How to be a coding queen (Everything you need to know!)
Pictured: Sofia Ongele (left) with supermodel and face of Kode with Klossy, Karlie Kloss.
Sofia Ongele had zero experience with coding when she picked up her calculator and decided she wanted to write a program. Just 18 months later, she's a role model in the coding community who spends her spare time teaching—when she's not hanging out at Google and Snapchat. Here, she shares how you can learn to code, too—and it's easier than you think.
As her trusty TI-84 Plus graphing calculator printed out the lyrics to Adele’s iconic “Hello” ballad, Sofia Ongele, now 17, beamed with delight. “It was extremely fulfilling to see something I had been messing around with actually work for the first time,” she says. “It wasn’t anything remarkable, but it showed me that it’s possible to build whatever you want.”
After seeing a classmate create a countdown clock on his calculator, Sofia took a peek at the code, which is the set of instructions that tells a computer what to do, and figured out how to build her own Adele program that would instruct her calculator to “play” the song. Her classmates thought it was hilarious—and Sofia was instantly obsessed.
From there, Sofia’s whirlwind ride into the coding community started off the way many things do: with a Google search. “I literally just typed ‘free programs for girls in STEM’ into the search bar, and Kode With Klossy came up.” To apply to supermodel Karlie Kloss’ program—which teaches coding skills to girls all across the country during two-week summer sessions—Sofia filmed a quick video explaining what she would do with her coding superpowers. A few months later, she was working with Karlie and learning languages like Ruby, HTML, CSS and Sinatra alongside 24 teen girls who would eventually become some of her closest friends.
It was an amazing experience—but one she didn’t think would last. “After that first camp session, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep up with coding during the school year,” she says. “I had no idea how many opportunities were out there.”
But then she went to Microsoft’s DigiGirlz Day, a program that explores careers in tech. She attended an event with Black Girls Code at Google. She signed up for a hackathon…visited Snapchat with Built By Girls…headed to tech camp at Apple. (Yes, the Apple that makes your iPhone.) She completed level two of Kode With Klossy, then went on to teach for the camp across the country.
And as she racked up bullet points on her resume (great for college applications, by the way), Sofia realized there was one big important lesson in all of it.
“Coding isn’t just for guys in hoodies hacking at a computer at 2 in the morning—it’s not what you see in the media,” says Sofia. “From the day I started, I was welcomed into a community of change-makers, creative forces and girl bosses who I know will change the world. And if I can do it, any girl can.” Ahead, all the coding commandments Sofia wants you to know...
1. It’s never too early—or too late—to get started.
Think you need to start coding by the time you start crawling if you’ll ever make it to the C-suite? Actually, you can start *any* time—and catch up quickly. “I’ve been able to do so much in such a small amount of time because there are so many free programs girls don’t know about,” says Sofia, who has won multiple awards from the National Center for Women & Information Technology and connected with mentors like comedian and YouTube creator Lilly Singh. “If you dig around and give it an hour or a day, you’ll quickly see all the potential opportunities out there.”
2. Coding is an art form.
“So many people think, ‘I can’t be good at coding if I don’t like math,’ or ‘I’ve never been good at science, so why would I be good at computer science?’ But really, coding is this other realm where people are able to express themselves,” says Sofia. She points to Tumblr feeds, which can look crazy cool and creative—but they’re all really just code. “I’m extremely interested in front-end development, which is what makes websites pretty,” she explains. “I’m not good at drawing, but with coding you can make things beautiful with your mind instead of your hands.”
3. It connects to every interest.
Whether your passions lie in programming or literally *anything* else—politics, pizza, penguins, you name it—writing code allows you to innovate any industry. “It’s impacting humanity in ways that we haven’t seen before: You could build an app that connects people with volunteer opportunities within their political party or generates pizza recipes based on the ingredients in their fridge,” says Sofia. “Or, you can create a penguin game that donates proceeds to conservation.”
4. The gender gap is growing…
“The lack of representation is real,” says Sofia of diversity in STEM. And she’s right: In 2016, only 26 percent of jobs in professional computer sciences were held by women—and only 10 percent by African-American, Asian or Hispanic women. If the trends continue, that number could drop to 20 percent by 2025. “It’s very easy to feel as if tech isn’t the place for you when you don’t see anyone who looks like you in the field,” she says. “But when you get involved in STEM, you have to remember that you’re being a leader in this field and you’ll inspire other women to do the same.”
5. …so *now* is the time to pursue your passions.
“I think right now is such a vital time for girls to get involved in technology and computer sciences because we can be at the forefront of innovation in the coming years,” Sofia explains. “If it’s just white men or this tiny demographic of people, you’re only going to see a fraction of the possibilities. It’s our singular experiences that will ignite change.”