New program inspires girls to learn computer programing

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Ren Isaak and others listen attentively as Marianne Smith introduces the purpose and and plans of Code Girls on Thursday evening, October 6, at Sykes in Kalispell. For now the group is meeting at Sykes, but that will change when they move to the computer lab at Russell Elementary in November. The Code Girls is open to girls ages 9 to 19. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Girl power in the Flathead Valley has leveled up with a new free coding program geared to girls and young women ages 9 through 19.

Montana Code Girls, a program of Big Sky Code Academy, recently brought a chapter to Kalispell. Other chapters are in Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula.

Marianne Smith of Kalispell is leading Montana Code Girls with assistance from volunteers with backgrounds in technology and engineering.

Smith, whose background is in engineering, heard about Montana Code Girls from a friend after asking for advice on where she could volunteer some of her time and talent. It happened that her friend’s daughter, Hannah Pieri, wanted to participate in Montana Code Girls, but the program hadn’t yet come to Kalipsell.

Smith looked up the program and was impressed that there was more to it than coding.

“The net result is that girls would participate in this challenge called Technovation. It’s a challenge where girls all over the world make apps and they make a business plan, so there’s an entrepreneurial side,” Smith said.

Montana Code Girls met for the first time last week with 26 students in attendance. The girls ranged in age from 10 to 17.

The high interest contrasts to when Smith, who is in her mid-50s, was in college studying engineering.

“When I went to school to be an engineer there weren’t any women except for me,” Smith said.

She went on to work for Lockheed at NASA and married a “software guy.” The couple home-schooled their children, who used apps “years ago when it first came out from MIT.”

She and her husband eventually started a business together.

Smith said there are more women in technology fields today, but said there could be more. She hopes to spark that interest through Montana Code Girls.

“You can be on the arts side in graphics, or you can be somebody managing and coordinating a big project,” Smith said.

Even if girls don’t end up in technology fields, coding could be a required skill in the future.

“What I personally think is that younger girls need to see it as an option,” Smith said.

Previous coding experience or knowledge is not required to join Montana Code Girls.

“They’ll be learning just the logic of putting things together or turning a corner,” Smith said.

Coding may be nebulous to the average person, which could make it seem intimidating, Smith said.

“It’s like it’s a mysterious thing out there. You really don’t know what it does,” Smith said. “It’s like electricity — it just shows up and lights up your house — but what’s inside the wire?”

During the first Montana Code Girls meeting, a young girl compared coding to making quilts — little by little, piece by piece.

“She could see the logic of breaking things down into small pieces and had that great analogy,” Smith said.

Pieri, 12, a Kalispell Middle School student, has some previous knowledge about how to code. While she was working on math problems online about a year ago she noticed some coding examples, which piqued her interest.

Pieri already has an idea of an app she would like to develop. As a middle schooler Pieri said she often sees her peers get discouraged and would like to change that.

“I wanted to make an app that is Christian based — a fun place to get encouragement for the day and little quote,” Pieri said.

Pieri said she is glad that she was able to fit Montana Code Girls in between school and sports.

“I think a lot of girls have sports going on too — that makes it tough. But more girls should try it if it works with their schedule,” Pieri said.

Montana Code Girls meets from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursdays at Russell Elementary School, 227 W. Nevada St, Kalispell. The next meeting will be Nov. 3. Participants are asked to bring laptops.

For more information email m.smith@troutmoon.com or visit www.bigskycodeacademy.org/montanacodegirls.

Hilary Matheson is a reporter for The Daily Inter Lake. She may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

Marianne Smith introduces the Code Girls to some of the building blocks of coding on Thursday evening, October 6, at Sykes in Kalispell. The Code Girls is open to girls ages 9 to 19. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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