In the meeting room at the Oakland Public Library’s Cesar Chavez Branch, girls grades 6 to 12 gather for their Tuesday club meeting. They remove their school backpacks and power on the laptops provided by the library. With some instruction from their club advisor, they immerse themselves in learning a new language: the language of coding.
This Girls Who Code club is one of the hundreds nationwide. This particular club location was launched four years ago. During each school year, from 5 pm to 7 pm, the girls come to the library to hang out and code with each other. January 23 was the first meeting for the spring school quarter.
Katy Pool, a professional web developer, facilitates the club. She joined roughly a year ago. Using her background in computer science, Pool helps provide instruction to the girls. “It’s just really fun watching and helping people discover new cool things. There is always this slight hesitation and resistance encountering something that looks and seems confusing, like code,” says Pool. “It’s just a really cool moment because they’re like, ‘Wow I can actually make something by typing letters and numbers.’ That’s kind of my favorite part.”
Later in the school year, the club members will decide on a project they will work on. In the past, the girls coded projects such as making the Storm Troopers from the Star Wars movies dance. Unlike a classroom, the girls are given a good deal of freedom to explore and add ideas to the club’s agenda.
Destiny Santiesteban, an Arise High School freshman, is one of the participants in the club. Each week she walks from school to the coding class with a group of her friends. Together they giggle about the stories from the day, remind each other of homework and help each other out with the lessons. “It’s something different that I’m just trying out,” she says. “At first it was hard, and sometimes it still is. It’s in between easy and hard now, I guess.”
Jessica Barrera is a shy sophomore who belongs to the coding club. She said she aspires to attend UC Berkeley when she graduates from high school. Although she is fairly new to the class, she is not new to coding. She has dabbled in it for one of her classes at her school and she has taken a course at Laney Community College. To her, coding isn’t exclusively reserved for boys. “That’s just a stereotype. There can be girls who know how to code, too. It could also be females who are not white, but a person of color, too,” she says.
During the club meetings, a few boys from the library occasionally “accidentally wandered” into the meeting room. The conversations amongst the girls give the impression this has happened very often. “It’s so random when they do that,” says one code club member, drinking from her soda bottle. Her friend replies, laughing, “Maybe they just forget we’re in here” as laughter spreads across the room.
When the meeting concludes, the club members give feedback on the meeting and discuss bringing other friends to join, before venturing out of the library. The youngest and newest participant, a 6th grader, is greeted by her excited father, who seems anxious to hear about her meeting. Other girls meet their parents outside or choose to walk to each other’s houses. Before exiting the meeting room, the girls say goodbye to their club-mates until the next time: “Hasta luego—be safe and see you next week.”