To increase Black youth interest in computer programming, Google and Cartoon Network held an event at Atlanta’s Turner Headquarters June 16 featuring 45 special guests – local teenagers with Black Girls Code.
The event kicked off with an episode of CN’s show The Powerpuff Girls titled “Viral Spiral.” It found Bubbles using her computer programming skills to rescue sisters Blossom and Buttercup from cyberspace and stop The Amoeba Boys from destroying the internet.
Hosted by CS in Media and Google’s Made With Code, the main activity had the teens using Chromebooks to code animated GIFs of Power Puff Girls.
“I encourage you all today to stay with it,” Lilyn Hester, Google’s Southeast Public Affairs Manager said in an address. “Even as you saw on this episode how Bubbles was getting a little bit discouraged. She leaned on her friends to make things happen. Stay with it.”
Jannquell Peters, mayor of East Point, Georgia, was also present at the event and encouraged the students to “continue to be curious.”
“The reality is that computer science is not going away. It can be a key part of the future – and not just for fun, but things that make our lives a lot easier on a day to day basis,” Peters said.
“As you know, women are represented in lower rates in computer science than our men so we need girls who code,” she continued. “So, you might have to work a little bit harder than the boys in your class. That’s OK because you probably do anyway, right? And you might sometimes be the only female sitting at the table. And as the only female mayor in Fulton County, I’m here to tell you that’s OK because you deserve a seat at that table.”
At least one girl believes that’s true.
Twelve-year-old Destiny Dones told Atlanta Black Star she wants to further pursue coding.
“Ever since I was little, my mom has wanted me to try something new. And now that I know how to code I would like to take it to another level.”
At the end of the event, students were also able to create themselves as Powerpuff girls and printed their own images to take home.
Christina Miller, president and general manager of Cartoon Network, explains how the partnership between the TV channel and Google came about.
“Google is a great partner with us, and probably about 18 months ago they came to our studio in Burbank [California],” Miller told ABS,” and hosted a panel and really talked about coding and kids amongst other things. And that led to talking about how we can really do it together. Who better to partner with than Google to make sure we’re telling the story in a really responsible way?”
The media companies have since collaborated on the Made With Code platform, and they also have other projects in the works.
Miller said the choice to use PPG – which originally ran on the network from 1998 to 2005 – as a vehicle to showcase girl’s coding skills was made because of the show’s “iconic girl empowerment brand.” Timing had an influence, too, with the reboot beginning in April. Along with “Viral Spiral,” another PPG episode dealing with computer science has also been developed.
Google entertainment industry educator-in-chief Julie Ann Crommett told ABS about the company’s plan to reach not only young Black girls but Black engineers in general.
“Less than 10 percent of computer science majors in the U.S. are Black,” Crommett explained. “It’s only 18 percent for women across all sections.”
The Georgia native reveals Google is working with historically Black colleges and universities, along with several other organizations, to recruit Black talent in different locations.
“We started our Google-in-residence program several years ago with Howard University,” she says. “It’s expanded to other HBCUs, and I believe the amount of interns we have this summer from HBCUs is now 50 when only a few years ago it was zero. And so I think this, for us, shows tremendous growth in kind of meeting everyone where they are and telling them: ‘Google is here and we want you.’ ”
Diversity initiatives don’t stop there. To combat issues of inclusion, the company also does “unconscious bias work,” asking leaders and teams to review how bias may slip into product creation, like in the case of facial recognition software.
A major message of Thursday’s events was that both Google and Cartoon Network executives hope to have one of the girls in the room working at their companies one day. Cierra Samuel, 14, is working toward making a career out of the STEM field.
“I’m a technology enthusiast,” Cierra told ABS. “I want to be a chemical engineer. I have more experience in robotics and computer programming than coding. Like, I learned about it but I never knew how to do it, I never knew the deepness to it. So, now that I’ve realized so much about [coding], it inspires me to do more.”