Book Report: Teenage Programmers Tell Their Story in Girl Code

Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser were just like any other teenage girls, until they created a unique video game that went viral. The pair met during the Summer Immersion Program at Girls Who Code and the rest is history. Sophie and Andy recently wrote a book, called Girl Code, that tells of their individual and combined stories of learning to code, their unexpected success, and how girls can change their lives by trying something new.

Andy’s Story

Andrea Gonzales was exposed to coding at a young age. Her father, a computer programmer, would often play strategy video games at the family computer. Five-year-old Andy would hassle him to let her play, so much so that he would eventually allow her to take over the controls.

Andy grew up in New York City in a tight-knit Filipino community. Working hard to make ends meet, her parents believed that economic stability was key when it came to deciding which career their daughter should pursue. During Andy’s tween years, they presented her with three options: doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

Engineering interested Andy most, and she knew she’d have to gain some type of coding experience. Scouring the internet, she found Girls Who Code. Not yet in high schol, she was too young for the program, so she registered for SummerTech Computer Camps in Westchester instead.

Entering the room on that very first day of camp, Andy was terrified. She’d walked into a room full of boys. Besides two staff members, Andy was the only female at the camp. “I had heard that there weren’t a lot of girls in STEM, but I didn’t understand how bad it was.”

Despite feeling extremely overwhelmed that first day, Andy’s confidence in her programming skills grew and she registered for four more weeks of camp. She decided that she would become a programmer, and coding would be her “thing.”

Enter the high school years. Andy became involved in other activities she enjoyed like volleyball, choir, and theater. During her junior year, feeling like she was falling behind in her path to a computer science career, she applied to Girls Who Code and was accepted.

Sophie’s Story

Sophie Houser grew up in Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her parents and two older brothers. She was incredibly shy and got major anxiety when it came to public speaking at school. Sophie had a lot of ideas, but never wanted to express them for fear of being judged. Journaling became a helpful way for Sophie to process her thoughts and express herself better.

While Sophie was a junior in high school, her brother started working at a startup called Teespring. Through his job, she discovered that social media was completely built on code, even though she had no idea what code was. Her brother made coding sound like an all-powerful tool, and Sophie wondered if she could use coding (like journaling) to speak up.

Realizing that coding could give her the power to build something great, Sophie set out to learn how to do it. After some research, she applied to Girls Who Code and was accepted. She still had no idea what coding was, or how to do it, but she was about to find out.

The Joke that Started It All

After five weeks at Girls Who Code, and several lunch breaks sitting with each other, Andy and Sophie paired up for their final project. Sophie wanted to create something that would help people. She wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but she wanted to make a difference. Andy’s goal was to create a video game with an activist message, preferably, about the hypersexualization of women in video games.

During their first discussion of what they would create, Sophie joked that they should make a game where you throw tampons. The comment led to further discussion, off topic from their game idea (so they thought), about the taboo of talking about menstruation. Andy started to realize that the girls she knew at school, including herself, were embarrassed and ashamed of their periods. When a tampon falls out of a girls bag, her face turns red with shame. They were also too embarrassed to buy them at the store, so their moms would go buy them.

After a simple Google search of “menstrual taboo” showed how serious of an issue this was worldwide, Andy and Sophie were convinced that their game should be about bringing the issue to the forefront. They wanted to get people talking about it, and hopefully make a difference in cultural perceptions.

The Making of Tampon Run

With Andy tackling the art and animation and Sophie taking on the creation of the girl character, they started their project. The girls decided to name the game Texas Tampon Massacre, after a Huffington Post headline they found the day prior.

The pair settled on a side-scroller style video game (think Super Mario Bros.) where the main character, later named Luna, would run, jump, and throw tampons at her enemies. Collecting boxes of tampons along the way, the goal was to not run out of tampons, or let the enemies confiscate them.

After weeks of multiple all-nighters, many setbacks and frustrations, and endless lines of code, the game was complete. In the end, Andy and Sophie knew the title Texas Tampon Massacre wasn’t going to fit their game. It sounded gory. When a girl in the Girls Who Code group suggested Tampon Run, they knew it was a perfect fit.

Courtesy of Andrea Gonzalez and Sophie Houser

Play Tampon Run here >

Going Viral

When the pair presented their game at the Girls Who Code graduation ceremony, they were shocked that everyone liked it. The girls decided to take their game to the next level and upload it to the internet for all to see. So, after some tweaking of the game elements, Sophie bought a url and created a post on Buzzfeed Community about Tampon Run.

Almost overnight, Andy and Sophie’s lives changed forever. The game was a huge hit and was reaching people all over the world. Before they knew it, they were doing interviews over the phone after school or responding to countless emails and tweets.

Soon, they were written up by reputable places such as Time, Seventeen, CBS, and even the OzoBlog. “I couldn’t believe I had the power to build something that could resonate the world over,” Sophie said.

That winter, the girls were invited to Pivotal Labs to learn how to create a mobile app to take Tampon Run to the next level.

Where Are They Now?

Today, Andy is attending UNC-Chapel Hill as a Robertson Scholar double majoring in computer science and journalism. How’s that for STEAM skills?

She says of her experience creating Tampon Run, “Thanks to Tampon Run, and everything that came after it, I got to reassess my whole life path I had set for myself. And I learned to be okay with not knowing. No matter what I end up doing, computer science will almost definitely be relevant to my work, and I could always incorporate my CS knowledge in nontraditional ways.”

Sophie Houser attends Brown University, majoring in computer science. Since the release of Tampon Run, she has interned at Facebook and WayUp. “Tampon Run set my life on a whole new course. It showed me the importance of just diving in and trying, even if something seems difficult or overwhelming or like you might fail. Because who knows what could happen if you just try? Maybe you’ll change your life.”

Our Takeaways

Here at Ozobot, we’re passionate about getting more girls interested in STEAM. We loved everything about Girl Code, from the cover art to the inspiring messages Andy and Sophie included in the book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for in-depth stories about learning to code, the frustrations of starting something new, and finding that hard work and perseverance ultimately pay off.

Their writing style is easy to follow and their sense of humor makes for such a fun read. We loved feeling like we were right there with them throughout the whole process.

We can’t say enough how much we loved this book and how proud we are of Andy and Sophie for their success and desire to change the world through STEAM.

Get your own copy of Girl Code on Amazon. >

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