Wear it, Hack it, Map it: Great Tech by Girls



Jun. 17 2014, Published 8:01 p.m. ET

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So many people are trying to get more girls into tech. Some New York University students have come up with some very good solutions. 

These graduate students at New York University’s ITP have each created programs designed for girls—in media literacy, videos, and wearable tech.

Patricia Zablah says, “We are making technologies that work for women and girls, and hope to change the face of the tech industry in the process. Our approaches are as diverse and creative as we want the industry to become.”

Why shouldn’t the new face of technology be one of beauty, delight, activism, and self-defense.

IPT, a center for technology and communication, also calls itself the center for the recently possible.

Here’s an exciting sample of what is now possible.


It’s wearable tech—and teachable tech, too. Jewliebots, a set of jewelry and wearables, allows girls to program what they’re wearing.

With a few clicks, the wearer can change what Jewliebots do and what they look like. Jewliebots introduce software education to teenaged girls in a way that appeals to them. The main goal of the project is to show teens that programming can be also beautiful. Thie first product is a flexible bracelet with motion sensor.

“Wearables, a field where fashion meets technology, is the perfect opportunity to bring them to this market that is growing each time more,” says Saba. Many tech experiences are oriented to a male audience, such as many video games.

But putting technology and programming into wearable accessories may bridge the gap between girl’s interest in technology and mainstream teenage female culture. “I’ve been working with Sara Chipps, co-founder of Girls Develop It, an organization that exists to provide accessible and affordable programming classes to women. But there must be something attractive to make them to want these classes. Therefore, we are building Jewliebots to sparkle this interest.”

Jewliebots hardware is made of flexible 3D printed pieces with embedded circuitry, including arduino compatible microcrontroller, LEDs, sensors, and buttons. It comes with an easy graphical interface that generates algorithms to change the way the LEDs light up. All you need to do is upload the code to the jewel with a USB cable.

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Girls get more interested in coding when they can use it to express themselves.

That’s what  Alexandra Diracles found in her research. So she designed a website to ignite girls’ interest in computer programming through video art. Users can choose video filters, learn how they are built in JavaScript, edit them within a responsive code editor, and then share their creations. VidCode aims to create a conversation and a community of coders among teenage girls. The idea is to pair an expressive vehicle—creating video content—with learning to program.  Participant Sarah Berry said,” I think it’s cool and less complicated.  I thought only technicians could do this, but now I see that I can too!”  Anybody can do it right here.


Decode Delhi by Tarana Gupta, is a crowd-sourced social platform focused on the safety of women and girls in the crowded cities of developing nations like India. In those places, incidents of sexual taunting, cat calls on the streets, groping, unwanted touching on public transport, sexual harassment in schools, and workplaces are as routine as mealtime.

Decode Delhi tells users about interesting places to go, helps people navigate throught the city and gives street smart tips from fellow Delhiets. Through crowdsourced data, Decode Delhi makes an attempt to improve the experience of living in the city.The associated smartphone app sends real time notifications to enable you to be smart and aware as you pass through a city neighborhood.

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Gupta says, “The safety issue has been compartmentalized as one belonging to activists and feminists. The platforms focusing exclusively on safety fail to keep participants engaged. This is hardly a surprise. Imagine going to a social gathering or a party just to talk about the uncomfortable topic of safety. How many time would you like to go to such a party? On the other hand, safety fits nicely into a broader conversation about all things one need to consider while navigating from point A to point B in the city”.

The issue is close and personal to Tarana because she worries about the safety of her sister who lives and works in Delhi – “I want her to be able to navigate Delhi freely and have true confidence in her independence.”


What’s the best way to fight sexist media? Create some of your own.

Hack It Back teaches media literacy to teenage girls. The program developed by Patricia Zablah uses mentors to teach this skill. The girls combat sexist media by creating their own, new media that “hacks it back” and portrays more accurate representations of women. The girls work in teams with mentors and at the end of each session, present their work to an audience.

Roopa Vasudevan, a mentor at Hack It Back, loved working in intergenerational teams: “I learned how amazing it is to get a new perspective from somebody who maybe isn’t as jaded about media messages.” She is currently developing an app with her mentee from Hack It Back, India Unger-Harquail, who says that “the app is really going to make a difference in the way I think about leadership and being a female leader.” The workshops’s main point of entry is to make girls more critical about media and to think about women leadership, although some have been inspired to learn to code from the program. India’s mom says that the girl “bought a book to start learning C+++, and she’s looked at some similar apps.”

That’s hacking it out of the park.

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