BitCamp shows that software development isn’t just for guys
Swedish software company Configura hosts BitCampGR for girls in Grand Rapids
Swedish software company Configura hosted a SoftwareGR BitCamp in Grand Rapids as part of helping to change perceptions and increase IT opportunities for girls.
BitCamp is a half-day to daylong event for 7th and 8th grade girls to learn what it’s like to be a software developer. It’s an initiative of Grand Rapids-based SoftwareGR, originally conceived by technology company Atomic Object, and made possible through the support of sponsors, hosts, volunteers and partner organizations like Configura.
“The tech industry has a gender diversity problem, and Configura proud to sponsor and host a BitCampGR event to do something about it,” Configura Business Development Manager Brooke Snow said.
There is a growing demand for software professionals in the U.S. and an acute shortage of women in the industry. A 2016 survey by Stack Overflow of more than 56,000 coders from 173 countries showed only 5.8 percent of respondents identified as female; meanwhile, 92.8 percent of respondents identified as male.
To meet this challenge, SoftwareGR implemented BitCampGR as a hands-on introduction to the software development profession — presented in a fun and supportive small-group environment. As part of the activities, the students learn to code a basic website.
“We believe support and exposure are the best tools for introducing young women into a male-dominated profession,” said Beth VanSlyke, talent acquisition lead at OST who helps to coordinate BitCampGR activities.
Michigan-based Atomic Object launched BitCamp in Grand Rapids in 2006 as a one-time event; the company then introduced BitCamp to Detroit in 2012. SoftwareGR officially began producing the camps in 2014 and has coordinated about 20 camps in the region since then, impacting more than 400 girls.
In addition to programming and other hands-on activities, Configura’s BitCampGR event featured a tour of the company’s Grand Rapids office and the opportunity to meet with programmers, including women.
“I like that we got to learn about coding and learn about how to do different things like create a website,” said Stacy Delgado, a 7th grade student at Godwin Middle School who participated in the BitCamp. About 20 girls attended the daylong camp.
When Peter Brandinger opened Configura’s Grand Rapids office in 2006, he brought with him a handful of programmers from Sweden – all male. Since then, he’s worked to bring both cultural and gender diversity to the Grand Rapids office. Today, Americans and Swedes, male and female, work side by side in software development and support roles.
The company as a whole has expanded a diverse global footprint, including opening an office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2013 – and actively recruiting females at this office as well as at headquarters in Linköping, Sweden.
But Configura, just like other tech companies, acknowledges it has a long way to go in terms of hiring more female programmers.
“We have 84 application consultants worldwide, and eight of those are women – so 10 percent of our developers are female,” said Brandinger, who is a vice president with the company. “We want to hire more female software developers, but there aren’t enough out there yet. As company, we need to do everything we can to educate and promote computer programming in our schools and with the younger generation. Activities like BitCamp help with building that awareness.”
One of Configura’s Grand Rapids-based software developers is Alina Barnett. She’s been programming for eight years. She started as a fine arts major with an affinity for painting but switched to focusing on programming.
“In college, I had to take a basic programming class as a core requirement, and I ended up really loving it – so much so that I switched my major to computer engineering. It gives me the same satisfaction that painting does,” Barnett said. “Programming might seem like an ‘unknown’ to people, but once you break into it, it’s really interesting – it opens up this whole new world.”