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Meet The Chief Coder Chick

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Founder of the Coder Chicks at Seminole High, this teen tech leader is inspiring young women and earning national accolades along the way

Seminole High sophomore and Oviedo resident Deepika Kanna recently received the National Honorable Mention Award from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a nationwide organization that recognizes high-school girls for their accomplishments in computing and technology. The 15-year-old was recognized by NCWIT as one of the top 300 young women in the nation out of more than 4,300 applicants. It was Deepika’s work with Seminole High’s Coder Chicks that caught the organization’s attention.

“I founded Coder Chicks about a year ago,” says Deepika, explaining how her nonprofit group focuses on teaching girls ages 9-14 how to code through free workshops.

Deepika says that only 18 percent of computer science majors in college are women, and she wants to change that. Since Coder Chicks was founded, Deepika has instructed about 150 middle- and elementary-school girls in the language of code. 
So how does a then-14-year-old decide to create and run an instructional nonprofit? Deepika says her interest in programming began when she was in seventh grade.

“I went to a camp at UCF, and that’s where I learned Python programming,” she says. “At the same time, I was actively participating in science fairs, and I noticed at several competitions at the national level that there were very few girls competing in the engineering category. I was often the only girl.”

Deepika wanted to expand her STEM knowledge by learning more programming, which she did online utilizing free resources and taking computer science classes through the Seminole High IB program. Since she enjoyed the topic so much, she wanted to share her knowledge.

“I felt it was important that I encourage other girls in my community,” says Deepika. “It’s important to have girls learn in a stress-free environment. Often, at school, it’s competitive with grades. But here it’s more relaxed, and they can take the time to learn.”

Coder Chicks holds weekly workshops, which typically include about 15 students and last a couple of hours. Deepika does a lot of social-media marketing to get the word out, and she has partnered with local STEM-related companies who help           with supplies.

“I started by holding workshops at my old middle school, Sanford Middle,” Deepika explains. “I taught weekly Python programming workshops. The support I got there really helped me take off into other workshops.”

As she expanded her workshops, Deepika applied for and was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Coder Chicks now offers classes at other locations and holds longer, daylong events. Young coders will find sessions held at Seminole County Public Libraries and at other elementary and middle schools.

Deepika recently hosted a daylong app-programming workshop this past September at Seminole State College, which she called an Appathon.

“We taught app development to around 30 elementary- and middle-school girls,” she says.

Typically, Deepika teaches the workshops herself, but since the event included so many girls and lasted about six hours, she called on another instructor, a Rollins College student, to help. 

Deepika really encourages her students to use technology to be socially responsible.

“One of our main focuses is the social good of computer science,” she says. “It’s about teaching the girls to think big and understand other applications of tech, rather than just programming. The projects all have to do with social benefits. A lot of our projects aim to conserve the forest or protect wildlife, for example. Coder Chicks aims to empower girls to use technology for good. At the end of all our events, we have our girls work in teams, and they all design, code, and present a project using the skills we’ve taught them.”

At the conclusion of the Appathon, one team presented a project that used image recognition to check if an item was recyclable.

Going forward, Deepika’s workshops will focus on other tech concepts like cyber security, iOS app development, and Web design.

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