Grassroots women’s coding initiative launches at NGA

By Jacquelyn Karpovich, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency


Two GEOINT Pathfinder alumnae are on a mission to expand coding talent in the intelligence community.

Eliza Bradley, Ph.D, a spectral imagery scientist and Sarah Vahlkamp, a workforce analyst, saw the benefits of developing a familiarity with different technologies — including coding languages — as part of the first iteration of the agency’s GEOINT Pathfinder initiative.

“Coding ability among the team members ranged from very experienced to very new,” said Vahlkamp. “The whole team saw the benefit of sharing resources and knowledge to increase everyone’s abilities.”

After the project’s conclusion, the two women brainstormed ways to better support women in coding, especially those who are not in work roles that require it, but still invested in boosting their computational literacy, said Bradley.

Enter Women Enriching Coding, or #WECODE, a grassroots effort to support women who code at any level.

“#WECODE offers the opportunity to create accessibility to coding at all levels of experience,” said Vahlkamp. “Beginners can find guidance or suggestions from more experienced coders. And, the very experienced get the different perspective gained from teaching new learners.”

This kind of women-focused coding initiative reflects similar efforts outside the intelligence community, wheregroups such as Girl Develop It, PyLadies, Women Coding Collective and Girls Who Code have received national recognition.

The goals of #WECODE go beyond simply increasing coding ability. Bradley and Vahlkamp hope to make it second nature to share and discover ideas related to coding across the IC.

“With #WECODE, we’re hoping to build a robust network to promote coding and development skills to all who are interested, encouraging community-wide collaboration and providing an open environment for discovery and innovation,” said Bradley.

Next steps include identifying a senior champion for the effort, planning future events and getting 100 women to sign-up by the middle of October, which shouldn’t be too hard of a feat since the group already boasts a membership of more than 70 throughout the IC, including the U.S. Department of Treasury, Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the National Reconnaissance Office, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency.

“As technological capability grows in the IC, the community as a whole will benefit,” said Bradley. “With this effort we hope to enable people to innovate and experiment on their own, potentially discovering new solutions for evolving needs.”

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