Celebrating women’s equality from the computer lab

This student from rural Tennessee learned to code, and is teaching other young girls to do the same.

By Veronica Watson

The first computer programmer might have been a woman, but the field isn’t exactly replete with females these days. Girls make up only 38 percent of students in K-12 computer science classes, and represent only 18 percent of those earning computer science bachelor’s degrees.

16-year-old Veronica Watson wants to help change that – not just in commemoration of Women’s Equality Day, but permanently. 

“I hope we reach a time when there’s so many women in computer science that it’s normal,” she said. “There’s nothing on earth that says men should be more interested in computer science than women. It bothers me. Everyone has a computer these days, there’s no reason more women can’t do this.  

“Getting to a time when so many women are in computers that it’s normal, and people don’t ask about it any more – that’s my dream.”

Veronica, a junior at XQ School Elizabethton High in Elizabethton, Tenn., started coding since she was 7 years old, creating simple animation videos through a program called Scratch. Now she makes her own video games on Python, and has spent the past four summers teaching coding to young learners at East Tennessee State University’s Department of Computing Code and Technology Summer Camps. Working with a professor there, she’s currently writing the curriculum for next year’s camp, which she hopes will be adopted by schools and camps across the country. 

After high school, she plans to study computer science in college and ultimately land a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working on artificial intelligence or psychological profiling.

But even though she’s sometimes the only girl in her high school coding classes, she has never felt daunted. She gets along with the boys in her classes and is more determined than ever to pursue her goals.

“I love computer science. It’s my passion,” she said. “But I also like people and my mom is a teacher, which I think that gives me a unique perspective. I want to help people understand that coding is cool.”