How to Host a Coding Event For Girls: an Interview With Jennifer Wadella

Tell me about your job, what do you you do?
 By day I'm a JavaScript developer at a legal tech startup in Kansas City. By night I'm the founder and president of Kansas City Women in Technology, a non-profit aimed at growing the number of women in tech careers in Kansas City, and an international speaker. 
What is Code and Cupcakes, I mean, besides a brilliant name!
Coding & Cupcakes is a coding program Kansas City Women in Technology runs to introduce girls to and get them excited about coding. Coding & Cupcakes was created after some interesting observations of promoting our local CoderDojo chapter, which is a coding club we run open to girls and boys. Parents would tell us their daughter probably wouldn't be interested in coding but they'd definitely bring their son, and it was disappointing to realize the parents had this predisposition against coding for their girls, so we set out to fix that with a little backwards targeted gender marketing and a cute pink logo! These sessions constantly sell out and the girls and their parents have a blast!
How did you first hear about Jewelbots?
I've been in the women in tech space for a while, so my social media feeds are pretty geared for that kind of content. I saw the kickstarter page and IMMEDIATELY backed Jewelbots(or Jewliebots at the time) because I knew they'd be perfect for our coding class and getting girls excited about tech. 
What was your first Jewelbots workshop like?
The first workshop was a lot of fun with a good amount of chaos. We've been running coding workshops for this demographic for a while, so we know how to create instructions and content for them, but all our sessions previously were about building websites(the girls create a Github account, clone our fake cupcake shop website repo, and use HTML and CSS to make changes to it and customize their cupcake shop website, and then deploy via Github pages), but hardware always adds a layer of complexity. We also had one family show up with a USB-C mac, but no adaptor for their USB port, so we had them pair with another group. We immediately updated our registration page to include bringing a usb adaptor after that. ;)
What was the best or most surprising thing about putting on Jewelbots events?
We start our sessions by having a few girls come up and demo the basic pairing and messaging functionality of Jewelbots, and it's amazing to see shy, quiet girls come in and then become so empowered by getting a tech toy to work, and then racing around the room to make new friends and pair their Jewelbots with each other!
How often are you putting on Jewelbots coding events, and what other coding events do you put on?
Right now we run Coding & Cupcakes sessions once per month January-November (in December our volunteer team needs a break to recoup and plan for the next year!) We're currently alternating our Web Development and Jewelbots curriculum, but the Jewelbots sessions are selling out way faster than the website ones! We'll actually be running two Jewelbots sessions back to back in July at KC Kids Conference, the kids portion of our local developer conference, KCDC
Additionally Kansas City Women in Technology runs a monthly CoderDojo chapter session Jan-Nov, and we run a monthly series called Coding & Cocktails, for adult women wanting to learn to code, Jan-Nov as well. This year we have also been piloting a second CoderDojoKC location in a lower income area in Kansas City, and had to find a new space for Coding & Cocktails that would allow us to double the capacity due to events selling out so quickly and long waitlists to get in. 

Any tips to those interested in putting on their own Jewelbots coding events?
Workshop Tips:


  • PRE-WORKSHOP: Make technical requirements known - laptop with admin rights to download Arduino IDE, wifi, usb port
  • You can view our signup page with instructions/FAQs here: 
  • Prep your mentors with guide + debugging tips - keep everyone on the same page. As I like to say, don't make your mentors/volunteers herd cats!
  • Communicate goals of the workshop - explain the "what" & "why", and explain the different tools you'll be using!
  • Know installing boards may take 10-15 min
  • Be prepared for different learning speeds, and make sure the girls know it's ok to work at their own pace!!
  • Have a guide/curriculum strategy prepared - if you don't have a 1to1 mentor ratio, attendees will be frustrated without a guide/outline to rely on. 
  • Have follow up resources ready - encourage joining Jewelbots community. It's one thing to put on a one-day coding event, but the real way to make an impact for girls in tech is to build community and having ongoing support and resources for them to use throughout the year!
  • Expect some chaos ... and have a blast!
Mentoring Tips:
  • Keep your hands OFF the keyboard
  • Let her make mistakes
  • Don't give her the answer, help her find it
  • Teach her how to read the documentation
  • Help her create diagrams of her ideas
  • Be patient
General Event Tips:
How and when did you get started with coding?
 I got started coding in middle school/high school playing with Neopets, MySpace and Xanga. = p
What's next for you? Anything exciting in the pipeline? 
I'm on a bit of a conference tour whirlwind at the moment, but I'm really excited to be talking about Jewelbots at All Things Open in October! We're also working on expanding/franchising our KCWiT programs like Cupcakes and Cocktails to help other cities run events and build community like we have.