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October 25, 2017

I almost missed my career calling in software and IT.

Paula Thrasher at Girls Who Code
Paula Thrasher and her youngest coder
at a Girls Who Code book signing.

I was lucky to first learn to code at age eight, writing my first real program on an Atari computer using Basic. I loved the idea of writing my own video games. I was blessed to have a grandfather who encouraged my hobby. But by age 12, peer pressure had taken over, and I internalized that computers were for boys. Even though I loved to code, I knew I would be the only girl in the computer club at our local science center. Middle school girls notice these things.

For my 12th birthday my grandfather got me a computer—no doubt as continued encouragement. The condition was that I had to build it myself from scratch. It was a box of parts, a soldering gun, memory, sound cards—the whole nine yards.

I was very proud of that rig and enjoyed writing little games in Basic, Qbasic and other programming languages. And, yet, I still I couldn't see myself becoming a computer programmer. In 1980s Nashville,  the only computer programmers I knew were on television and in movies like “War Games,” “Real Genius,” and “Sneakers”—and they were all male.

It was only a chance internship in high school at Telelink, one of the early internet startups, which set me on a career path in software. I learned HTML, JavaScript, Perl, and C. I worked on webservers and set up AppleTalk networks.

It was an amazing place full of people who supported me, and not once did anyone doubt I could do something because of my gender. If I had a question, the answer was always, "Let me show you how" or sometimes “I don't know either, but let’s figure it out”. The web was in its infancy in 1994-95, so we were really making it up as we went. What an amazing time it was! I've been in the technology industry ever since.

The gender gap in tech is a key topic in the technology industry right now. I feel passionately that there are many young women out there who are probably just like I was at age 12—interested but limited by their imagination and exposure to the idea that they too could be a programmer.

This is one of the many reasons why I am so excited to announce that CSRA has joined forces with Girls Who Code, to bring summer programs and after-school clubs focused on closing the gender gap in IT. We will specifically partner with the clubs in the SE region of the U.S., including Bossier City, Atlanta, Pensacola, and Raleigh. We are excited to be the first corporate sponsor of Girls Who Code in the state of Louisiana!

When CSRA was newly formed, it was an opportunity for us to evaluate our philanthropic partners. We knew early on that investing in a STEM charity was an obvious focus for us as a company. Months ago, we started talking to leading STEM educational charities to find one where we really could have an impact as a company.

Founded just six years ago, Girls Who Code has already made an impact. They are outcome-oriented and 93% of their summer immersion participants have gone on to universities to major in computer science. They also work with disadvantaged communities and minority young women who are doubly underrepresented in technology today.

CSRA wanted a partner that promoted a passion for using technology to solve problems, with locations across the United States in communities where our employees work so we could give not just our dollars but also our time. When we met with Girls Who Code, we knew we had our dream partner. Together, we look forward to making a real impact, helping to close the gender gap in technology.

I encourage my CSRA colleagues to get involved with Girls Who Code. To learn how, visit the CSRA Cares group on Chatter or contact