Globally, Amazon is committed to ensuring equal participation of women in the ongoing technology revolution and closing the gender gap in the industry. To this end, the company became a sponsor for the US-based non-profit Girls Who Code (GWC) in 2014. Together with GWC, Amazon is initiating programmes for high school girls to explore academic and career opportunities in the technology industry.

Closer home, the Amazon Chennai Diversity team initiated the ‘I Want To Code’ (IWC) programme in the city. The programme focused on creating awareness among girls about career opportunities in the STEM fields. The team specifically focuses on high school girls so they are able to generate awareness right about the time they start making career-related choices in their academic life. They believe that engaging high school girls could encourage them – at the right time in their academic life – to pursue their higher education in technology.

With IWC, Amazon India is collaborating with schools to engage and interact with middle- and high-school girls. The key objective being to empower girls with information about career opportunities, technology skills, first hand experiences from seasoned professionals in the industry, and inspire them to become innovators in future. The team believes that these initiatives will go a long way in getting young girls interested in a career in STEM and consequently, closing the gender gap in the technology industry.

Coding workshop in Chennai

An extensive, high impact collaboration with local schools
In the pilot phase, IWC engaged Vidyodaya School in Chennai. The student group included the school’s science stream class XI students along with some matriculation and government-funded students from the community. The programme was delivered in four phases –

Phase 1: Leader-led session
Senior women leaders from Amazon visited the school as part of the initiative. They shared valuable insights and first hand experiences about their careers in technology. They also gave the high school students an overview of the technologies and products we work on at Amazon. During these discussions, we also presented a plan on subsequent workshops and conducted a written assessment to shortlist candidates for further mentoring. The session ended with an interactive Q&A with the students.

Phase 2: Hands on workshop & project review
From the written test, a total 30 students were shortlisted for the next phase. The session saw us conducting hands-on training in two batches at the school’s computer lab. We had three trainers from Amazon visit the school premises to train students on mobile app development. They taught them how to use Mobile App Inventor, a great tool for coding beginners and school students to kick-start their journey of android app development using simple commands and the drag and drop feature. During training, students have developed several new apps from the MIT basic level, including ‘custom paint brush,’ ‘catch the bee’ etc. Consequently in groups of two, they were assigned an app development project from the intermediate category. They were also trained on concepts like lists, blocks of programming, data types, and data structures. The students designed some very interesting apps such as -

  • Get the Gold for App Inventor: The app helped students practice setting visibility, using clock components and timers, and detecting collisions in App Inventor.
  • Pirate ship: The app is a game in which players have to collect all the gold on the screen.
  • QuizMe for App Inventor: QuizMe is a trivia game about baseball and it is a template to build quizzes on any topic. This tutorial is especially useful for learning how to work with Lists.

Feedback from mentors included adding rich features (such as custom scoring), changing base logic for collision detection etc. The training ended with hands-on lab experience and interactive Q&A. Over the next month, trained students designed fresh apps, which will be reviewed by Amazon developers.

Coding  workshop in progress

Phase 3 – Web development workshop
Students were provided a hands-on session on developing a simple Web component that uses API’s to call web services. With support and mentoring from our trainers, students built simple apps in this phase. Some interesting projects included an app for their school with features like notifications, school news, student info etc. They also designed an app for their school alumni, which comes with a backend database, photo match puzzle, games like tic-tac-toe etc.

Phase 4 – Project review at Amazon Chennai office
In the last leg of the programme, we invited all 30 students to the Amazon Chennai office. They presented their projects to our Senior Leadership team and also had a Q&A session with them. We conducted demos for the students on our latest products in Kindle and Alexa. The session concluded with certificates distribution to all participants as well as gift vouchers for the top 3 projects.

The school principal and teachers have also shortlisted a few projects they are going to implement in their school soon. These apps include –
· Vidyodayans – a common mobile-based platform for students, teachers, and alumni of Vidyodaya schools, rich with features like a registration portal, school news, security captcha etc.
· Kinder Garden a vividly coloured mobile app for nursery school children to help them learn and identify alphabets and pronunciations.
· Data Storage – a small database to hold all the basic information about every student of the school. Each field can be updated and viewed as and when required. The tool also allows class teachers to send messages to students during holidays.
· Math Quiz – an gamified app designed to enhance mathematical skills among children of the age group 8 to 14.

A resounding success
The response to the pilot IWC program at Vidyodaya School has been very encouraging. According to the school management, “School children felt involved and learned a great deal about coding & development. We believe that the program will go a long way in students becoming more self-aware of their programming and logical skills. As teachers, we also find that this training has boosted the confidence of our students. They are more eagerness to learn about computers and programing languages. They are far more confident now to build apps all by themselves!”

“The one-year long training was an eye opener for us! We are starting to think more and more about the opportunities that are waiting for us in coding and development.”
Student, Vidyodaya School

Students too had great things to say about the project. According to a class XI student of Vidyodaya School, “The one-year long training was an eye opener for us! We are starting to think more and more about the opportunities that are waiting for us in coding and development. The MIT app has helped us hone our coding and logical thinking skills. Thank you Amazon for this opportunity!

Amazon leaders too had a great time working on IWC. According to Palanidaran Chidambaram, Director - Format & PubTools, Publisher Tools to Reader, “I was astounded to see the energy all the school kids showed in learning to code and building applications. Kudos to the team for making this happen, helping them learn and mentoring them! This comes from the team’s strong commitment to creating a brighter future for our children.”

Senthil Natarajan-Sr. Manager, Software Dev, Tablet Product Software “A great initiative with long term focus to increase technical diversity. Was good to see the initiative brought to life, by a passionate team of volunteers and leaders, as it progressed thru various phases of engagement and execution. Finally as the programme concluded, it was exciting to see the demo’s and energy level of the first batch of students from the Vidyodaya school”

“A very unique initiative that has created a platform for students to showcase their talent in not just using apps but creating them as well. I strongly believe that the IWC initiative has paved the way for this young bunch of enthusiastic students to get a flavour of the corporate world and a career path in technology is now on their minds.”
Bhuvaneshwary Balachandran, Sr Operations Manager

Praveen Kumar -Senior Manager Operations, Content exp and Quality “It was an awesome experience for me to have taken part in closing session for Batch 1 of the ‘I want to code’ diversity programme. It is a great initiative and thanks to all the members from Amazon for having taken time out from their busy schedule to organize such sessions and mentor those children in coding. I could see so much enthusiasm and eagerness from the girls to showcase what they have learnt and the apps that they have developed to all of us. I am sure this will go a long way in helping them choose their future career. Thanks for inviting me for this session. Please continue this wonderful initiative”

An ongoing commitment
Amazon India and the Chennai team intend to extend this program to other schools in the near future. The team is also identifying how quickly the IWC can be expanded to cover other cities.
The long-term plan for the IWC pilot is to continue engaging and mentoring selected girl students and eventually, enrol them in Amazon’s College-to-Corporate program. While this is a long-term vision, this investment will go a very long way in getting more women involved in technology roles and eventually, closing the gender gap in the Indian technology industry.