A former STEM educator and a computer programmer are teaming up with the hopes of teaching more Bismarck-Mandan women (and men) to code.
Melissa Hendrickson and Tara Schultz are founding a Bismarck-Mandan chapter of the national organization Girl Develop It, the second chapter of its kind in the state.
Code is the language used to build various web and computer software applications. Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that aims to “provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women” who want to learn these skills.
Hendrickson first became interested in coding while teaching a STEM – Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics – class to middle school students. But what she noticed was her class was almost always 90 percent boys.
“I worked hard to get more girls to take the class,” Hendrickson said, and she hopes by starting Girl Develop It here she might be able to catch some of those women who wished they had the opportunity in high school, giving them the chance to come back and try again.
And when Tara Schultz was studying at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, she was often the only woman in many of her computer science classed.
“I’d love to change that and see more women doing what I’m doing,” she said.
Hendrickson said many states with Girl Develop It only have one chapter.
“To have two here in the Midwest … I think it speaks to our growing tech industry,” she said.
As a woman working for a technical company in a non-technical role, Hendrickson taught herself to code because she wants to understand better the work her colleagues do. She expects there are other women in the community who feel the same way.
And the pair has received a lot of community support they say, having made their announcement at Code Connect, a local group where tech industry professionals meet to talk shop. (When they made their announcement they were among the only four women in the larger group of 45 attendees, further proving the need they see.)
“There’s plenty of jobs here,” Schultz said, and many companies have told her they would like to grow the number of developers they have on staff.
For her, though she was reluctant to go into the industry in the first place, “it’s like solving puzzles all day long.”
At the behest of her programmer father, she built her first website at age 13. What struck her was how she could change a line of code and see the change it made instantly.
“I’m not an artist, I’m not a writer but I get to create something every day,” she said.
Girl Develop It Bismarck will hold its first informational meeting Tuesday. About 10 women have RSVP'd to date. The first class, an introduction to coding course, which requires registration, will be Sept. 8. And the group is open to more than just women — anyone age 18 or older can attend.
Schultz said her ultimate goal would be to see a woman who didn’t know or think she could learn to code get a job doing it or start something new because of it. Hendrickson would also like to start a club for younger girls.
In the meantime, “little girls need role models,” Schultz said, and they’re hopeful they can help create more of those, too.