Look What These Girls Can Do: A Summer of Coding Wraps at Viacom

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom
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Did you know that coding can help ease your commute to work?

Or that it can help you set goals? Or figure out whom to vote for?

Or that coding can create a world where a girl can dress up a virtual doll in any skin tone or body type she chooses?

And when you’re fed up with the messy and crowded big city streets, coding can create a video game in which you stomp tourists and sweep up trash in a digital urban landscape.

This summer at Viacom’s New York City headquarters, 20 girls learned that coding can do exactly that, creating these experiences with skills learned through Girls Who Code (GWC), an organization built to inspire, educate and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.

Last week, these girls gathered with their families and teachers, Viacom staff and GWC staff to demo these final projects and celebrate a remarkable summer.

“From speakers to mentors to my fellow coders, we all believe in the Girls Who Code message – that females can and will achieve greatness in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields,” said Sejal Mehra, who represented her class with remarks. “Over the summer, we not only learned how to code, but have also made 22 new best friends. I know for a fact that when we leave this week, our friendships will grow with our coding abilities.”

Through its companywide social responsibility umbrella, Viacommunity, Viacom is deeply committed to education and diversity, a sentiment underscored in remarks by CEO Philippe Dauman.

“For us, education is a core cause that we have,” said Dauman. “As you know, all these networks we have reach a lot of young people around the world and have a lot of influence, so we’ve made it our mission to reach young people to do good in the world and to do good for themselves. Every part of the evolution of our industry has been based upon technological change, and that’s been accelerating.

While Dauman noted that some of the top positions at Viacom, including the president of the Kids & Family group, which includes Nickelodeon, and the chairman and CEO of BET are women, he acknowledged that it’s been difficult to increase diversity in the company’s technology sectors because not enough programs like GWC have existed to inspire girls’ interest in coding to begin with.

That may be changing. The Viacom program was part of a larger GWC effort that taught 1,200 girls in 57 programs this summer alone. By scaling up the number of girls who plunge into coding before they walk the aisle of their high school graduation, GWC is hoping to dramatically increase the number of females graduating college with computer science degrees, which currently sits at a dismal 18 percent and has been steadily decreasing over the past three decades.

“I truly believe that by not having women solving the problems of tomorrow, we’re losing out as a nation,” GWC founder and CEO Reshma Saujani told the girls in her remarks. “We’re building an army. I don’t mess around when I say that this is about world domination. We are literally taking over one technology company at a time. So watch out Philippe – you’re probably staring at the next CEO of Viacom.”

Viacom will continue to support the GWC program, not only by welcoming new classes of girls into its confines, but by providing ongoing support for those who have passed through. The company will also select two graduates of this year’s program to receive four-year summer internships, lasting throughout their college years and possibly ending with a full-time job at Viacom. “We’re excited for this to be the first graduation of many,” noted Dauman, “because this is not a courtship, it’s a marriage.”

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