4 Girls Who Code Alumni Share How Coding Changed Their Lives

By Catherine Santino | June 15, 2021

Earlier this year, we announced that we’re continuing our mission to empower women and girls by partnering with two education-focused organizations. One is Girls Who Code, a non-profit that works to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. With their 7-week Summer Immersion Program, after-school clubs, and College Loops program, they are leading the movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women with computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. Girls Who Code has reached 450,000 girls to date through its programs and its campaigns, advocacy work, and New York Times best-selling series have sparked culture change, generating 13 billion impressions globally.

However, their incredible work goes far beyond these impressive stats. Today, we’re getting to know four former Girls Who Code members who are putting their coding knowledge to use in a variety of fields. Here, we’ll hear from Mackenzie, Emmy, Tiffany and Kaylyn about what inspired them to get into coding — and how it’s still positively impacting their lives.

Mackenzie Saephanh

Age: 21
Hometown: Merced, CA
Instagram: @kenshaaaay

How did you discover Girls Who Code?

My older sister recommended I apply. She’s an engineer. I was extremely reluctant to apply for the program because I thought I had no chance. Growing up in the San Joaquin Valley in California was difficult. There were very few resources that would give me an opportunity like this. I thought I was at a major disadvantage because I knew absolutely nothing about coding.

What are you working on currently?

I’m actually pursuing medicine now. I made the transition from Computer Science to Biology with a double minor in Physical Science and Psychology exactly one year ago and I am still finishing my undergrad before pursuing medical school. I currently work as a Medical Scribe and as a Vaccine Support Specialist for one of the medical schools I hope to attend. We run a vaccination clinic open to the public; yes, I get to vaccinate patients! I also work as an Instructional Student Assistant for incoming STEM students at my campus. I work with all of the different STEM majors and believe it or not, coding still plays a major role in my daily life to this day. 

How did the organization impact where you are today?

Girls Who Code taught me how to believe in myself. If it weren’t for Girls Who Code, I would have never had the courage to decide to pursue medicine or to be able to encourage others to pursue their dreams. It opened so many doors for me and showed me that there was so much more to explore and discover. The woman I am today is a result of the values and encouragement Girls Who Code provided me with.

What’s something that you learned in the program that you think everyone should know?

It’s okay to not have a single clue about what you’re doing. As crazy as that sounds, it really is perfectly normal. All that matters is that you want to learn and you’re willing to learn. Ask questions. Ask for help. 

What has coding allowed you to do that you are most proud of?

Seeing my progress each day that went by gave me so much courage. I went from knowing nothing to being able to create a website from scratch with an amazing team. Now I jump at opportunities to code. Who would have thought!

If you could solve any issue, big or small, through coding — what would it be?

Social injustices.

Favorite book/podcast/way you get inspired? 

I read poems by Maya Angelou. My go to reminder is “Still I Rise.”

Any words of wisdom to share?

“Be brave, not perfect!” – Reshma Suajani. I have chosen to live my life following this motto. I am not afraid to put myself out there and be brave. 

Emmy Chavez

Age: 20
Hometown: Nutley, NJ
Instagram: @letemmybee

What made you want to get into coding? 
I was introduced to coding through Girls Who Code. In the summer of 2017, I participated in their 7-week Summer Immersion Program. For the final week, we were put into groups of five and told to create a project utilizing everything we had learned over the summer. My group decided to create an educational website for mental health. I felt we achieved so much creating this website despite having only three days to create it. We encountered a lot of technical hurdles but with lots of research, constant re-reading, and hard work, we found fixes for every issue. This experience motivated me to learn more about coding. After attending more workshops, I learned how fascinating coding really is. Not only can you make a website, but you can manage a robot, create your own VR world, and even make a video game. Not to brag, but I have done all of those already! Coding opens the doors of numerous opportunities. 

How did the organization impact where you are today? 
Graduating from Girls Who Code opened a portal to another dimension for me. I took what I learned from the program and I ran with it. I applied to more workshops, programs, and conferences and knew computer science was going to be my major in college. So I got into Kode with Klossy, a coding program similar to Girls Who Code, and attended conferences around the world. I also had the opportunity to visit multiple tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Buzzfeed, LinkedIn, Bloomberg, Microsoft and Snapchat! 

What is your professional goal?
My professional goal is to do what I love and be happy while working.

What would you say to someone who labels coding as “boring?” 
Coding is not boring! I promise you I can take anything that you love and turn it into code. You like virtual reality? Imagine creating a world with anything you want in it with code! Do you like drawing and design? Try to learn python! Not sure what to eat today? You can create a function to help you with that too! Need a new friend? Easy! Make a chat box that you can talk to every day! I can go on and on, try me!

As a role model for others in STEM, what do you aim to teach others? 
I want others to know that coding isn’t just about sitting at your desk all day, eyes red, with a cup of coffee (even though that’s what doing my homework tends to look like). You know that feeling when you get the math problem right? Coding feels like that, but 100 times better! 

What has coding allowed you to do that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of the website I currently manage that I created all on my own.

If you could solve any issue, big or small, through coding — what would it be? 
Climate change. Coding is already helping to solve that issue!

Tiffany Agiri

Age: 18
Hometown: Dallas, GA

What made you want to get into coding? 
My role model, Dr. Isi Idemudia, made me want to get into coding. I had always struggled with what exactly I wanted to do in life, because nothing made me feel passionate. Dr. Idemudia introduced me to the world of coding and technology, and the rest is history. I attribute a lot to her. 

How did the organization impact where you are today? 
Girls Who Code has contributed immensely to where I am today. The networking opportunities I have had with different companies, organizations, and fellow alums have been incredible. Girls Who Code has also enabled me to be a leader in my community, and I thank them immensely for that. 

What’s one of your favorite memories from the Girls Who Code program? 
My favorite memory from Girls Who Code was attending their 2021 Hiring Summit. It was my first time attending a career fair, and it helped me greatly to prepare for the interview I had for the current company I am interning at, Amazon. 

What is your professional goal?
My professional goal is to eventually become a technical project manager. I am fascinated by the intersection between business and technology and I am grateful to have found a role that still allows me to code while being more business facing. 

What would you say to someone who labels coding as “boring?” 
I would say coding is the exact opposite of “boring.” Coding is all about finding solutions to problems, and with that comes innovation, room for flexibility, and of course, creativity.  

As a role model for others in STEM, what do you aim to teach others? 
I hope to teach others how important it is to find a community. I am fortunate that for me, that community is Girls Who Code. 

Life motto/ Words of wisdom to share?
“If you do not ask or try, the answer is always no,” are words that I live by. I would rather fail in attempt than be disqualified in surrender. 

Kaylyn Torres

Age: 22
Hometown: Staten Island, NY

What are you doing now? 
I just graduated with a computer science degree from the College of Staten Island and am starting my career as a Software Engineer at JP Morgan Chase.

How did the organization impact where you are today? 
Girls Who Code taught me how to adapt to a male-dominated field and find empowerment in my work. I feel confident and ambitious to pursue my dreams and feel resilient when challenges arise. Girls Who Code reminds me to be my authentic self and bring my passion into everything I do. It has also inspired me to bridge the gender gap in technology and change what a traditional “coder” looks like. I helped my college start a Girls Who Code club to teach high school students to code and remind them of those values daily. 

What’s something that you learned in the program that you think everyone should know? 
I learned that anyone can code! Don’t be afraid to try new experiences and never let being “different” or “the first” stop you from pursuing your interests. Embracing your happiness and hard work will bring growth and success!

Who’s the most impactful person you met in the program? 
Former VP of Engineering at Twitter, Nandini Ramani. I remember being in awe meeting Nandini because she was the first woman I have ever seen in a leadership position at a tech company and I wanted to be just like her! She gave my program motivating advice on how to adapt to working in an environment with fewer women in the field and highlighted the importance of learning from your failures and finding empowerment in your work. 

What is your professional goal? 
I would love to become a VP of Engineering and so I may continue to cultivate an environment for growth, learning, and efficiency amongst all my teams. 

What would you say to someone who labels coding as “boring?” 
Writing code may feel boring and tedious at times but I think there is a certain joy that comes from solving problems and seeing your program run successfully. Coding provides an outlet for blending your passions with creativity and logic to create. Whether it’s creating a new application, game or automating your tasks, coding can be fun and effective! 

Favorite book/podcast/way you get inspired?   
Women in Tech Podcast, hosted by Espree Devora. The podcast features the stories of inspiring women in tech and how they got there and where they are today.

Learn more about Girls Who Code here.

Catherine Santino

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