WinnieKaranja

Winnie Karanja, right, talked about the mission of her nonprofit, Maydm, at 1 Million Cups on Monday.

Photo by ERIK LORENZSONN

There's a new nonprofit in town focusing on teaching youth coding and tech skills — one specifically with a mission of reaching out to girls and students of color.

Entrepreneur and educator Winnie Karanja founded Maydm last fall with an eye toward bringing more diversity and inclusion to the white male-dominated tech sector. At the latest 1 Million Cups presentation at the Madison Public Library’s downtown branch on Wednesday, Karanja said there have been times where she’s been the only woman of color in a tech-focused workplace.

"The whole vision came from seeing the need to connect youth, and specifically youth of color, to technology opportunities,” she said. “There's definitely that missing point of seeing women and people of color as developers and programmers within these spaces."

Karanja said that Maydm — the name of which is a play on “made by them” — is all the more important given alarming racial disparities in Wisconsin that have been outlined by the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families Race to Equity reports.

Maydm currently operates out of spaces on Madison’s south and west side, including the Meadowood Neighborhood Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. Programming ranges from single-day workshops to weeklong and semester-long classes, for youth between 3rd and 12th grade. The classes range from programming in JavaScript and HTML and working with Arduino chips, to softer skills like resume writing and communication.

Students get paired with mentors in the tech community and tour offices like ZenDesk, where they see what tech workspaces look like and check out the software those companies work with.

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She said those kinds of experiences can help them understand that working in tech is something within their grasp. Karanja wants to help students see themselves as makers of technology, not just users of technology.

"I know students who are Snapchatting and doing all these great of things digitally," said Karanja. "But they don't necessarily see that they're flourishing in that area.”

Maydm will be highlighting the work of young programmers in Code Madison Forward, a coding competition at next week’s Forward Fest.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.