On the second floor of Goldman Sachs’ headquarters in downtown New York, a group of 40 girls are diligently working on their final technology projects.
Many of them have never been introduced to computer science before, but after weeks of training, they are creating apps, computer games, and demos of their own.
Noor Kamal, a 16-year-old from Long Island, is working on an app that provides relaxing assistance for people affected by anxiety.
Rosa Olguin, a 15-year-old from the Bronx, is developing an app that acts as an aid for individuals to acknowledge, target, and solve their bad habits.
Together, these bright young girls are part of a seven-week summer-immersion program run by Girls Who Code (GWC) and sponsored by Goldman Sachs.
They have worked on everything, from programming in Scratch and Python to object-oriented and web programming and robotics. And now, as the experience draws to a close, they’re working on two weeks of final projects.
It’s clear that the program has had an effect. Kamal and Olguin, who were in different classes, hugged like long-lost friends as soon as they saw each other, chatting excitedly about what they were doing.
“I was really intimidated walking into Goldman Sachs,” Kamal said. “At the beginning no one was talking to each other.”
By the end, however, they clearly felt like a family.
Kamal had no prior experience in tech before attending the program, but is now looking into a potential career in cybersecurity after a fireside chat with Phil Venables, Goldman’s chief information risk/security officer.
GWC, founded in 2012 by politician Reshma Saujani, is a nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. The organisation runs after-school and summer programs that expose female high-school students to computer science and programming.
GWC provides the teachers and teaching assistants while Goldman Sachs provides the resources, including the space, food, MetroCards, speakers, and mentors, and hosts the open house as well as the graduation ceremony.
In addition to the courses, the program features talks from Goldman Sachs’ chief information risk officer, the
global head of fixed income, and the head of technology. The program also includes sessions by external speakers from companies like IBM and GitHub and field trips to tech-company offices in New York City.
The partnership between GWC and Goldman Sachs began four years ago, when Liz Byrnes, the managing director of Goldman technology and head of the firm’s Women in Technology network, met Saujani at the Grace Hopper Women in Technology conference in 2012.
Byrnes wanted the network to do more in the community, and while they found several interesting initiatives, it proved challenging to find a collaboration that was tech-related.
“We heard a rumour that there was a program in NYC to teach girls to code,” she said, “and we were furiously emailing this startup asking how can we get involved.”
Then, when Byrnes bumped into Saujani and her team at the conference, she was “hooked.” The next summer, they collaborated with GWC for a summer-immersion program, the first financial-services company to do so. In 2014, Goldman expanded its commitment to two groups and 40 girls.
Every girl gets paired with a junior and a senior mentor, who are Goldman employees, and they meet every Monday for “mentoring Monday” sessions.
Over a hundred female employees at Goldman are involved with GWC, either though the mentoring sessions, workshops, or discussions.
The girls graduate this week and have been working on their final projects. They ranged from apps on forest conservation and addictions to eating disorders and how the Electoral College works.
“After they learn the basics of computer science, we turn it back to them and say, ‘OK, how do you want to give back to the world? What do you want to do with the software now that you’ve learned what you’ve learned?'” said Byrnes.
“They are doing all different things that they can relate to now that they have a new skill set in technology that they can use.”
It’s important for Goldman to support the development of technology and the next crop of engineers, especially among women. Women represent just 21.2% of senior executives at the firm, and minority women far less than that.
The partnership also comes as Goldman Sachs pitches itself as a tech company. The bank’s technology division makes up more than a third of the firm, or about 11,000 people, and the company is focused on hiring top tech talent.
Several teaching assistants involved with GWC in previous years are now interns at the firm in the technology division, and Byrnes plans to stay in touch with the female coders through the alumni program.