You’ve already met Girls Who Code, an organization Youth To The People donated $100,000 through our To The Future Fund to help support their mission of closing the gender gap in STEM. Now meet some of the alums from their programs, girls, nonbinary folks, and women who learned to code and are now applying it across finance, entertainment, and more. Here’s how they’re changing the future.
WHO THEY ARE
Fatima Azimova was born and raised in Kazakhstan where she lived until moving to Brooklyn, NY in 2016. Currently a rising senior at Barnard College, Columbia University, she’s majoring in computer science and minoring in education. Fun fact: English is the fourth language Fatima has learned out of six that she currently knows—not including computer languages. “Girls Who Code is the reason why I am pursuing computer science today,” Fatima says. “In 2018, I had the great opportunity to be a part of Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, a seven-week program where I, for the first time in my life, learned about computer science, was introduced to coding, gained exposure to tech jobs, and found a supportive sisterhood of thousands of girls across the US.” It was during this program that Fatima realized the importance of surrounding herself with a supportive community—”especially in the tech world,” she says. “The skills and knowledge I learned, such as networking, presentation, critical thinking, debugging skills I still apply today in my life.”
Here’s Fatima on the FUTURE:
Joyce Van Drost graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s in computer science and a minor in psychology. Joyce participated in GWC in the summer of 2013. “It was a transformative experience for me,” says Joyce, “They brought in a lot of women who were working in STEM in different industries, and it was so interesting to see how many industries actually had job positions for people who were in STEM.” Today, she works as a tech analyst in finance. “I'm still seeing how many opportunities there are to work in different industries, like media, health care, agriculture, or retail, for someone who wants to be a developer or work in STEM,” Joyce says.
Here’s Joyce on the FUTURE:
“I think as a young Black woman, learning how to code has helped the world close the gender gap and the racial gap in the industry. We need more BIPOC women in the industry to decrease the bias in some of the applications we use, and just to have more diversity in rooms to create better solutions that help and include everyone, and not just one demographic. Personally, I've created a better future for myself because I believe I've developed my critical thinking skills and I've been able to understand how things work, but also how to look at problems with a different perspective to decide which is the best way to solve those problems.”
Larkin Smith self-describes as a “queer, neurodivergant, and physically disabled female software engineer, [who] is done with jumping through hoops to play the respectability politics game.” With so many passions, Larkin’s interests span from film and fashion to softwhere, which led to her first full time job as a fullstack software engineer, because, as she says, “data is beautiful.” She also teaches high school students in Brooklyn how to code via Codenation, and she’s back at Girls Who Code this summer, teaching an introductory class on creating art with code using p5.js.
Here’s Larkin on the FUTURE:
“Learning to code really boosted my confidence in my abilities and intellect. During the process of learning to code—which was slow and honestly sometimes frustrating but also joyful and centering—I realized that the same tenacity that I'd used to cope with being a neurodiverse person in a world built for the neurotypical was my superpower. When you're a little kid going to 3+ doctor appointments a week, you develop immense patience and the ability to persevere. Now that I've learned to code, I have this feeling that I could achieve anything. A lot of coders that I know have expressed that same feeling of being capable to me; like, since they learned this new framework or that new language, they can learn anything. And they're right. Once you have that belief in yourself, wherever your personal wellspring of strength comes from (for me, it's the persistence that it's taken to manage my mental health), it can never be taken away.
My dreams for the future have always been to lead by example and to make space for others around me. That hasn't changed at all since learning to code, only the medium through which that happens.”
Dessie DiMino is a 2020 graduate of Caltech with a degree in computer science who participated in GWC’s summer immersion program in 2014. She’s currently a software engineer at Microsoft in Seattle, loves her plants, festivals, and fencing. Before GWC, Dessie was the only girl in all of her coding classes, but thankfully, a teacher told her about the program. “It sounded too good to be true,” says Dessie. She learned a lot, and, “I made friends that I keep in touch with today and occasionally run into at work” she says. “Girls Who Code gave me an amazing basis for my classes in high school and college and made me feel confident going into co-ed tech spaces.”
Here’s Dessie on the FUTURE:
“Girls Who Code definitely shifted my dreams. I think one of the best things about the program is that it shows students concrete examples of jobs that use coding. Even now, I know I can pivot into almost any field I want and there will be a use case for my skills. It’s incredibly empowering to feel so in control of my career. Who knows? Maybe I’ll switch and work in game design next, or virtual reality, or cybersecurity, or finance, or fashion, or medicine.
Reshma Saujani [the CEO of Girls Who Code] likes to say, “You cannot be what you cannot see. I think Girls Who Code gave me not only role models who were women already working in the tech industry but also women who were in Girls Who Code with us. Without Girls Who Code, my journey into tech would have been lonelier and more frustrating.
At Microsoft, I work on data ingestion, and my team processes petabytes of information daily. I love what I do but knowing how to code goes beyond my day job. I love working on art projects with LEDs, showing my mom how to build websites, and mentoring people who are trying to get into tech. I hope that one day we reach gender equity in tech and build products for a diverse audience made by a diverse workforce. I hope that one day we look back and realize we don’t need a program like Girls Who Code anymore. But in the meantime, I’m grateful that I had it in my life and hope I can encourage other women to join me!”
Audrey Weigel was first exposed to coding in middle school through Tumblr, customizing her blog’s aesthetics via HTML and CSS. She’s currently a senior at the University of Florida, studying computer science. Though she first joined Girls Who Code as a student, she’s stuck around for the past few years. “They are truly committed to their mission of uplifting young women,” Audrey says, and “as an alumni myself, I have seen first-hand how Girls Who Code has consistently gone out of the way to encourage me as I pursue my career.”
Here’s Audrey on the FUTURE:
I plan to apply the skills [I’ve learned] by working in roles where I can serve the greater good. Every industry is shaped by technology now, and I hope to one day work for a non-profit that uses code to benefit underserved communities around the world.”
Queenie Lau is a rising senior at UC Berkeley studying computer science and film. While there, she founded their Girls Who Code College Loop, interned as a mobile app developer for the official UC Berkeley mobile app, worked as a L&S video production specialist, and served as a fabrication team member for Museum of Tomorrow. “I strive to build inclusive and accessible products to produce engaging user experiences,” Queenie says. She was first introduced to GWC through a friend who had completed aa previous summer immersion program. “I knew I wanted to be a part of a welcoming, diverse community that celebrates individuality and fosters personal growth,” she says. Through GWC, she’s even helped to build a filter modeled after Doja Cat’s Coachella Planet Her performance using Meta’s studio tool called Spark AR.
Here’s Queenie on the FUTURE:
“Opportunities and resources offered by Girls Who Code such as our Doja Cat and Meta collaborations and women in STEM spotlights have reshaped my preconceived notion of what a programmer looks like and does. Girls Who Code has taught me how to be a better leader, a better engineer, and a better listener. The phrase “aspire to inspire” comes to mind when thinking about my future because sometimes we just need someone to believe in us for us to believe in ourselves and Girls Who Code is the epitome of that.
I’ve realized that learning how to code and ultimately pursuing a career in technology means that we have to be learners for life. There will always be new, innovative technologies and areas of contribution that I will know little to nothing about, but I think this is exactly the reason why I want to be in this field. Researching new technology, ideating and collaborating on a plan of action, and seeing an idea come to fruition is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding feelings in the world. This is what inspires me to keep learning, creating, and sharing my knowledge with others.”
April Breedlove is a senior at Kennesaw State University studying Computer Science where she is part of the honors program, as well as a member of organizations including Women in Technology, Society of Women Engineers, and Girls Who Code. She is completing a software engineering internship with The Walt Disney Company, and plans to continue working there full time as a software engineer after graduation. “Prior to joining Girls Who Code, I was not surrounded by other young girls who were also interested in coding,” says April. But, “meeting likeminded individuals who were so similar to me was lifechanging. This organization taught me that it is okay to have a strong voice in the tech sphere because my voice matters. Today, in my internship with Disney, I am using the powerful voice that Girls Who Code introduced to me. I am not afraid to speak up in meetings, to be honest with my coworkers, and to reach out for help whenever I need it.” In short: “Girls Who Code has played an integral role in the achievement of my dreams.”
Here’s April on the FUTURE:
“Coding is more than just sitting in front of a computer and typing words on a screen. It teaches you problem-solving skills, research skills, and how to navigate the world more efficiently. Coding has equipped me with a plethora of skills and techniques that will take me far beyond the office and will allow me to continue making a positive impact on the lives of others. I am so excited to see where my love for computer science will take me next.”