'Me and tech' — student Katie Griffiths on the opportunities offered by Apps for Good
After having researched reasons why young people may be bullied, and finding shocking statistics about LGBTQ teenagers, my friends and I were surprised to find that there were no apps available to help these teenagers. So, in 2014, we entered a national competition called Apps for Good.
After pitching our app idea to a panel of judges and industry experts, we were fortunate enough to win our category. So, six months later, we released I'm Okay in the Google Play Store before then going on to be a winner at the Tech4Good Awards in 2015. (See also "Tech boring? Now with Apps for Good" and "A legend in their own lunchtimes – Apps for Good".)
I'm Okay is a support app for teenagers questioning their sexuality and gender. This is a common experience for many teenagers, and yet the availability of easily accessible resources is limited. Teenagers can use the free app to read stories from people who have had similar experiences, understand definitions of LGTBQ terminology and access resources. The main aim of the app is to help young people see that they’re not alone — and get the answers and information that they need.
Part of the Apps for Good course was to learn how to create a prototype of your app using the website App Inventor. This is when I found my love for coding. Writing code requires a combination of skills such as logic, problem solving, and general creativity, and it teaches you how to think differently about problems you are trying to solve in any context. I would go home after school and create apps.
'The possibilities are endless'
It amazed me that I could use the apps I had created instantly on my phone and that anybody — even a 14-year-old — could do this. The possibilities of what you can create and the problems you can solve using code is endless. I loved the challenge of fixing an error in my code and the feeling of accomplishment when I had created a working program.
The app was a finalist for the BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Awards and, since launching the app, my team and I have spoken at Safer Internet Day events and were interviewed by the Royal Society for its Out in STEM event. We have been featured in Wired magazine, the Virgin Unite blog and we have given radio interviews to BBC Radio 1 and All Out Radio. Our most recent achievement was being included by the Guardian Newspaper in its list of the top 25 most powerful teenagers in the world.
Since then, I have been working independently to challenge stereotypes and encourage more girls to follow a career path in technology by speaking at events such as Oxfam’s Women in IT Day event this year, to show that girls can be just as excited about and successful in the digital world as boys. I really enjoy sharing my love of computing, and showing others how much fun it is.
'I like encouraging other girls'
I like encouraging other girls to give it a try. I try to make sure it’s not just seen as this nerdy thing, but as something fun and creative. I hope that when I go through my journey, I will become a role model for other girls in the future.
I have also attended many Apps for Good events where I have spoken about my experience as well as taking the opportunity to speak to other tech role models. I am one of this year's Code First: Girls "Ones to watch" and I plan on speaking at many more events in the future to help get my voice heard.
Only 19 per cent of computer science graduates are female in the UK with 9 per cent of the STEM workforce being female. Consider that these are the fastest growing, highest paying, most in-demand jobs in the UK, and if current trends continue, only one out of ten of those jobs will be filled by women.
We need to raise a new generation of women in technology who think creatively and who aren’t afraid to take risks and impact the world around them. The difficulty in attracting women into the tech industry is down to a combination of things, including the lack of STEM role models for girls.
It’s really important for girls to be actively encouraged, and shown that computing is something that is for them. There’s nothing there to actually stop girls from taking computing. It’s all about us knowing about the opportunities and feeling confident to take them. It’s important to know that it can be done — and it has been done.
Technology influences absolutely everything, and it is the future of every single industry. The future depends on technology, and on people with different points of view who aren’t afraid to try new things.
Katie Griffiths is an Apps for Good Fellow currently in her final year of studing maths, further maths and economics at A-level