A Conversation with Jessi Chartier from App Camp for Girls

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jessi Chartier, who is the camp coordinator from App Camp for Girls in Chicago, which we will be hosting here at the 8th Light office from July 24th to the 28th. When she isn’t planning App Camp, Jessi is the Director of Programs at Uncharted Learning, a not-for-profit that enables students to learn coding and entrepreneurship skills through their two programs—MobileMakersEdu and INCubatorEdu.

Tell me a little bit about App Camp For Girls and how it got started here in Chicago.

App Camp for Girls was started by Jean MacDonald and Grey Osten in Portland as a way to bridge the gender gap in technology. This is the first year in Chicago, and also the first location east of the Mississippi. The goal is for Chicago to become the App Camp hub of the midwest.

How old are girls who participate?

Right now, App Camp is for girls entering 8th and 9th grade. This age is the turning point for girls in deciding what they want to pursue, and as it’s the time they are becoming socially aware, it’s also the age where girls will start to become self-conscious about looking “too smart” and self-select out of STEM fields. It’s a stigma we’re trying to fix.

This sounds like a really important mission, but I’m sure pulling it off isn’t easy. What goes into planning for a week at camp?

Every camp needs a camp coordinator, teaching staff, campers, and a space to operate. This year, we have twelve girls signed up for camp in Chicago, and we have a dynamite camp team. Our lead developer is Rachel Schneebaum, the lead iOS developer at Early Bird. Our team leads are Jen Kelly from Reverb, Angela Dydra from Grind Connect, and Shelly Burke, a freelance iOS developer.

Every camp ends its week in a pitch session, where female tech leaders come to listen to the girls as they describe the app they built. This year we have a powerhouse panel: Lakshmi Shenoy, Vice President of Strategy & Business Development at 1871; Amanda Lannert, CEO of Jellyvision; and Ellen Shapiro, lead developer at SpotHero.

We secure funding for this program through fundraisers and corporate sponsors. Companies like 8th Light have been generous enough to offer us space and help cover operating costs. This year, we have worked hard to make sure we can offer all twelve girls scholarships to attend camp.

What is a week at camp like? What sort of skills do you focus on?

Throughout the course of the week, all the girls will build an iOS app. Every app follows the same structure, but the girls will all develop their own approach to it. Through this project, they learn development basics like conditional logic, as well as iOS fundamentals like how to use buttons, labels, storyboards, and segues.

At the end of the week, there is a pitch night where each of the campers will present their finished application. Through this process, they also learn social-emotional skills like working on a team, collaborating about code, and presentation skills.

Here at 8th Light we have been focused a lot on diversity, in part through our Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion Committee. It sounds like App Camp for Girls is inspiring girls to pursue careers in technology and addressing the pipeline problem. Do you have any thoughts on how to address other problem areas like the retention and advancement of women in the field?

I believe one of the most important things we can do at this stage is identify role models. At MobileMakersEdu and App Camp, we want to find as many role models as possible, because it’s important for girls to see themselves in these roles. Role models can share their experiences and have honest discussions about what it’s like to be a woman or minority in technology.

In our line of work, we need to educate those who are in charge on how to better support and foster a variety of developers across the board. When working on teams, we need to work to ensure there are a variety of voices on every team, and no one is excluded from the conversation.


If you would like learn more about App Camp for Girls, there are lots of ways to get connected.

Becca Nelson, Software Crafter

Becca Nelson is a Software Crafter in Chicago who is interested in development, design, and education.

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