Ya On Point About Black Girls CODE

TL;DR – When we help people, we make the world a little better. That’s an easy thing to forget, but something important to remember. I got a reminder about this a few weekends ago, thanks to Black Girls CODE and my friend Onyi.

Developer Team Trio Calling on Audience Members

One of the developer teams, doing a demo of their trivia game

Ya On Point are blog posts from The Help Machine about different business topics, related to start-up culture, learnings, and our areas of excellence and expertise.

This one is about an awesome lesson I learned watching kids learn software at a Black Girls CODE event organized by a friend.

  • What is Black Girls CODE?
  • How Did I Get Involved?
  • What Did I Learn to make sure the Help Machine Stays On Point?
  • How Can You Help?

What is Black Girls CODE?

Black Girls CODE introduces young girls from underrepresented communities to computer programming! The classes are typically taught and assisted by volunteers in the tech community.

Black Girls Code Logo

The motto of ‘Black Girls Code’ is ‘Imagine. Build. Create.’ It’s also a credo we could all learn from.

The young people who participate get a chance to learn anything from Scratch, or even Ruby on Rails, through lessons on basic programming and game design. If you think Scratch is a ‘light’ programming language, just consider, that people who learn gain an understanding not only of procedural programming, but also of objects (and thus, object oriented programming), If/Then statements, and more. The framework for Scratch is so good that, if you’re an adult who’s never programmed before, you could use Scratch to learn all of the bedrock principles that help create a solid engineer.
Those kinds of opportunities are often harder to come by for young people of color. African American kids typically have less than half the access to the internet than their white cohorts. And often, computer ownership falls due to income inequality. By running seminars, bringing together volunteers, and unlocking imaginations, Black Girls CODE helps bridge that ever-growing gap between those with access to digital technology (and the tools to modify that tech) with those without.
Black Girls CODE launched in April 2011, and brings self-confidence, artistry, and access to kids across the United States. It’s a chance not only for the kids to learn and gain access, but also to see what the future can bring. And in some ways, maybe just as important, it’s a chance to kids to see possibilities.

How Did I Get Involved?

My friend Onyi Nwosu asked for volunteers for an event she ran! She and another volunteer put the whole event together (with some help from the Black Girls Code organization). They found space at Google, and brought together 75 kids and nearly 20 volunteers. In some contexts, I’d be the most qualified person in the room to teach development (even though, by my own admission, I’m lousy at it). Black Girls CODE, though, doesn’t play; I was easily the least qualified engineer (or, in my case, smarty-hacker-tinkerer) in the room. Luckily, there was plenty to help with; and lucky for me, they had volunteer slots for photographesr! I got to spend the day taking beautiful pictures of smart people.

What Did I Learn to make sure the Help Machine Stays On Point?

It was amazing watching the developers learn! Some of the young developers were laser focused on the lesson at hand, wanting to make sure that they absorbed every piece of learning they could from the instructor, and making sure that they executed all of the steps in the lesson plans perfectly.

Smart people showing young people cool stuff!

Smart people showing young people cool stuff!

Other developers took more of a hacker approach to the lessons, learning just enough to begin exploring. Watching the kids realize they could put their own graphics into the lessons, or change the lesson plans in their own ways. Every developer there showed heart, imagination, and a crafter’s spirit that any Maker can appreciate. At the end of the day, the kids who wanted to demo what they made had the opportunity to do so.

Young engineer working on a complex program

When you help people, the world gets a little better, and a little brighter.

As I watched the kids, I thought about myself at the same age, and how lucky I was that my dad was a computer nerd, that he wanted to help me to learn, and how cool it was that my folks bought me a Commodore 128 (a kind of souped up Commodore 64) and later let me have his old IBM clones. Just like the kids in the room, I learned by making computer games, hacking together programs, and tinkering with other people’s games. I learned to type young, got really comfortable with computers, and eventually ended up working in online technology.

As a product manager, I’ve seen plenty of demo days at all of the iterative or agile environments I’ve worked in over the years. While, arguably, I’ve seen more ‘technically advanced’ demos at hackathons and at those day jobs, this is by far the most meaningful demo day I’ve gotten to attend. As the kids showed their work, there were oohs and aahs in the room, as the other young engineers saw the new solutions, and novel concepts, that their peers had come up with. Each demo showed the what the kids learned, but also helped other kids (and their parents) see the possibilities of imagination. With each demo, everyone got a little smarter.

So, to Stay On Point with The Help Machine, I need to remember the power of learning, sharing, and getting involved. Thanks to Onyi and all the people she helped bring together, the world got a little better and brighter that day. That’s a good lesson to carry forward, and a reminder of why it’s important to help.

How Can You Help?

Check out more about Black Girls Code on their website. You can always sign-up to volunteer there, and learn more about it!

Important Stuff About Me That Is Important!


Fred Chong Rutherford, that’s me, has been working on the internet since the late 20th century in a variety of digital product and project management roles. I’ve been very lucky, and gotten to work with a lot of smart, incredibly talented people over the years to make cool digital stuff. I spend my time thinking about technology, people, and the how to look sideways at problems to find the best solution. I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients like Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, EA, Tetris Online, NBC Universal and Xbox over the years. I’ve worked in product and project roles for a few companies, including IDT, The Topps Company, Viacom, Time, Inc and some start-ups. I’m currently at American Express.

Short films I’ve written, produced and or directed have appeared at film festivals around the world, including The Kino Short Film Festival, San Diego Comic Con, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Satellites Independent Film Festival, StockStock and more. I also love puppets, and do my best to help the Thigments make the videos they like to post on YouTube. I live in Brooklyn, NY, because it’s awesome. Twitter | Facebook | G+ | Instagram | IMDB |

“You on point, Phife?” – Q-Tip
“All the time, Tip.” – Phife Dawg

Also published on Medium.