GirlConnect Codes Spotlight: An Interview with Rachel Weiss

For December, we’re celebrating our GirlConnect Codes (GCC) program, which is GirlConnect’s newest project to promote girls’ interest in technology. GCC is  a semester long  program that engages high school girls in interactive curriculum that introduces them to web development basics and mentors from the Austin technology community.  GirlConnect Codes engages girls in interactive curriculum created exclusively for GEN and girls learn an introduction to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and basic programming concepts.


GirlConnect Codes is generously supported by Interactive Intelligence, which provides software and cloud services for customer engagement, unified communications and collaboration to help businesses worldwide improve service, grow their business faster and reduce costs. We are immensely grateful for their support in cultivating the next generation of women leaders in technology.


As part of GCC, girls are partnered with female mentors from the community who work in the technology field. Rachel Weiss is one of those mentors and currently volunteers with the GCC program at Crockett High School. Rachel is a designer and developer in Austin, TX who tell us that she “feels extremely fortunate to be able to work and mentor with GirlConnect Codes.” We feel like the fortunate ones to have her on our GCC team and had the chance to interview her on her experience in the program.



Rachel works with Elizabeth, a Crockett High School student, during GirlConnect Codes


What’s been your experience working with the GirlConnect Codes program and what have you enjoyed working on?

It’s been really amazing. I really love working with the girls. I love seeing them figure things out. That’s probably the most rewarding thing. Last class, there were enough mentors that we all got to kinda like sit down with a couple of girls each. And so there the one girl that I was sitting with and we were playing like an Instagram API [a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing information from Instagram outside of the Instagram application] and so as we were doing that I was like “okay, so you just ran that API and now you can find the URL and that’s picture that you pulled.” We found it on Instagram and she was like “oh my god, I can’t believe this is working.” That’s been super rewarding, just to watch them see that they can use this technology. That it’s not out of their reach. I think a lot of code feel like it’s a whole other world, it’s like learning a new language, it’s something unachievable. And seeing them realize that they can do it has been awesome.


How do you think GirlConnect Codes helps girls?

I think it kind of empower them to do things that they thought they couldn’t do. Kind of like achieving this thing that seemed impossible. I think, even if they decide not to go into code, I think it teaches them that they can do things that.. like, nothing’s off limits to them. Whether it’s code or going to college or starting a certain career. And it really shows them like this thing you couldn’t do, you can do. Like you’re just as smart as capable as anybody else who’s ever achieved this.

As mentors we’ll mess something up and the girls we’ll help us fix it. Even though we do this professionally. It shows them that you can still mess up and work as a group and it doesn’t break you down. You can still fix it.


Why is GirlConnect Codes and programs that get girls involved with technology, coding, important? And why do you choose to continue to volunteer with that program specifically?

It’s really great because when I was a kid I didn’t know what was out there – what could be done with code or what could be done with technology. And I already feel like I had a benefit because both my parents work in technology. They’re both computer programmers. One of the girls we sat down with last week was like “well, what else can I do with this?” We were using Instagram, so she was like, “can I use code outside social media?” And we’re like of course! She was also interested in NASA. And I was like, “yeah, Mission Control uses code to guide their space ships!” I think [GirlConnect Codes] opens the doors to what they think code is and what it can achieve and I think that’s why it’s so important. All of these girls, not only are they learning what code is and what doors it can open, but they’re seeing women who are in the industry and the wide variety of things that can be accomplished.


Why do overall you think it’s important to get girls engaged with STEM curriculum from an early age? Why do you think it’s important, as women grow older and have careers, it’s important to have women in STEM?

Girls are socialized super early on that it’s not a field for us. Like, girls should be artistic and creative and be more in tune with our emotions, quote unquote. We’re not socialized to be receptive to that sort of field. We’re taught that it’s a boy’s thing. That’s obviously nonsense. I think it’s harder to overcome those things when you’re older.

Working in STEM can be creative. There are problems to solve and you can approach them in creative ways. And so expressing yourself can be done through painting or music or through building a robot.

Having women in STEM is really important because it brings another worldview and community to the field. There are so many opportunities in STEM and by socializing girls and women to not see it as a field for them, we’re really cutting off their legs out from under them. We’re saying that this whole lucrative and growing field is not for you. I think building software is really fulfilling because you get to solve all kinds of problems and make all kinds of differences in people’s lives. It’s a bummer to not have women as a part of that community.


How have you seen GirlConnect Codes affect girls lives?

I think it’s really great cause I’ve seen the girls make connections with things they already do in their own life. There was one girl who was really into writing and so she’s always writing her own stories. We were making a website and she was making the buttons on the website branch into how she wanted this little story she was writing to unfold.

The girl I was talking about earlier who was like “what else can I do with code?,” she was talking about NASA and music and I was telling her about how I used to have a job where I made medical record software. She was like “man, I had no idea!” She’s a freshman or sophomore, so she’s on the cusp of making decisions about the rest of her life. She’s like I’d really like to do music or this [coding] or both. And I’m like “you can do everything! You can have it all!”


So what would you say to parents who are considering enrolling their girls in GirlConnect Codes or girls who are considering getting involved in GirlConnect Codes, but are unsure.

High school can be such an intimidating time. Like, you’re right on the cusp of figuring out what you’re gonna do with your life. Am I going to go to college? What am I going to major in? It seems so overwhelming. Especially if you’re the first to go [to college]. You have to make some really big decisions. I remember feeling like I didn’t have enough information.

This program really provides a super awesome community of like-minded girls all learning something cool and building something really cool together, and it also provides another perspective on what opportunities are for you. Working with us [the mentors] gives them a glimpse of what is achievable. Even if they don’t go into code, they can see that there is a path forward. I think if I had had that when I was in high school, I would’ve been so relieved. It feels so daunting. You’re just a kid and you have to make these big decisions. It’s [GirlConnect Codes is] just a really empowering place to be. It provides a lot in terms of confidence and friendship and skill-building. I don’t think I could recommend it enough to anybody who was interested.

Vanessa Wright