A High School Girl’s Guide to CS Resources

Recently, I had a Youtube viewer message me asking about what kind of resources they could use to learn more about CS or explore more about the field while in high school. I responded to her with compiled a list of resources I thought would be valuable, and I thought I’d also share them here. This is not nearly close to an exhaustive list, but just a list of what I personally did or heard of spoken highly about. I also have this titled as a ‘Girl’s Guide’ just because quite a few of these resource links and programs are targeted for girls only.

Development Skills

I’d recommend Codecademy for a lot of the intro first webpage building with HTML/CSS, Javascript/jQuery. MIT App Inventor is also a really fun first app building tool that you can actually get to look quite nice just using Scratch style code blocks as well as do more complex database and API integration stuff with. If you don’t mind spending a bit of money, you can also do Udemy for learning languages and iOS/Android/Web development or Coursera for course content similar to college CS curriculums. (I haven’t done Coursera myself, just heard of other friends doing it). I will say that these are great skills to have for doing contests, or hackathons, or for an internship, but it’s nothing you really ultimately learn much about in your CS degree (at least speaking from my experience studying CS at CMU)

Mentorship and Community

For more CS mentorship I’d look into signing up for Built By Girls which matches you with different advisors in the tech industry that you can talk to and learn from. I wish I had found BuiltByGirls earlier when I was still in high school because I think I would have found it significantly more valuable than I do now as a CS major who already knows generally the industry she wants to go in. I think for girls who are curious about stem but aren’t so sure what a career doing CS or something else in tech would look like BuiltByGirls provides an amazing opportunity to talk to mentors and working professionals in tech about their experience and work life and also just generally good interview training and learning to speak one-on-one with adults which is something I initially struggled with in high school.

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Getting involved in NCWIT is also something I highly recommend. It does require a little bit of prior experience when applying and talking about your background and experience within CS thus far so this is likely something to do later in your high school years after you’ve had some experience under your belt. (Although I would recommend looking ahead of time at some of the essay questions) And Yes, I did end up winning two NCWIT Aspiration awards that I think helped when applying to colleges for CS, but I think the more lasting community of women in NCWIT who offer advice, share news about scholarships, tech camps, internships, etc. that I’ve ultimately seen more value from because you can so easily connect with so many more female mentors through this community.

Girls Who Code is also a really popular organization that hosts clubs and summer programs all across the US where a faculty mentor guides girls in the club through directed exploratory technical projects to learn CS. I was never personally involved with the org, but it’s for sure a popular one to get involved in if they host programs in your nearby surrounding area.

Competitions

The  Congressional App Challenge is a competition I would highly recommend participating in or asking your Member of Congress to get involved in as it is a tech contest within your local congressional district to build the best application whether it be web or mobile. Because the contest is contained within your district, it’s a pretty good first tech challenge to do with technical thresholds not being too high. It’s also a really great way to get involved in doing tech for your community as a lot of the times apps that end up winning are ones intended for social good. Having worked with the Congressional App Challenge team myself I can definitely attest to them being a great organization with a great mission and easy to apply to contest. (see more photos)

From local district to international, I would describe Technovation as an international girls tech startup competition where the contest not only requires you to come up with an idea for an app/product but also put together a pitch and business plan for it. I’d argue that it is quite a competitive competition, but it’s still worth competing in because the learning experience you’ll go through will be quite rewarding. Technovation provides a very detailed 12-week curriculum that helps guide you through the initial conception of your app idea to the product development and then business research and pitch for it.  It’ll help give you a bigger scope of what it takes to bring an idea to fruition as an actual deliverable product which I don’t think you get from a lot of other competitions. (see our submissions)

I myself never participated in any hackathons in high school, but I know of quite a friends who did and regarded them highly as a very rewarding experience to learn some new technology and development environment in a small frame of time to produce a deliverable by the end of the ~24 hour hackathon timeline.

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All these competitions I’ve mentioned are team based so if you can find some friends that would be willing to do these competitions with you it’ll be all the more exciting and enjoyable!

Summer Programs

I can’t personally speak to these, but some of my friends in CS also attended summer programs like AI4All and Kode with Klossy and they spoke pretty highly about them. You’re also bound to find some coding camps around your community over the summer. Just make sure they aren’t charging you some obscene amount of money to go.

I also know a lot of colleges offer summer programs for high schoolers so you might want to consider those, but ideally if you can take CS classes at a nearby college or community college even those will likely offer more legitimate knowledge and skill.

If I think of or learn about more resources, I’ll try to add them to the list, but for now, I hope this list gives you some kind of starting point as to what to explore or get involved in next. There’s also this link of some additional resources courtesy of a girl from BuiltByGirls: https://github.com/mpara0/Programs-For-Girls-In-Tech I know as a freshman in high school I have absolutely zero knowledge of any of these resources, I only came across a lot of them randomly, or by accident over the next four years and I definitely regret not discovering a lot of them earlier in my high school career but in writing this post I hope that this will not be the same case for any other high school girl reading this interesting in pursuing Computer Science!