According to data by Accenture and Girls Who Code, by 2025, the share of women in the computing workforce is projected to decline from 24% to 22%. Comparable research from the National Girls Collaborative Project reveals that women are only awarded 17.9% of computer science degrees – and minority women earn a much smaller portion of those degrees (4.8%).
Sasha Alston is determined to change those numbers. Though only nineteen, Alston is working hard to introduce coding to more kids in general — and girls and minorities in particular.
When Alston attended McKinley Technology High School in Washington DC, all of the students had to choose an academic track based on a particular STEM aspect. “I chose technology based on how much I loved my iPhone and iPad,” Alston explains. “But I wasn’t truly interested until I had a Microsoft internship in the AthleTech Division my senior year, where coding was used to create a gaming app by my team.” This real-world experience marked a turning point in Alston’s life, and led her to not only develop a love for coding, but also a desire to share this love with others.
Introducing Coding to a New Generation
Studies show that girls typically lose interest in STEM subjects by the time they reach high school, so Alston decided to target students at a younger age. Her book, Sasha Savvy Loves to Code is written for students between 7 years old and 10 years old – although she says anyone interested in coding would also enjoy reading it.
So, what’s the book about? “The main character, Sasha, is a super smart, 10-year old, African-American girl who lives in Washington, DC and decides to give a summer coding camp a chance,” Alston explains. “Sasha’s mom, a software developer, gives her a unique formula to help her remember how to code.”
However, on the first day of camp, Sasha still has difficulty trying to get her code to work. This leads to frustration, but she uses problem solving skills to work though her difficulties. “This book is based on a lot of things I’ve experienced, but through the eyes of a 10-year-old,” Alston says. As an author, she took great pains to ensure that the book would be interesting and easy to understand.
“From my own experience, I’ve noticed that there just aren’t enough girls and African Americans involved in STEM-related activities,” Alston says. She recognizes that exposure must start at an early age. “One of the reasons why there is a lack of girls and minorities interested in STEM, specifically coding, is because they are not exposed to it in school or at home and they don’t see people that look like them in the field,” Alston explains. “When girls are able to see themselves in the careers they want to pursue, it shows them that they can do it, too.”
Sasha’s Next Steps
Alston wrote the book when she was 17 years old. It’s been a big success, and she is now working on a second book in the Sasha Savvy series, in addition to developing a few other book projects.
Currently a college student at Pace University, Alston balances school work, speaking engagements (at schools and STEM programs in several states), meetings, and interviews. And she also makes sure that she doesn’t neglect spending time with her friends and family members.
While she has a busy schedule, Alston was excited about her role in Disney’s Dream Big Princess campaign. “The campaign celebrated inspiring stories from around the world to encourage kids everywhere to dream big,” she says. “Since I am an author and STEM activist, my role was to show girls that they can pursue technology.”
Also on her list: plans to develop an education technology startup to equip students with the skills that they’ll need to exceed both in school and in life.
Advice for Young Women and Future Entrepreneurs
Alston says it may sound like a cliché, but she thinks it’s very important not to give up. “Although I knew the basics in Java, it was still very difficult to learn.” She admits that it was sometimes frustrating and she wanted to give up. “Coding requires a lot of focus, studying, and practice, and I had to be very disciplined and determined.” She credits her mom with providing support and encouragement when she faced difficulties with her major and needed someone to talk to. “This is something that I am passionate about, so I knew I had to find a way to get through it.”