Girls Can Code – episode 1 thoughts

Alice Levine showing that Girls Can Code
Alice Levine showing that Girls Can Code

As part of the BBC’s Make it Digital season, there was a great program on BBC3 showcasing that “Girls Can Code”.  Such a shame it was on a minor channel at 9pm rather than BBC1 or BBC2 earlier.  However, BBC3 is aimed at the youth market so I’m hoping that enough young women watched it to be inspired.

If you missed it, it’s available on iPlayer (UK only) for the next month, with the second episode next Monday.

This isn’t the apprentice – they don’t need to crush each other to get ahead – Alice Levine

It was refreshing to see a reality TV show where the team seemed to bond and work well together supporting each others ideas rather than playing political games.  It was also great to show that tech wasn’t just about writing lines of code – there’s far more to it.  The ideas are key, and it isn’t just about apps and websites anymore – technology can be embedded in clothing or household objects.

One of the great parts of the program was seeing real people who didn’t follow the “traditional” path – people without degrees or technology backgrounds.  People like the ever-inspiring Sue Black, whose tenacity and passion took her from a single parent who’d left school at 16 to one of the top people in tech in the UK.  If you don’t know her story, you can read it all on her own blog post.  She made a fantastic comment in the episode:

Follow your passion and look for opportunities – Prof Sue Black

Whether you’re interested in writing lines of code specifically, or building a business, you can’t go far wrong with that.

There were some interesting comments on Twitter that there wasn’t enough code shown and I think they missed the point.  The five girls where sent to a learn to code day and this was summarised (as watching people type is hardly great viewing!) with the girls’ feelings after the day1.  For me, the program was attempting (and succeeding) to show that you shouldn’t be afraid of tech and then anyone could be involved.  It wasn’t aimed at those of us already in technology2.

I loved the outlook for this – it was exactly the encouraging, positive approach that young people, particularly young girls, need to have a go at tech.  It has never been easier to create – computers are cheap, the development environments all have free versions, and there are plenty of free guides to do practically everything online… all that’s needed is the idea.  I’m really looking froward to episode 2 next week to see how the girls get on.

  1.  Which were varied to be fair – although I’d expect this as people have different learning styles and a single day boot camp wouldn’t suit everyone.
  2.  It’s like Physicists complaining that Prof Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe doesn’t have enough equations in it 😉

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.

9 thoughts on “Girls Can Code – episode 1 thoughts”

  1. Thanks very much, that’s exactly what I, and I think everyone else was aiming for, to inspire girls, women and everyone to think about tech and entrepreneurship as a serious option. We live in such exciting times and the more people that understand that they *can* do it, the better ?.

  2. Am I the only one who found it patronizing?
    Girls can code? OF course they can, but where are they? The 5 “contestants” can’t, and with few exceptions those shown in the show can’t either.
    Probably the title is simply wrong. When I started watching I was expecting something that had something to do with… hem… coding. Silly me.

    This show is no better than the Barbie doll that was supposed to be a techie, but was only “designing” games, then she had to call on Ken and his friends to do the actual coding (and fix her laptop at the same time).

    Nothing wrong with coming up with new ideas, but let’s not mix up coding and marketing.

    1. hi Andrea – Thanks for the comment.

      I don’t think you were alone in finding it patronising – there were quite a few comments on Twitter that were of the same mind. I didn’t personally find it patronising at all. I think this program was aimed at girls who need the encouragement to think about things differently and those who felt patronised were those who didn’t need this low level push to overcome a fear of technology. Maybe the title wasn’t quite right, but I’m reserving judgement on that until I’ve seen the second episode, and if it caused people to watch who would otherwise have not watched a show about technology then great. We all know that girls can code, but for whatever reason they are being put off, and we need to crack that problem. If programs like this encourage girls to give it a go them I’m all behind it.

      If you’re after something that’s a bit more about coding then both BBC4 and Radio4 have some great programs that are more techy as part of the Make It Digital season e.g. the archive programs from the 80s are great –

      I also agree wholeheartedly about the Barbie book – that made me cringe, such a wasted opportunity. At least these five had a go at coding in the day bootcamp (although it didn’t make up much screen time as watching people type is dull 😉 ). I’m interested to see what happens in episode 2 – whether there is more emphasis on the coding side or if it stays more as technology entrepreneurship. Either way, I think it will have sowed a seed of interest in many who watched it who may not have considered computer science as an option.

      1. Hi there,

        yes, I kind of agree, but… the problem is that those girls DON’T code and CAN’T code. Why is that? Because nobody has taught them. Du’h 🙂 Coding is not something you pick up as an afterthought, which is what might transpire from the show, but requires a lot of work (and can be perceived as boring).
        Let’s ask more of what it entails to the lady with the red hair… but no, that wouldn’t make good TV 😀

        Also, I want to know more about the Chinese looking woman… she looks definitely like the kind of character that I might find inspiring.

        Even worse, the way I see it, what the show tells us is that the clever person comes up with a good idea (the poo game, say), then, just like with the Barbie doll, they call the minions who will do the coding for them.
        The way it was shown it was like coding is for the workforce.

        Also, they showed 5 girls, but they could have just as easily shown 5 boys who have left school at 16 or are doing some non-IT course at university and they won’t be able to code and have he same identical reactions to those shown on TV. What has gender got to do with it? It wasn’t explained at all.

        The one interesting bit was when the contestants were introduced to the school kids who were giving them examples of what programming looks like. The show should have expanded on that and show what THOSE girls can actually do, why they know it, who taught them, etc.

        OK, one more episode to go, but I shan’t be holding my breath :d
        There is nothing technical in what we have been shown, but it is just the usual reality that tells us that, let’s face it, no work is required for a success story (on TV at least 🙂 ).

      2. hi

        I completely agree that it could have been 5 boys and that there are probably quite a number of boys who don’t think they can go into tech for whatever reason. The point about gender was covered briefly at the beginning – while women make up 50% (or more for some areas) of the users of apps/games/websites, very few are actually involved in creating them. We have equality of opportunity for girls and boys in this country so why don’t as many girls pursue careers in tech as boys? This is a general problem in STEM subjects. Something is putting girls off, and once put off it is seen as something to be avoided. We need to change both sides, and programs like this at least open up the conversation – I think it’s great that there was such an appetite for more about the coding – maybe the BBC could take note and follow some interns in various coding jobs with more emphasis on the coding than the “reality” (exaggerated highs and lows) side. I firmly believe that coding is a key skill and love the fact that schools are teaching the basics.

        Like most shows on BBC3 – it’s aimed to a particular audience and they did gloss over some of the hard work that the girls must have done personally to investigate the ideas and prepare for their presentations to keep the pace and the energy of the show.

        I actually think that Sue’s story (the lady with the red hair) would make fantastic TV, and be very inspiring to an awful lot of people. Her blog is linked in the text above. Eileen Burbidge has an interesting story too, although from a very different angle – here’s one of the articles on her

      3. Read the articles and you are right, they very interesting, especially Sue’s (the link to Pepsi is a bit of a let down, though…); THAT would indeed make excellent TV…

    2. Andrea

      As a man, and not one that buys into all this feel-goodary “let’s pretend all women and men are the same” crap, I thought this was incredibly patronising. If I were a female programmer I’d have been putting my foot through the TV.

      From the very outset they used shiny things such as jewelry, fashion and – bloody hell – even makeup to enthuse these ladies about tech; ’cause we all know (or the BBC thinks) these are the only things that excite women.

      The other point is that there was very little programming and the show was trying to suggest that the tech industry is all farting around and coming up with ideas, and no matter how silly, there will always be someone that will give you money for them – or at least give you their time.

      This is just another rather naive example of middle aged people thinking we all need to code; in the world of tomorrow it will be a second language (not forgetting there are probably hundreds of programming languages out there). When the internal combustion engine came along we didn’t all have to become mechanics.

      In short, if you have an aptitude and it floats your boat then you’ll become a programmer. If you don’t, chances are you will be using out-of-the-box software a lot of the time to do your job/interact/entertained so you don’t need to program in the same way you need only know how to drive to use a car not service the engine. And to continue on this automotive theme, there are very few female mechanics why isn’t everybody in a spin over that.

      This show should have concentrated on the best female programmers, digital artists and digital designers. These young women should spent time with those experts and a given small tasks and followed while they added value to the product. And if they hated it that’s fine too – they don’t have to.

  3. Hi there,

    so you didn’t post a “part 2”. What did you think?
    I have to say my opinion on the show has NOT improved after viewing the second and (thankfully) last episode.

    I think the patronising summit was reached one of the “mentors” told (I think) the black girl that her presentation had improved SO much by adding some hard facts, like the number of people on twitter…

    In this episode – although I might be wrong – the total number of lines of code has gone down from 2 to nil and, if I correctly remember, the number of tech women who were asked to help were… nil (all the ones I saw were entrepreneurs).

    The best bit was actually the end where they (rightly so) showed the girls going back to their old life.

    What did you think? 🙂

    1. hi Andrea,

      I did do a second post here:

      In summary, I think that most of the negativity could have been avoided by changing the program title from Girls Can Code to Girls in Tech or similar as it was showing the opportunities for women in tech and aiming to instill some excitement around this. I still maintain that you (and I!) were not the target audience and hope that it did inspire some girls who may have considered the tech sector as not for them to look again. I would like to see a follow up on both the girls in the program and also anyone who was inspired by the show and see where they are 6 months to a year on…

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