Sumeya Block is a high school student who's discovered that coding is creative, builds communities, and provides an excellent platform for activism. Through her explorations, she's made a good friend of JavaScript coder Sara Chipps. The two of them interviewed each other and they're letting us listen in.

During this interview, we learn more about Sara's own encounters, advice, and work, and how what she had to say was inspiring to Sumeya - and can be to all of us. And we can also pick up that sense of wonder and excitement from Sumeya's infectious interest. Here's Sumeya's introduction to the interview.

"When I think of inspiring women who are making a difference in the tech world, a few women come to mind. One is Sara Chipps, JavaScript lover, and co-founder of Girl Develop It, where women can learn computer programing skills online. She's currently at Jewelbots (which she also co-founded). Jewelbots launched on Kick Starter just over six years ago and, since then, has been committed to getting girls interested in STEM fields. Jewlbots currently sells two projects. One is a JewelBits science kit that sparks creativity through DIY neon-colored light-up signs. The second is a programmable friendship bracelet that can be used to talk to friends through Morse code. It can light up when paired with other bracelets and do even more as the users develop their coding skills.

“When I called Sara on a rainy New York night, she talked admiringly about the women she works with and mentors. She talked about how she and others (not just other women) can support their female coworkers by stressing the importance of reaching out and sharing opportunities. Talking to Sara, I learned about why she continues working to create spaces for girls and women to learn about STEM. I learned more about her own encounters, advice, and work. And what she had to say was inspiring.”

Sara's Answers as Asked by Sumeya

When did you first become interested in tech and was there a moment where you knew you were going to be a computer programmer?

I was around 11 or 12. This was before the Internet existed, and there were these things called BBSs (bulletin board systems), that were linked to your computer and were like early chat rooms. I used to hang out on those a bunch and realized how much I loved computing and computers because they could make communities happen. I knew I was going to be a computer programmer in my senior year of high school. I took a C++ class with a teacher named Mrs. Gaul, and for the first time, I felt like the computers thought the same way that I thought - very logically.

Do you still see sexism and discrimination in the work place?

I definitely experienced it when I first started my career, I know a lot of women who ended up leaving the industry because of it. I think the positive thing now, being on this side of my career, is that I can help mentor younger women and I can step in. Now that I'm older, I can step in when I see it happening to other women. I think it's important that we're all aware of and keep our eyes on these things.

Before you started Jewelbots, you were in Girl Develop It. How does your work in both organizations help to encourage more diversity in STEM fields?

The thing they both have in common is helping to teach women and girls that coding isn't something that's impossible to achieve. It can be something that's fun and powerful. Often, I heard from women in Girl Develop It classes that they didn't know what an engineer was until they got to college, and by then they felt it was too late to learn or take the classes needed. The interesting thing about what I do now with Jewelbots is to help encourage younger girls.

Would you say that the environment has changed since those first girls became women? Is it the same for kids now?

I've really seen a push to get more girls involved at a younger age, and I think that's really important. It's important that we help girls understand that this is something that is for them, it's something that can really help their lives, that it's something that they can really have fun doing.

Jewelbots has really changed and it's developed into a really great community of girls. For me, that was something I always loved when I was first learning. As the CEO, how does the process of developing a product and working with beta testers like me change how you work?

I learned a ton! It really gave me respect for people who do product management and things that aren't strictly engineering. Something I learned really early on is that a lot of assumptions that you make about a product can be wrong. Just because I happen to remember what it's like to be a girl doesn't mean that now, 20 years later, I understand what girls want today. One thing that it's really taught me is to not make assumptions or pretend that I can understand what someone else might be facing just because I think I can imagine it or I think I can remember it from a long time ago. No matter what, it's really important to talk to people and see what you are building with a product.

Is there anything you've changed about Jewelbots based on feedback received?

Initially, we were going to make a bracelet that could change colors to match your outfit instead of a friendship bracelet. I thought that was a great idea! I thought that I remembered what it was like to be ten, and I know I would have loved that. But when I started talking to some girls that age, they were like “that sounds really boring, I don't think I would do that.” I was just like wow, it's so good we talked to people before making this whole thing that they wouldn't have liked.

Recently, Jewelbits was released. What is it? What can you do with them?

Jewelbits are STEM-themed craft boxes where you can learn certain science concepts. The first box is a Hello World Neon Box. It gives you all the components you need to make a neon-colored sign that lights up different colors. The point of the boxes is to introduce other STEM concepts. They are also less expensive than Jewelbots. One thing we heard from parents a bunch as we were selling Jewelbots is that the price point is a little high. That it's not something that some people could afford to do, you know if it wasn't a birthday or Christmas. The one thing we set out to do is make something that's more accessible pricewise and still delivers the great STEM content and education that Jewelbots does. Our next box is Hello World Lava, full of lava beads that you can make friendship bracelets with for your friends. It's filled with tassels and letters, and the lesson is all about lava from volcanos. It's about how hot lava gets, where it comes from, and how volcanoes work.

Q: How often are Jewelbits going to be released?

We plan to release a box every few months. So far, people have been having a lot of fun with them and making really cool neon-colored signs. I'm excited about that.

That sounds really fun! Are these lessons also being taught in science classes? What's special about using these boxes, as opposed to learning about it in school?

That's a really good question. Often, these are things that people are learning in science class. The difference here is learning through play, something we at Jewelbots believe in a lot. I was an okay student, but when I really cared about something and it was something that I could play with and have fun with, those are the things that I really remember now, 20 years later. The goal is more education and a better grasp and understanding of concepts through play.

Jewelbots has its own YouTube channel. In your opinion, why are these videos important and how do they create a community? Why is a community so important?

Community really helps with learning, whether it's the YouTube community or any other type of on- or off-line community. People really respond when they see other people their own age doing the same things they are. I think that's a really neat thing about kids and girls.

On the Jewelbots website, it's stated that your age market is 8-14 year-old girls. What's so special about this particular age group? Why is Jewelbots targeted at this audience?

That's one of my favorite questions. The age group is 8-14 because when I started talking to my peers who were coding, my male peers, I started asking them why did you get into coding and your sister didn't? What's happening here? Why did you find this when the girls in your life did not? Usually what I heard is that they were in middle school or elementary and they found a game, got really into gaming, and decided “when I grow up, I want to be a game developer.” Additionally, if you look at the research, you can see that somewhere in their preteen years is often when girls in western culture and the US start thinking about math and science as things that aren't really for them. So that's why we really wanted to aim for this age group, right at the same time they might be thinking that math and science aren't for them. We want to really reach them with products that show them that math and science ARE for them.

The Jewelbots YouTube has tons of different challenge videos. What do you like about them?

I like when the challenge videos focus on friendship stuff and doing cool colors with friends. I really like that because it requires more than one person interacting, which is super fun.

What do readers of CODE Magazine need to know in order to empower their female coworkers and young girls to keep pursuing fields of STEM and to feel encouraged to do so?

The best thing that people who already have a career can do is sponsoring. That means not just being a mentor to them, but also giving them opportunities that may come to you. For example, if someone is recruiting you for a job or to speak at a conference, if it's something you're not going to do or even if it's something you want to, helping someone that you're mentoring into that opportunity is a great way to sponsor them throughout their career. That might mean if you know a young woman who's studying computer science, just make yourself available for questions and or talking things through. It's important to make sure that they have an opportunity on the other side of school, too.

How should people reach out?

Anyone can reach out and just say, "how can I be helpful? or ask, “are you job hunting?” “Are you practicing for interviews?” “Are you facing anything at work that you could use some help with from someone with more experience?” Just making yourself available and saying, “how can I help?” is a great way to do it.

Sumeya's Answers to Sara's Questions

Why is coding important to you?

It's really important to me because I know that in this society, coding has definitely become prominent in general. Especially in my age group, technology is just so prominent and I really like coding as a great way to be creative. I haven't really been able to do a lot of it since I started high school because high school is very demanding. But what I've always loved is the creativity about it. The community of getting to share the things you've done with other people. I think it's important to know for the future because, like I said, it's just so integral.

What's the first thing you ever coded?

I'm pretty sure the first thing I coded was with my dad. We programmed this series of colors with the Jewelbots bracelet. And it was my first time really getting into coding because in my classes, I did one of those websites where it's not really coding but you just learn the basics of it. I got to do that, but then with Jewelbots, I was able to do more raw coding - like going into Arduino IDE and actually putting the language in, and I just programmed a series of colors. I remember that was so exciting to me because I got to see what I created and I was like, “Oh wow, there's a lot I can do with this.” And I told all my friends about it. I remember it was a really great bonding experience for me and my dad because he's a computer programmer who really loves programming and he got to share that with me. So yeah, the first thing I coded was a rainbow series of flashing lights to match the outfit I was wearing. And then later on, I learned how to do the actual friendship coding aspects.

Can you tell me a bit about the activism work that you've done in the past?

I used to run a middle school youth group called “Wasat Youth.” It was aimed at creating spaces for Muslims ranging from 12-14 years old, to just talk about being Muslim and really anything that they want to talk about. I didn't have a lot of friends who were my age who were Muslim. And I didn't always feel welcome to be able to speak up during things because adults sometimes are like, “No, you're the kid. You need to sit down.” So it was really great because it was an environment where we kids could talk and we did a lot of community-based work when I was running it, which I no longer am because I'm in high school now. But when I was, we held a food drive and in the middle of the year, we worked on a book drive.

After that, some other activism that I've been doing is I've become involved with this really great organization called Kids4Peace. I'm in the Kids4Peace local chapter but there are chapters all over the world. We work on interfaith connections. It's really great because we visit churches, synagogues, mosques, and all of these places of worship. You get to learn about all the different religions but then additionally, we do a lot of activism-based work about equity and working against racism, working with women's rights, and of course discrimination against religions such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. That's the kind of activism I've been doing right now.

That's so awesome that you've done so much and you're so young. I bet your parents are super proud.

I think that young people have to start standing up now because there's a lot of work to do. You can't just sit down, you know? Everybody I know that's around my age is really interested in activism and is definitely working to fight for our world because you know, we have to take it up in like five years.

How do you see coding empowering your career as an activist in the future?

I definitely think I'm going to include coding in my activism. I think that the stereotype is “You have to be good at math” or “You have to be good at science to do computer programming” and those are two things I'm not particularly great at. I really think that I can use my voice to advocate that everyone should learn how to code. It doesn't matter if it's going to be part of your profession. It's really important to learn because it helps you to understand the world and the tools that you're using. I think the other ways that I'm going to be using coding in my activism is creating social media. Social media is a really great way to carry all these messages across that we want to talk about, informing people and using freedom of speech to share ideas and communicate between different places. I think coding social media is a really great way to do networking and that's how it could be involved in activism and really working to empower everybody to learn.

Do you feel that your peers are interested in coding?

Yes, definitely. I don't know if it's like that all over the country: I was just talking to my mom about that because I live in a very tech-centered city. In my school, we have a coding club and it's full. All of my friends who are girls go to it. All of my guy friends go to it - everybody goes to it and it's really great because when a computer programming class opened, no question, all of my friends signed up for it. I think what inspired them is that here, a lot of opportunities have been pushed to get girls into coding. Ever since I was in fourth grade, we've had a lot of people come to talk to us about tech and I think what's really great is that the schools I've been to have taken care to represent that there are males who work in coding and also females who work in coding. There are women in tech who work really hard.

We've had several instances at my school where they took us out of class to go to workshops to hear about women in STEM. For example, many of the girls in my class went to Nordstrom's when they held a workshop and they talked all about entrepreneurship - coming from women from all different walks of life and ages. They talked about running websites and a lot of the things that you don't know are happening at Nordstrom's. It was really cool because they all had super powerful positions. Even if you're not interested in coding, you still know that it's an option. And my friends who are interested in coding know that they can be developers when they grow up if they want to be. With Jewelbots, I learned how important that is and seeing that we're working to empower girls and that it's really working out and people are confident in their skills. That's really awesome.

In that vein, what's your favorite thing that you've built with coding?

I programmed this Pomodoro Timer, and I've talked about this several times, but it was really cool for me to see “Oh my God, I can change the colors!” Obviously, this was with Jewelbots. And once I learned even more about coding, I was able to create this program where I could set up a timer and it would go on for five minutes of rest and then 30 minutes of work, and then five minutes of rest and I could actually use that in my homework. For me, that was really exciting because it was a time when I was able to use code in my own life and incorporate it into my lifestyle. The second best thing is the game Catch the Leprechaun, which was really fun for me because it was really cool seeing what you could do with code. That you could actually create a game on a bracelet that you wouldn't think you could do that much with was really exciting. So those are my two favorite things I've built to this day.

What is Sumeya's life like in 2025?

Oh my God. I was actually just talking to my mom about this in the car and I was like, “Oh, that's like 10 years away” because I'm bad at math. And I'm like wait. Oh my God. It's 2019. I'm going to be a junior in college in like five years. That's terrifying. My mom is hoping I go to UC Berkeley, which would be fun because I love San Francisco. I think that what I'll be doing is something with writing and journalism. I really love journalism. I think that I'll be in college and definitely advocating for women, and I hope that I'll be going to conventions, continuing my path of learning about coding because I think it's important that everyone learns about it. And I also hope to continue my work with activism, empowering women and empowering all people, making sure to amplify the voices to whom injustices happen so they can be heard and their needs met.

The people at CODE Magazine want to know: What is the best way to inspire and excite young women to code?

Let's see, something that I really love is just seeing these opportunities that I'm getting and that my friends are getting, and I really hope that's happening across the nation. I think when code is talked about and celebrated, it's definitely more exciting. Girls who learn about coding are more like, “Oh, this is like a real career.” I don't think everybody knows exactly what coding is. I've talked to people who don't understand how much of a great opportunity it is. I think one way that people who read CODE Magazine can help to empower girls and women is to see if young people can come in and learn about coding and learn about what you do at your workplace. Some of the things that hinder people is not knowing what coding is and thinking that they're not empowered to do it. And when you don't learn, you might be like “Oh this is really cool. But it feels kind of out of reach.” Going to someone's workplace and seeing that they're coding and they're doing all these things, working or running a business, I think it definitely shows that you can do it and you can be inspired to do it. The best thing people can do is just inspire us all to work really hard - all young people, not just women and girls - to get to our goals and to learn about coding.