On the third floor of Google’s New York headquarters across from Chelsea Market, a nondescript office is transforming into a tech exploration lab for Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that helps girls from underserved communities gain the skills for future careers in the tech industry.
The nonprofit has used the space–donated by Google–for the last couple of years, but the space will now be newly purpose-built for learning about tech. “It mimics being inside a computer when you walk into the office,” says Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code. The ceiling looks like a motherboard, the floors have copper touchpoints, and there are lines of code on the wall.
“Black Girls Code faced the challenge of transforming a generic open-plan office and cluster of executive suites into a tech lab where girls from all over New York could come to learn computer science and coding,” says Danish Kurani, founder of Kurani, the architecture studio that worked on the project. “Removing workstations and painting walls wasn’t going to be enough. The space had to be awe-inspiring and fill girls with excitement and curiosity.”
In workshops, students can play with gadgets cracked open by staff, and play a game to match products with the hardware inside. The walls are plastered with the graphics that show deconstructed technology. In one area, girls can use a step-by-step guide to coding their first websites. The lab will host an after-school program and summer camp where students will learn skills like mobile app development and virtual reality game design. On a small stage, the space will also host talks about tech for girls, their parents, and others in the community.
Black Girls Code has been working with Google since the nonprofit launched in 2012; Google, like other tech companies, is struggling to improve diversity in the industry. “We need a tech sector that looks like the society it serves, and groups like Black Girls Code are ensuring that we can cultivate and access talent in communities of color,” says Carley Graham Garcia, who leads Google’s external affairs in New York. In its 2018 diversity report, the company reported that only 2.5% of its workforce was black, and 3.6% Latino. Around 30% are women. Though the numbers have changed little from 2017, the efforts have earned the company a lawsuit from two white male former employees to claim discrimination.
The lab, along with Black Girls Code’s work in its Oakland headquarters, is meant to build a pipeline of new talent. The organization hopes to teach 1 million girls to code by 2040 to help black women achieve equal representation in tech. In Oakland, the nonprofit hopes to soon build an even larger lab. “We want to build a space that could actually be the heart of design for girls of color within the Bay Area,” says Bryant.