Apple wants (and needs) more female coders

The company is working with Girls Who Code to nurture tomorrow’s coding talent.

Apple, iOS, macOS, tech industry, Everyone Can Code, software development, Swift
Apple

There’s a shortage of coders. And just 15% of coders are women (at least in the UK). This is the context in which to understand Apple’s most recent move to teach people to code with the Girls Who Code organization.

What is Apple doing?

Apple is working with the Girls Who Code to provide specialized after-school Swift tutorials for female grade 6-12 students. 

“A more diverse future begins with opportunities for everyone,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a Tweet. “We’re excited to work with @GirlsWhoCode, empowering girls across the U.S. to be the tech leaders of tomorrow. #EveryoneCanCode.”

This is the latest in Apple’s years-long campaign to teach children to code.

Cook recently said the Everyone Can Code curriculum is now supported at 4,000 schools and 80 U.S. community colleges.

Providing access to opportunity makes a difference in ambition and career prospects. Code.org claims that women who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in it, while black and Latina students are seven times more likely.

Apple is also working with the Malala Fund to provide coding training to women from some of the world’s most marginalized communities.

Representation takes education

There’s little doubt the tech industry is male-dominated – even at Apple, which still lacks gender balance in its executive roles. There are many underlying reasons for this, but lack of intellectual or scientific capacity, interest or potential among women are not these.

There are so many illustrations to prove the point:

  • Ada Lovelace is widely recognized as the first modern computer programmer for her work as far back as 1843.
  • Adele Goldberg was part of the Apple team that created Smalltalk, one of the world’s first object-oriented programming languages used in the Apple Lisa.
  • The anchor link most surfers click on at least every day was invented by an all-woman team at Brown University.

These women may be exceptional, but they aren’t exceptions – anyone who has ever attended WWDC knows high-achieving female coders exist, lead teams, and – reflecting the words of Steve Jobs – “ship” the code they build.

It’s the same at NASA.

Ignorance of these facts reflects an emotional commitment to prejudice, I believe.

That's because women and other under-represented groups (Apple also offers ‘Everyone Can Code’ in braille, for instance) represent a huge and untapped resource of potential coding skill. And the tech industry desperately needs that potential to be unlocked.

Part of the barrier is, of course, the perception of the industry as a male domain – a  perception that these coding courses may help dissolve.

Everyone can benefit

We live on a planet that’s rapidly becoming digitized and connected. Demand for developers has never been so high, and there’s a shortage of them – yet a huge chunk (i.e. half) of the global population is under-represented in the industry.

Surely it makes sense to empower more women (and everyone else) to acquire coding skills?

“We have open jobs. If we don’t work harder to include women in tech ... there’s no way we can possibly fill that gap,” Anna Hughes, spokesperson for Software.org told Politico.

Making an effort to do so also exposes a second requirement, the need to open up industry access so women can work in environments of respect. Such balance is good for business, too, a McKinsey report claims.

There are deeper needs

Apple’s determination to address these needs is illustrated by its actions.

However, laudable those actions are, the inconvenient truth is the company still has a long way to go until its annual Diversity Report proves the tech industry isn’t dominated by white males.

Though the company is working on it.

This lack of representation is of particular concern given that one of the biggest trends in tech – and potentially one of the most disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) – appears to reflect the conscious and unconscious bias of those who develop it.

To be fair, Apple can say that 53% of its new hires are from groups “historically underrepresented in tech," and that “overall representation” of women “continues to increase."

Apple Senior Director of Worldwide Developer Marketing and leader of its Women@Apple program, Esther Hare says, “Bringing more women into technology has always been a passion of mine.”

Doing so demands more than lip service, of course.

Apple's response is training. That’s not pure altruism, of course: the company, like everyone else in tech, really needs to teach the world to code to keep its business growing.

As with fossil fuels, clean water or fresh air, humans are a finite resource, and coders are even harder to find.

Want to find out more about what Apple’s coding courses may teach you or your child? Take a look at the Everyone Can Code section on Apple’s website.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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