Girls Who Code is a fast-growing non-profit with an urgent mission that resonates deeply with Small Planet. They are closing the gender gap in technology by offering programs in coding and support to middle school and high school girls.
Participation has grown so rapidly that Girls Who Code has been forced to address two challenges — how to maintain and strengthen the powerful bonds that have grown between these students, and how to maintain the sisterhood once the students have moved beyond their Girls Who Code experiences.
The app's purpose is to help develop and nurture a lasting passion for computer science at a time when many girls are beginning to lose interest — between the ages of 13-17. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage more women to major (and minor) in computer science and stick with it through graduation. More women developers means more perspectives shaping the digital experiences that are central to our lives.
Girls Who Code approached us with a vision for a community app that would allow students to maintain their connection with other students in their program and the organization, as well as to tap into a broader network of students and alums beyond their circles.
Small Planet started with a discovery phase, where we learned as much as we could about Girls Who Code and the daily experiences of the students. We met with students from all over the country, talking to them about the challenges of being a girl who is interested in coding. We came to understand what the girls might want in a community app and how they would use it and set out to define the experience.
Small Planet focused on how students have been doing it until now. How do they stay in touch with their classmates? How do they connect with girls from other programs, or older alums? Where do they turn to for information and support about coding, internships, colleges, and beyond? The answers helped to focus our design process.
The student community is diverse, spanning all 50 states, and encompassing middle school students all the way through college age alums.
In order to accommodate the different ways the girls might want to engage with each other (and with the organization), the app was based on individual conversation "loops" — pre-determined areas for girls to freely discuss CS topics, jobs and internships, and colleges, as well as their non-coding interests, in a respectful and welcoming environment.
There are loops for iOS App development, College Advice, and Selfies, to name a few. "Loops," of course, refers to a fundamental concept in computer science.
Girls can create posts and comment on them, as in many other social apps, but there is a key difference that dovetails nicely with the objective of fostering a sense of sisterhood and encouraging girls to support each other. Anyone who makes a post can tag it as a Raised Hand, which indicates that it contains a request for help or support. Girls can filter their view of the app to see only Raised Hands, making it easy to find opportunities to share knowledge or experience, or to lend a sympathetic ear.
The app is an expression of Girls Who Code's vision and mission, and at the same time, a practical and usable tool for girls who share a connection with the community and a passion for coding.