#CSStories: Providing Opportunity for Girls in STEM

Dec 4, 2017   |   Bay Area Staff

One summer can change a student’s whole life. For Zaynah Shaikh, that was the case two summers in a row, as she immersed herself in the world of computer science.

As a student in Girls Who Code’s Summer Immersion Program in 2015, Zaynah learned what computer science was. As an undergraduate at City College of San Francisco, Zaynah was introduced to Mission Bit, where she learned why computer science was important to her.

Microsoft’s commitment to education — particularly in computer science — is boosted by partner programs like Girls Who Code and Mission Bit. Girls Who Code tackles the gender gap in tech through on-campus clubs and free 7-week summer programs. Mission Bit brings all-inclusive coding education to underrepresented communities through semester-long coding courses. And the two together provide a powerhouse of opportunity for students like Zaynah.

“I went in [to Girls Who Code] having no CS background whatsoever,” Shaikh tells us. “I didn’t even think about pursuing computer science as a career or something that I wanted to study. Throughout each week, getting to meet new people in tech and going to all these companies changed that — and being in the Bay Area is an advantage because we’re right in the middle of the tech industry. That really inspired me; as a women in tech being a minority, I need to talk to someone who gives me that push.”

What attracted Shaikh the most to Mission Bit was the draw of learning how to build a standalone website. As many of her peers have their own sites, she looked at it as a good start to learning how to apply her computer science skills. But what she learned was bigger than that, as she quickly began recruiting leaders in tech that she had met at Girls Who Code to speak to her Mission Bit class.

“I essentially went through my LinkedIn and remembered people that had spoken to my Girls Who Code class, or that I had seen at other events for girls in tech,” Shaikh tells us. “I sent them a quick message and said, I’d like to bring you in to talk to us about your career. I brought a software engineer from a startup, an engineer from Dropbox, a data scientist and a recruiter from Twitter, and other people — just be able to tell my peers I knew these people was a way for me to show my commitment to my and my peers’ experience.”

Through Mission Bit’s course, Shaikh learned basic web design: HTML & CSS. In her final two weeks in the program, she used these newfound skills to work on a team project, where she said she gained valuable experience in teamwork.

“That’s very vital, especially if I were to go into a career as a software engineer,” she tells us. “You’re going to be working with different people with all sorts of personalities.”

Since Zaynah’s time with Mission Bit has wrapped up, she’s been pursuing her education with plans to become a software engineer. And this program turned into something more for her, as she took on an internship with Mission Bit itself. Through data entry, office management, and event planning, she’s gotten an inside look at what a job in tech looks like — and she wants other girls to have the same experience.

“I have grown up in San Francisco my whole life, and I never knew how important tech was until I did Girls Who Code,” Shaikh says. “Computer science education is important to me because as someone who grew up in the city and didn’t know what tech was, I want to be able to show the next generation that tech is a very important industry. If you really want to get into it and you want to learn more about it, then you need to start with the foundational skills, and hopefully those skills can help you build your career.”

At 19, Shaikh has a bright future ahead of her. She is currently solidifying her computer science skills and hopes to become a teaching assistant with Girls Who Code to give back to the program that kickstarted her interest. She wants to show girls that even if they have no experience in computer science — like she did when she started — you can still launch yourself into a computer science career.

“I wasn’t sure who to look for in tech and who to look to as a mentor,” she says. “I want these girls to look at me and say, I want to be just like her.”

Learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to computer science education here.

Tags: , , , , , ,