Fiona and I were in eighth grade together. That was fergunferger years ago (as Leah McGowen-Hare likes to say). Somehow we’ve stayed friends, even though there were usually a few thousand miles between us. Recently, I swam with her and her kids at her parents’ house in NJ. Her daughter, let’s call her L, age 12, was full of questions. And information. She is a ballet dancer, going on pointe the day after this vacation. She loves her school and they go on cool field trips to farms. She thinks has the right business model and is going to put NetFlix out of business. Yeah, she’s 12.

Minecraft might singlehandedly change the ratio

I asked her about the popular apps for kids her age, and she lamented that she doesn’t have a phone (and Fiona kicked me under the table). Fiona chimed in thatL has an iPad Mini, so she can’t be accused of bad parenting. The social app scoop is that L is “off Twitter,” uses SnapChat, and that her peers use Facebook to connect to distant friends, but not for “hey, let’s get together” conversations. Her favorite games are Draw Something, 2048, and Minecraft (she pointed out that she doesn’t know any other girls who play Minecraft). Her brother, let’s call him W, age 9, loves Minecraft, and asked me how to install a mod and how to write one. I, of course, emailed Pat Patterson, explaining to W, “I don’t know everything, but I know people who know everything.”

It is my personal, not-so-secret mission to teach L and W to code. Last year when I saw them, I showed them Daisy the Dinosaur and was on fire about the Hour of Code. It’s possible I focused too much on L, though, because as they were leaving, W asked me, “Can boys code, too?” I assured him that they could.

This time, I recommended Google’s Made With Code, especially this video about the intersection of dance and code. They knew all about 3D printers, so they want to try making a bracelet. I have hope. Fiona has her PhD in something I can’t even pronounce, and her husband is a super smart financial wizard. Neither of them consider themselves techies. So, it’s up to me.

“I’m wondering why there aren’t as many women who code as men.”

There I was, feeling smart and cool, answering all of their questions about technology, when L hit me with the zinger: “I’m wondering why there aren’t as many women who code as men.” I stumbled. Total facepalm. I should be able to answer this, right? Nope.

I recovered and tried the pipeline angle: “Well, girls your age just don’t seem to find programming interesting; and, when you get to college and you are just one of a handful of women in a programming class, it’s intimidating; so, it’s sort of a pipeline problem.” Blank stare.

Then W offered, “A lot of women are secretaries.” Another facepalm. “Yes, that’s true. Interestingly, with Salesforce, often secretaries start administering Salesforce and realize they really like technology and then switch to doing technology as a job.” Another blank stare.

I was beat. I’d totally failed to answer her simple question, which is why I’m writing this now. We all should be prepared to answer this question in a way that a 12-year-old can understand, and in a way that encourages rather than discourages them.

It’s changing

When I got home, my wife, who is a social worker, proposed this answer: “Right now, there are less women then men who are programmers, but it’s changing. Just like some time ago when being a doctor was seen as a job only men do, that’s how some people see programming right now. But now, being a doctor is seen as a job for both men and women, and that’s where it’s going with programming.”

So, L, there’s your answer. Better late than never.

Also, if you are looking for some inspirational women who code, please read my interviews with a dozen awesome women who are Salesforce developers. My favorite part of these interviews is when they each share why they love programming: solving problems, making things, and breaking things – passions that both men and women, and girls and boys, have.

Looking for me on Twitter? I’m @rockchick322004, and I tweet about the Salesforce1 Platform and Women in Tech.

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