Keynote Reshma Saujani, Riding at Full Speed

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“I am not a coder.” Not exactly the first thing you’d have expected to hear keynote Reshma Saujani – founder and CEO of Girls Who Code – say when she stepped on stage for her presentation Tuesday morning. She also admitted to crashing as a lawyer (“I just quit.”) and failing in her run for Congress (“Best 10 months of my life, but I was broke, humiliated… and had no contingency plan.”). Hmmm… still wondering where this is leading and how it will connect to Saujani achieving her lifelong goal of wanting to “change the world and give back to this nation that saved my parents’ life (who came as refugees to the United States in 1973).” 

How did a “non-coder” make coding cool – and accessible – for girls? 

It started with a simple step, the purchase of the URL, And the more steps Saujani took, the more she realized the gender disparity in the workforce when it came to computer sciences and coding. As a child of two engineers, she wondered, “Where are the girls? It became an obsession for me.” Saujani saw that the percentage of girls getting involved in computer sciences was going down and even gathered some stats that showed computer science grads were at 60,000 in America and at 350,000 in China. 

It was right about then that Girls Who Code went from a walk to a full-out sprint – and has continued along this path ever since. 

Since then she has battled culture, parenting styles, diversity, financial means, and even stereotypes in her quest to increase her reach. Yes, many 8-16 year-old girls envision a computer programmer as a dude wearing a hoodie, sitting in the basement, drinking a Red Bull and hasn’t showered, shared Saujani. This stereotype is part of the culture shift that needs to happen, where Barbie DOESN’T defer to a male to answer technical questions or females in TV shows DON’T want to go shopping instead of learning math. “Culture matters,” said Saujani. “We are telling them they are not for this industry.” 

The idea of perfectionism was another revelation that has helped Saujani understand more about the “why.” As girls get older they get addicted to perfection, said Saujani. All this perfectionism is causing two things: women are unhappy and there is a leadership gap. “We are waiting to be perfect to lead,” explained Saujani. “We have stopped doing things we can’t execute perfectly.” With Girls Who Code, the goal was to get them comfortable and not be afraid to make mistakes.

Which is something we can all learn from, same as practicing bravery, practicing imperfection and “just starting.” Take that first step. Remember that “nobody cares about that typo,” said Saujani. Remember riding down that hill at full speed on your bike and “how you felt so dam alive!” Don’t walk away from the challenges that life presents and don’t allow your children, especially your girls, to do so either.


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