Configura Hosts BitCampGR for Girls in Grand Rapids

Even though males make up about 90 percent of programmers globally …  BitCamp shows that software development isn’t just for guys

Swedish software company Configura hosted a SoftwareGR BitCamp in Grand Rapids on Feb. 21 as part of helping to change perceptions and increase IT opportunities for girls.

BitCamp is a half-day to daylong event for 7th and 8th grade girls to learn what it’s like to be a software developer. It’s an initiative of Grand Rapids-based SoftwareGR, originally conceived by technology company Atomic Object, and made possible through the support of sponsors, hosts, volunteers and partner organizations like Configura.

“The tech industry has a gender diversity problem, and Configura proud to sponsor and host a BitCampGR event to do something about it,” Configura Business Development Manager Brooke Snow said.

There is a growing demand for software professionals in the U.S. and an acute shortage of women in the industry. A 2016 survey by Stack Overflow of more than 56,000 coders from 173 countries showed only 5.8 percent of respondents identified as female; meanwhile, 92.8 percent of respondents identified as male.

To meet this challenge, SoftwareGR implemented BitCampGR as a hands-on introduction to the software development profession — presented in a fun and supportive small-group environment. As part of the activities, the students learn to code a basic website.

“We believe support and exposure are the best tools for introducing young women into a male-dominated profession,” said Beth VanSlyke, talent acquisition lead at OST who helps to coordinate BitCampGR activities.

Michigan-based Atomic Object launched BitCamp in Grand Rapids in 2006 as a one-time event; the company then introduced BitCamp to Detroit in 2012. SoftwareGR officially began producing the camps in 2014 and has coordinated about 20 camps in the region since then, impacting more than 400 girls.

In addition to programming and other hands-on activities, Configura’s BitCampGR event featured a tour of the company’s Grand Rapids office and the opportunity to meet with programmers, including women.

“I like that we got to learn about coding and learn about how to do different things like create a website,” said Stacy Delgado, a 7th grade student at Godwin Middle School who participated in the BitCamp.

About 20 girls attended the daylong camp.

When Peter Brandinger opened Configura’s Grand Rapids office in 2006, he brought with him a handful of programmers from Sweden – all male. Since then, he’s worked to bring both cultural and gender diversity to the Grand Rapids office. Today, Americans and Swedes, male and female, work side by side in software development and support roles.

The company as a whole has expanded a diverse global footprint, including opening an office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2013 – and actively recruiting females at this office as well as at headquarters in Linköping, Sweden.

But Configura, just like other tech companies, acknowledges it has a long way to go in terms of hiring more female programmers.

“We have 84 application consultants worldwide, and eight of those are women – so 10 percent of our developers are female,” said Brandinger, who is a vice president with the company. “We want to hire more female software developers, but there aren’t enough out there yet. As company, we need to do everything we can to educate and promote computer programming in our schools and with the younger generation. Activities like BitCamp help with building that awareness.”

One of Configura’s Grand Rapids-based software developers is Alina Barnett. She’s been programming for eight years. She started as a fine arts major with an affinity for painting but switched to focusing on programming.

“In college, I had to take a basic programming class as a core requirement, and I ended up really loving it – so much so that I switched my major to computer engineering. It gives me the same satisfaction that painting does,” Barnett said. “Programming might seem like an ‘unknown’ to people, but once you break into it, it’s really interesting – it opens up this whole new world.”

About Configura

Configura creates intelligent space-planning software for manufacturers, dealers and designers in the Contract Furniture, Kitchen and Bath, Material Handling, Industrial Machinery, and Laboratory and Healthcare industries. The company’s software products, including CET Designer, are used by more than 10,000 people around the world. Configura Sverige AB, the parent company, is headquartered in Linköping, Sweden, with commercial operations in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Founded in 1990, Configura is privately owned with more than 120 employees worldwide and annual sales of more than $13 million USD. More information at www.configura.com.

About CET Designer

Based on technology created by Configura, CET Designer is intelligent, highly visual and intuitive space-planning software that simplifies specifying and selling of products in a variety of industries. It’s a complete solution that quickly and accurately handles every step of the sales and order process. In CET Designer, components that represent manufacturers’ products look and behave like actual products. Users drag and drop components into 2D and 3D virtual environments; behind the scenes, the software tracks components, calculates pricing and prevents user errors. Users can create and generate layouts, quotes, photorealistic renderings, movies, installation drawings, reconfigurations and bills of materials – in other words, everything needed to propose on work and place orders. CET Designer is the future of space planning. More information at www.configura.com/cet.

About BitCampGR

Learn about BitCampGR at its website http://bitcamp.softwaregr.org/ and on its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BitCampGR/.