Girls & Code: A Relatable Role-Model Can Make All the Difference
Over at the SPARK Blog, Annemarie McDaniel, a professional coder, graphic designer, and blogger, recently posted a terrific read titled "The girl protagonist who inspired me to code." Check out the article here.
Annemarie reflects on her childhood as a budding programmer, and credits the book Click Here: (To Find Out How I Survived Seventh Grade) by Denise Vega with sparking her interest in coding.
When Annemarie read Click here, she was roughly the same age as the protagonist, Erin, and just entering middle school. Feeling lost as friendships faded and new bullies came into the picture, she found she could closely relate to Erin's experiences in learning how to balance social life, academics, and creative pursuits.
In the story, Erin decides to code her own private blog, in lieu of writing in a diary. Her mother, a professional web designer, teachers her the basics and prompts her to join the school's Intranet Club, where she builds out the internal website. Things go awry, the blog accidentally goes public, and Erin is faced with the challenge of mending fences with hurt friends. Despite the obstacles in her social life, one message rings clear—coding is a powerful tool we can use to express ourselves.
According to Annemarie, "It was the first moment I had ever heard of computer coding. I didn’t think of coding as a “boy” or “girl” hobby, because I didn’t know anyother coders at the time. I hadn’t learned the gender gap in STEM yet; to me, it just felt like I was being a hipster, taking the geeky track no one else went down. I loved the idea of building my own digital universe. Eventually, I found the first outlet for my website design: Neopets." (Note for any non-90's kids: Neopets is a website where preteens adopt imaginary pets, play games, collaborate on the forums, and create mini websites, aka "guilds.")
Right after reading Click Here, Annemarie learned Photoshop and HTML/CSS, which she used to create custom graphics for her Neopets profile. She also started her own blog—just like Erin did.
In Annemarie's words, "Click Here is a throwback, to be sure (published in 2005), but despite the story’s technology being a little out of date, the characters’ successes and struggles are timeless." Erin's character served as an inspirational but relatable role-model and a friend to Annemarie, showing her that coding was key to expressing herself, and opening many different doors to fulfilling career opportunities.