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The Future of Coding is Black, Thanks to Kimberly Bryant

Ellice Peck

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It all started freshman year.

The Apple Macintosh was just becoming a household name. Kimberly Bryant was a freshman in Electrical Engineering and Fortran coding was still considered cutting edge. Scores of jobs were opening up in computer-related fields. Kimberly was eager to join the revolution, but two problems stood in her way. One, she was Black. Two, she was a woman.

In the mid-80’s, there weren’t many students of color enrolled in college, and those numbers were even smaller in the school of engineering Kimberly attended. She felt culturally isolated, especially when she discovered that some professors and students weren’t open to diversity. Throughout her college career, she was the only Black woman in most of her classes, and she often found herself the only woman in the class at all.

Fortunately, Kimberly encountered someone she could look up to: an upperclassman woman of color who also majored in electrical engineering. “Making that connection to another woman of color who was on the same path I was, who had some of the same challenges, was a lifeline for me,” Kimberly says. “It was the unspoken example she set that made me feel I could make it through.”

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"It was the unspoken example she set that made me feel I could make it through."

– Kimberly Bryant

Eventually, Kimberly became an engineering manager, working for Fortune 100 companies like Merck and Pfizer. But as she networked, she realized that the lack of diversity she had experienced in college extended to the corporate world as well. Women and people of color weren’t being represented. The first turning point came when she heard a panel speaker say that women were “just not going into engineering or the computer science fields.” She was horrified, but it wasn’t until later that year when her daughter attended a computer camp made up of mostly boys (and zero other students of color), that she realized something had to be done.

Eventually, Kimberly became an engineering manager, working for Fortune 100 companies like Merck and Pfizer. But as she networked, she realized that the lack of diversity she had experienced in college extended to the corporate world as well. Women and people of color weren’t being represented. The first turning point came when she heard a panel speaker say that women were “just not going into engineering or the computer science fields.” She was horrified, but it wasn’t until later that year when her daughter attended a computer camp made up of mostly boys (and zero other students of color), that she realized something had to be done.

 Source: Black Girls Code. In photo, Kimberly at the Summer of Code event.

Source: Black Girls Code. In photo, Kimberly at the Summer of Code event.

Kimberly knew her own journey had been difficult. Hearing her daughter come home with stories of camp instructors that paid less attention to the girls than the boys broke her heart. “I knew that I had seen this light in her eyes,” she says, “but I didn’t want it to be put out prematurely because she didn’t get the type of nurturing that she needed.” Kimberly decided to launch a movement that would change everything for girls of color who were interested in technology.

 

In 2011, Black Girls CODE was born. As a non-profit organization with the motto “Imagine. Build. Create,” Black Girls CODE provides workshops and after-school programs, introducing underprivileged girls to basic programming skills and preparing them to fill the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020. It has grown to include 7 established institutions in the States and one in South Africa.

 

 Source: Black Girls Code, Summer of Code Campaign

Source: Black Girls Code, Summer of Code Campaign

In 2011, Black Girls CODE was born. As a non-profit organization with the motto “Imagine. Build. Create,” Black Girls CODE provides workshops and after-school programs, introducing underprivileged girls to basic programming skills and preparing them to fill the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020. It has grown to include 7 established institutions in the States and one in South Africa.

Black women’s future in the tech industry is brighter, thanks to opportunities like the ones Black Girls CODE provides. Not only are girls being given the tools to transform the tech industry, they now have a community. And that makes all the difference.


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