Let’s hope that with apps like One Small Step, female empowerment in tech will take one small step for women, and one giant leap for the tech world.

Jolene Hee  |  Singapore
Published 2015-04-22 15:27:01

What comes to mind when you think of ‘coding’, or ‘programming’, or ‘computer science’? Assuming you haven’t lost interest already, you might be picturing a T-shirt-clad techie sitting before a row of computers, typing furiously as glowing, mysterious numbers and symbols scroll past at warp speed. One problem with that image? There’s a high chance that you have just subconsciously imagined this figure as male.

Image Credit: Mashable
Image Credit: Mashable

The extent of gender bias in the tech world might be arguable, but the numbers don’t lie: tech giant Google has a workforce of only 30% females, and 56% of women in tech end up leaving their companies midcareer. Closer to home, Singapore’s science and tech sector is seeing a dearth of women — an OECD study found that only 29.5% of those working in STEM industries are female. This isn’t because women don’t want to enter industries which are typically perceived as “for guys”; according to the Singapore Committee for UN Women, girls are “unaware of opportunities… and [face] a lack of female role models and gender stereotypes”.

How can we change this tired litany of statistics for the better? An ambitious team of five might just have the answer. Through their coding app One Small Step, Leonardy Kristianto, Jay Ching Lim, Kean Ho Chew, Daniel Lim, and Gwen Yi Wong want to provide women and girls in Southeast Asia with the savvy to better understand the technology around them — while having fun at the same time.

One Small Step in the Right Direction

From left to right: Leonardy Kristianto, Jay Ching Lim, Kean Ho Chew, Daniel Lim (centre), Gwen Yi Wong and Mastercard's Karen Pascoe. (Image Credit: e27)
From left to right: Leonardy Kristianto, Jay Ching Lim, Kean Ho Chew, Daniel Lim (centre), Gwen Yi Wong and Mastercard’s Karen Pascoe. (Image Credit: e27)

What One Small Step is currently developing, the team says, is an app that incorporates tech education into “addictive, no-BS, coding-centric games”. Their app will offer multi-tiered, bite-sized games based on technology we commonly use, such as Instagram, Facebook and Tinder. The driven five believe that this will achieve two major things: pique women’s interest in tech, while demolishing the limiting beliefs that prevent talented women from entering the tech sphere.

Leonardy cites one common myth that might sound familiar: that coding is “dry, boring, challenging, impossible”. Most of us non-hackers have probably absorbed, explicitly or otherwise, this off-putting idea about tech — the idea that it’s too difficult for the likes of us, whoever ‘us’ may be. For One Small Step, this belief is something that should be destroyed.

“We believe that all these beliefs are formed because of a societal perception that coding is a man’s thing. Here’s something funny: the term ‘debugging’ was actually coined by Grace Hopper, one of the very first female programmers in the world.”

Image Credit: Huffington Post
Image Credit: Huffington Post

No Cooking, Please — We Want to Code

Gwen isn’t just the only female member of One Small Step; she was also the only girl in a coding bootcamp that the team previously attended. This evidently skewed gender ratio was, for them, the spark behind their women empowerment app, heightened by one other incident: while Googling for “coding games for girls”, their search phrase was auto-corrected to “cooking games for girls”.

There’s a long-held belief that tech is “for guys”, and these two anecdotes reflect the pervasive, all-too-real consequences of this misguided way of thinking. Yet judging by how her teammates affectionately refer to Gwen as a “super hustler”, gender is no inherent limitation in determining how well someone can do in the tech world.

Since the problem lies in the invisible barrier that causes women to shy away from coding, the simple puzzles that One Small Step provides promise to break that barrier down. The purpose of the games is to help players explore various technologies that we commonly use — the game demo of their Instagram track, for example, allows you to learn about how Instagram functions.

Image Credit: one-small-step.herokuapp.com
Image Credit: one-small-step.herokuapp.com

Right now, the drag-and-drop game concept may fulfil its educational purpose, but it doesn’t seem too engaging. The team assures us, however, that a more compelling gamification of learning is currently in the works. Asked for a peek into what we might expect soon, Leonardy says, “Stay tuned to find out what happens in Tinder’s backend when you swipe right!”

Besides games, the team plans to come up with a premium version of the app, which promises to offer virtual mentors, learning resources and community support. And in line with the team’s belief in women empowering women, the app will boast an interesting B1G1 (Buy One Give One) model: if you choose the paid premium option, every cent of your purchase will go to The One Small Step Foundation.

“The One Small Step Foundation is a coding bootcamp fund we’ve set up, in order to empower more ladies living in underprivileged communities around Southeast Asia. Our hope is for women from all walks of life to consider programming and tech as a career.”

The Next Step

Image Credit: Leonardy Kristianto
Image Credit: Leonardy Kristianto

The next few months promise to be spectacularly busy as the team continues to develop their app. Three weeks ago, One Small Step proved their mettle when they took home the top prize at Mastercard’s Masters of Code Singapore hackathon. The five will soon be heading to Silicon Valley to compete with finalists from other cities for a grand prize of US$100,000. Besides this, Leonardy also reveals that they’re in the midst of negotiating a partnership with UN WOMEN.

“We actually planned to live together and hustle for a few months to boost our productivity rate. Right now, we have a few milestones to achieve, including the restructuring of our current website and introducing a proper landing page. That, and a lot of research on games!”

Ultimately, empowering women to take the first step out into the brave new world of technology isn’t just about tech — it’s about ensuring that all of us have the resources and encouragement we need to stretch us to our fullest potential. It might be too early to tell, but let’s hope that with apps like One Small Step, female empowerment in tech will soon be taking one small step for women, and one giant leap for the tech world.

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