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Alexa Cafe aims to close gender technology gap

By Tiffany Lam | Special to the Almanac

Designing the ads for LalaChic, a clothing line where users personalize outfits online, can be tricky especially for its founder, 13-year-old Zoe, who just started using Photoshop thanks to the Alexa Cafe.

An all-girl, for-profit tech program aimed at engaging more girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, the new Alexa Cafe was held in July at Palo Alto High School. The classroom was filled with cafe tables and beanbags, where girls, ages 10 to 14, learned how to code and design.

A week-long session cost $949, and most participants attended for one week only.

Zoe, who lives in Menlo Park, says the program may have a long-term effect on her. "Knowing how to use Photoshop and how to code would really help because if I wanted to start my own business, instead of just handing out fliers, it could take things to the next level."

The courses are split into four categories: for ages 10-12, "Sugar Coded" and "Design Barista"; and for ages 13-14, "Javaccino" and "Design Technista." Sugar Coded and Javaccino teach girls code through Scratch and Javascript, while Design Barista and Technista teach girls photography and website design through Photoshop and Muse.

The teaching staff is made up of women with experience in technology. Classes have an 8-to-1 student-instructor ratio. Girls are encouraged to kick-start a social movement and create real-world philanthropic projects.

Alexa site director Jo Kalvin says the program is a response to the huge gender gap in computer science and technology. "Women make up fewer than 14 percent of computer science undergraduates," she says. It's important to break the stereotype of coding and technology, she says.

Ten-year-old Jane, another Menlo Park resident who developed an interactive program that teaches users about space, says she likes the all-female camp. "It's a lot easier to work in a room full of girls if you're a girl," she says. "Girls are thought of as not as good at this stuff as boys are, but I don't think that's true. They're both equally good."

Zoe added: "If there were boys, we would be in constant competition. Here, we don't have to feel ashamed that we're girls."

The program was developed under the umbrella of iD Tech, an organization that holds summer computer camps at 80 universities in 28 states.

Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, the iDTech co-founder who inspired the name Alexa Cafe, promises that for every girl who attends Alexa Cafe, the organization will send a girl to an iD Tech camp on scholarship.

Go to idtech.com/alexa-cafe for more information on Alexa Cafe.

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