Falmouth girls get to share the not-so-secret code to success

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FALMOUTH — It’s commonly assumed people with computer programming skills will be in demand as technology continues to take over our lives.

But there’s a gender gap even among young people, which is why John Wahlig, a sophomore at Falmouth High School, has volunteered to teach a coding class for girls.

This fall he’s teaching eight girls at Falmouth Elementary School how to build a basic website with the goal of sparking an interest in computer programming that the girls can carry into middle school, high school and beyond.

One of the girls in his weekly after-school class is his sister, Victoria. Most of the participants are fourth-graders and the class filled in less than an hour after it was offered by the town’s Community Programs Department.

There are eight girls in the class and a waiting list with 11 more, Wahlig said prior to the first session of the Girls Code program last week.

Having a younger sister makes Wahlig even more sensitive to gender issues surrounding the tech fields. That’s one reason he decided to offer the computer programming class.

Wahlig is a member of the high school’s Tech Team, as well as the new Computer Programming Club, which he started last year.

Both clubs offer a variety of different intellectual and dexterity challenges, from taking apart and repairing staff computers for the Tech Team, to taking on team or individual coding projects with the programming club.

The one thing that both groups have in common?

There are no girls.

Wahlig’s been tinkering around with computers and website design for several years, but it wasn’t until his sister asked to learn that he got the idea for teaching a formal class on the subject.

“My goal is to give the girls a basic introduction to programming,” he said. “I’m trying to get more girls interested in the subject and I thought it would be good if they could be taught at a younger age.”

When Wahlig asked if any of the girls had an interest in pursuing a career in computer programming last week, only one girl raised her hand and even she wasn’t fully committed to the idea.

Wahlig will hold eight sessions this fall and said if the program is successful he would likely offer another class in the spring.

His goal is for the girls to have an understanding of the basic elements of website design, from building headers to providing navigation.

“The possibilities for programming are endless,” Wahlig said. “It’s a cool thing to know how to do and there will be lots of opportunity (in this field) going forward.”

Wahlig was nervous before the first session last week, but said he had already mapped how each class should go.

In describing computer programming to the girls, Wahlig said, “It’s the way humans talk to computers to tell them what to do.”

In addition to teaching the girls how to create a website he also hoped to “reinforce the idea of teamwork. I really want this to be a group effort,” he said.

Wahlig is self-taught and has used web tutorials and programming books to become proficient.

He’s now “pretty good at website design,” saying, “I’m eager to share my knowledge. This skill is just so important.”

Wahlig envisions a future as a website designer and also has an interest in designing mobile applications.

He’s a “hardcore Apple fan,” which doesn’t win him any points with his fellow programmers, Wahlig said with a laugh. “They’re mostly Windows and Android users.” 

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

John Wahlig, a sophomore at Falmouth High School, is teaching a group of mostly fourth-grade girls how to build a basic website in a class being offered after school. Here he shows Grace Golay, left, and Abigail Miller how to get started.

Haley Barrett, left, and Victoria Wahlig are two of the girls taking part in a Girls Code class being taught by Wahlig’s brother, John, who is a sophomore at Falmouth High School.