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'CodeGirl' tracks teen girls in worldwide tech competition




Team AMEKA in CODEGIRL
Team AMEKA in CODEGIRL
Courtesy of FilmBuff and Invented by Girls
Team AMEKA in CODEGIRL
Team Puppy Sized Elephants in CODEGIRL.
Courtesy of FilmBuff and Invented by Girls
Team AMEKA in CODEGIRL
Team Portmund from Recife Brazil works on the App The Last Drop.
Courtesy of FilmBuff and Invented by Girls
Team AMEKA in CODEGIRL
Team X-Women from Bengalaru, India practice in San Francisco.
Courtesy of FilmBuff and Invented by Girls
Team AMEKA in CODEGIRL
Team United Smart Girls work on their App HELPLY, in Drochia, Moldova.
Courtesy of FilmBuff and Invented by Girls


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The mobile app market is estimated to be valued at $77 billion by the year 2017. But most of that money will likely go to men. As of now, 80 percent of app developers are male. 

Some leaders in the tech field are trying to change that with events like the annual competition called Technovation. Each year, high school girls from around the world develop apps aimed at solving a problem in their community. Finalists are selected to pitch their ideas in front of a team of expert judges.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRb5iel-3Ck

Director Lesley Chilcott followed a number of teams as they made their way through the 2015 competition for a new documentary called "CodeGirl." Chilcott joined host Alex Cohen to tell more.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

How Chilcott first found out about the Technovation competition:

"Back in 2013, I was making a very short documentary for a new non-profit called Code.org that was about to launch, and I had the privilege of interviewing some of the top figures in tech all over the U.S. And I noticed that I was having to go out of my way to find prominent women in tech — they exist, but it was just a little bit harder to track them down. While I was doing a lot of research, I stumbled upon this contest, Technovation, and, you know, it's one thing to say to high school girls, 'You're really smart, you're creative, statistically you're just as good as the boys — if not better — in math and science and engineering, so therefore you should change careers and study it [tech]. It's another to say, 'Hey, look around you. Even though you're only 14 years old, what problem do you see, and how would you solve it?' And it was a real practical application, and the more I learned about it and the more I watched the pitch videos from previous years, it's like I could see these lightbulb moments where these girls were like, 'Wow, I see that problem and I might be able to address it, do something about it.' And I knew then, I was like, 'I have to make a film about this.'"   

How she decided which teams to follow in the film:

"For that reason, it was the most challenging documentary that I have ever made, because initially, we got the statistics in from Technovation, and over 5,000 girls had signed up in 60 countries. And we thought, even if we had a large budget, which we didn't have, there still would be no way to guess the winning team. So, I made the decision that we would go to Moldova, the team that won last year in 2014 was from Moldova, and I said I'm going to start with them, because there are more teams from Moldova because they've been inspired by these girls and they've heard about the contest. So we went to five cities in Moldova and filmed with girls there, knowing, statistically speaking, it was extremely unlikely that one of those girls would advance, you know, and that's exactly what happened. So, we had regional ambassadors from Technovation, and mentors and coaches all looking out for us, but even so I knew, I said, how am I going to structure this film? Because it's going to be like 'Game of Thrones' — you meet characters, and then they're gone, and then you meet other characters, and then they're gone. And that's what we went with in the end, because there was literally no way for me to follow a team from the beginning and the end. So we followed the arch of the contest, we just changed teams as we went. And in the end I think it works because you see the similarities with girls all over the world, and you also see their differences."

On how the judges made their decisions when considering the diverse backgrounds of the contestants:

"We  actually reviewed the judging rubric so that we ourselves would understand that they were judged on their pitch that they make at world pitch night, and when they go to San Francisco, they're judged on their business plan, they're judged on their code, and they're also judged on, does their app solve a pressing problem? So, if it's an amazing idea for an app but maybe it doesn't show high profitability, they could still score highly by the way that they're judged. And we were there when the judges were going around at the app expo and asking them questions, and they definitely looked at the apps from all sides, and in order for these teams to even get to finals, they had to be reviewed by other judges along the way. But even so I'll tell you, some of the best ideas didn't make it, and it kind of mirrors real life. I mean, maybe there was a flaw with their code that I didn't have access to, or maybe, for example, there were a number of volunteer apps. It's really interesting, all over the world, girls kept bringing up the same thing. One: potholes. There were apps to find and report potholes. I mean there were so many apps that's like, 'If you see a pothole, take a picture and report it,' and it was a really great idea. And then there were volunteer apps, partly because a lot of girls in the U.S. and other countries are required to do a certain number of volunteer hours before they graduate, and others because there are so many people who want to volunteer but they don't know where to go, and then so many places that need volunteers. And I think the judges see those apps every year, and maybe those aren't as interesting, and yet there isn't an app like that on the market. One of the teams in the film, Benefaction from Anaheim, they didn't even advance to semi-finals, and they have a funder now, and they're working to put that app out. So, for a lot of the girls, of course they want to win and do well, but it's really about just entering and figuring out what they can do, and a huge percentage of them keep working on their app log after the competition. And to me — these are over-scheduled high school girls who are doing sporting events and all these different things, and yet they're making time for this contest."    

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.