Growing up a self-proclaimed nerd and with a passion for technology, Jennifer Wadella went through school wanting to be a graphic designer, not knowing that coding and web development was even an option for her. It was a
male-dominated career path.
Later, as a freelancer, she quickly learned that in order to get jobs, she had to teach herself how to code and build websites.
When she got her first developer job at VML and recognized that working as a full-time developer meant being surrounded by guys only, she started her own organization to foster the addition of women into the field.
With KansasCity WomeninTechnology (KCWIT), she wanted to offer support for gender-equality in the field of technology. It was her way to give back and bring like-minded women together.
There were hardly any female coders out there and that, to Jennifer, was not acceptable! She had to change direction to order to solve this problem in different ways. Through her organization she has launched techtalks, CoderDojo events, Coding and Cupcakes, as well as Coding and Cocktails, all in the name of removing the fear of coding that women still have.
With this work, Jennifer and her team were able to reach an almost 40% ratio of girl attendees within the most common age range of 7 to 10 years, which is a major success in this field.
In our conversation, Jennifer expresses her opinion that the education system can seem to destroy the engineering mindset, especially in children from low-income families. Engineering is about innovation and change and that is
being taken away from young minds when they enter the school system.
Jennifer shares that not everybody is going to love computers, technology or problem solving. However, the earlier you involve children, the better as they can figure it out for themselves.
As our discussion continues, we talk about the connection between science, technology, engineering, and math, what having a problem-solving capability really means, why girls often give up too early and think they are not smart enough, and the future of Jennifer’s organization.
After CoderDojo launched, KCWIT began promoting it at different schools around the area. It was then that she first received very adverse reactions from mothers, whereas fathers were all over it. Seeing this problem as a stigma based in fear, they launched Coding and Cupcakes: an introduction to programming for mothers and daughters.
Another program is called Coding and Cocktails. This is where they teach grown up women to learn how to code; no experience needed. Every second Saturday of the month, they meet and work in java script developer, basic html to css, and more to gain the experience of building a website. Jennifer’s mentors are on hand to help answer questions and explain things to ease the insecurities women have, and the cocktails make women feel comfortable enough to just play with something new.
You can find out more about Jennifer’s work with KCWIT at her website http://kcwomenintech.org.