trips to Viacom operations at VH1, Nickelodeon and our Network Operating Center in Long Island, among others. Viacom female leaders in technology will mentor the girls during the program and will continue to do so as they move to college.

Viacom hosted a welcome event at its global headquarters in Times Square in July to introduce the girls and their families to its own vast technology resources and the behind-the-screens personnel who keep our vast stable of brands broadcasting around the world.

Viacom Chief Technology Officer David Kline, who has been working in technology for more than 30 years, greeted the girls and summarized the power of learning how to code as a foundation of a diverse and interesting career. “Learning to code is a phenomenal thing. It’s a valuable asset whether you pursue that as a career or not because it enables you to understand how things work. It also puts you in a place where you get to learn the business. I’ve been in multiple industries – in healthcare, in consulting, in media, and I’ve learned about each business. I’ve learned how ad sales works, how marketing works, how legal, finance and PR works. Being in a technology position, you get to see all those things.”

For girls like Ana Leon, who has long been interested in computers, Girls Who Code provided an outlet to pursue her interests via its program at St. Jean Baptiste High School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I’ve always liked computers since I was five years old, and I didn’t know what career to go into. I wanted to go into medicine or something else, but when I heard there was a Girls Who Code program at my school, I thought, ‘why not?’ and that’s where it all started.”

By its very existence, Girls Who Code is helping to knock down subconscious blocks that have long kept many girls from pursuing their interest in coding, giving them permission to actively pursue it for the first time. Sejal Mehra, who will be a junior at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens this fall, had never coded before joining the program. “I like science, bio, chem and math and my cousin does computer science, so I thought that would be cool to check out.”

If the program’s track record is any indication, Mehra will come away from the program with more than just basic coding skills. When asked what she gained by participating, 2014 Girls Who Code graduate and current teaching assistant Sabrina Bergsten said, “Confidence in my skills. It’s not like any of us girls couldn’t code before, but Girls Who Code gave us a lot of confidence that not only can you have the same skills as some of the amazing engineers out there now, but we can actually teach ourselves now.”

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