WASHINGTON – A new documentary proclaims that mobile app development isn’t just for boys anymore. CodeGirl shows that from young women in Nigeria solving waste disposal problems to high school students in Massachusetts promoting positive campus environments, many young women are creating apps to fix their community problems.
Despite being a billion-dollar business, mobile app development has been consistently dominated by male innovators and programmers. About 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education college graduates for 2014.
Technovation, however, is working to change that. The nonprofit’s parent company, Iridescent, receives funding from companies including Boeing, Google and the MacArthur Foundation.
Since 2009, Technovation has held the Technovation Challenge, a worldwide competition that encourages girls to develop their own apps and pursue technology entrepreneurship. To date, over 5,400 girls from 28 countries have developed 1,029 mobile phone apps through the challenge, according to Technovation’s website.
CodeGirl, directed by Lesley Chilcott, followed the journey of participants in the 2015 Technovation challenge, focusing on the six finalists.
The U.S. Department of Education screened the documentary Thursday, and four of the students finalists were on hand to talk about it, as well as Veronica Cavallaro, the COO of Iridescent.
“What brought us to the issue is the community of women and girls we’re encouraging to advance in STEM careers,” said Cavallaro. “We’re looking to grow, expand in the coming years and build a community around these girls so they can be successful.”
The first place winner of the international competition was Team Charis from Nigeria, with the app “Discard-ious.” The five girls from Calabar, Nigeria developed a platform that allows users to request carts to safely remove waste, as the government does not provide a system for home waste removal. The winning team received $10,000 in seed money to launch the app.
The second place finalists were four students at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Team WoCo developed their “Praise Pop” app to serve as social media aimed at eliminating the “isolation at schools” by connecting users with positive messaging and invites to events on campus.
“I think the film really showed how normal each of the teams were by showing a little bit of each of our lives in it,” said Karen Tu, 17, one of the finalists featured in CodeGirl. “I think they did a really good job at showing that anyone can do this, showing that it’s actually cool for all these girls to put together great final projects.”
Tu was part of the Team Puppy Sized Elephants, from Silicon Valley, which developed the “MyCashCount” app, which allows users who struggle with counting skills to find the exact amount of money in their wallets while making a transaction. The app is now available on Apple’s App store.
Between Oct. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2015, there were 5.5 billion unique app downloads from Apple and $3.3 billion in revenue generated, according to App store optimization company, Sensor Tower. This makes the app industry one of the fastest growing technology fields.
However, not all the apps featured in the documentary are ready for purchase.
An example is the “SafeGuard Driving” app by Team Ameka. The four classmates from Winchester, Massachusetts formulated their idea after two teenagers in their town died in car crashes. The app is still in development, but its goal is to test drivers’ impairment before they get behind the wheel.
According to Melissa Moritz, deputy director of STEM at the Department of Education, any background knowledge in STEM “opens a world of opportunities” in terms of jobs and should be an important component of every child’s education.
“I grew up doing math problems at the dinner table,” said Moritz whose father was an engineer and who is an MIT graduate herself. “It shouldn’t have to be that way, you shouldn’t have to have a parent that was a ‘math person’ or a ‘science person’ in order to see STEM as a path for you.”
The Department of Education showed the film as part of its effort to expand interest in STEM knowledge for all children– not just those with “innate” l skills.
“We’re trying to showcase broad role models and a lot of different examples of what STEM looks like,” said Moritz. “Anyone can go into STEM, anyone can study STEM. That’s what this event is about. Showcasing that and celebrating girls who are making that true for the next generation.”