On a recent Friday night, five Red Arrow volunteers met up with almost 50 UWM Girls Who Code club members, ranging in age from 9 to 18, to challenge them with a hands-on project. During the club’s season, select businesses are invited in to advance career awareness and inspire tech confidence.
The Girls Who Code club’s mission is to reach gender parity in computing fields, helping girls create technology that makes the world a better place. “As a company that builds disruptive tech to create a more efficient, effective and easy to use health experience, supporting the club’s mission is something we can definitely get behind,” said Vanessa Radlinger, a Red Arrow developer who volunteered for the Girls Who Code program as a UWM student and championed our volunteer effort.
Creating the challenge
“Building great software goes beyond technical skills, and collaboration is really at the heart of it all,” said Trish Polyak, QA analyst. “We held a few planning meetings, and each of the volunteers, all with unique development roles, brought their perspective. In the end, we chose to challenge the girls with a plastic brick-building activity to drive home how communication and teamwork are essential to any successful software project.”
The activity was held in five rounds, and each team of 5 to 7 girls had 15 minutes to recreate a prebuilt model of a plastic brick vehicle. The catch? Each member of the team took 30-second turns to view a completed model in private, and then had two minutes to communicate to her team members how reproduce it. “During the timed rounds, they naturally worked together as a team, mostly letting one person talk, and asking questions to get more information--definitely great communication qualities,” said Radlinger. “And the more advanced girls did some great strategizing before the challenge began.”
Meeting the challenge
“’Time is almost up! Time is almost up!’ could be heard all around as the remaining few seconds of the 15-minute activity wound down,” said Aaron Krueger, director of community engagement. “The level of excitement was infectious, and it was amazing to see how closely the brick structures were to the original model.”
“To connect the ‘communication is everything’ theme, we held a mini-retrospective after the sessions, asking the girls to share what was difficult, frustrating and easier,” said Polyak. “We also challenged them to think about which role they felt most comfortable with on the team and reminded them that, as they learned to code, good communication and teamwork skills are essential to good software, regardless of your role.”
Supporting our community
At Red Arrow, we’re passionate about nurturing the technical communities in which we live, and one way we drive that passion is through volunteering. Radlinger notes that programs, such as Girls Who Code, are important because they give kids the chance to learn and experiment with code in a way that they might not be able to on their own or with the internet.
Krueger adds, “People who pursue a career in software programming are typically passionate about creating, solving problems and learning. Supporting clubs like Girls Who Code are important to help spark that passion and breakdown gender stereotypes in technology.”
And volunteering is even more fulfilling when it unexpectedly gives back. “I’m all in for volunteering for any program that empowers kids,” said Katrina Lord, a business analyst on the IT Services team. “It’s wonderful that Red Arrow supports programs that make an impact. And a personal takeaway for me was to try and keep my enthusiasm for learning as eager as a kid!”
About Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Its mission is to educate, inspire and equip young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields. More information about the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee club is available at uwm.edu/engineering/our-people/community/girls-who-code-club/.