Gretchen LeGrand has taken her place in the Baltimore tech and gaming education world. LeGrand, who joined her husband Mike Legrand in founding Code in the Schools, is a beacon of change for the city and its digital community. She is an example for young men and women on the progress being made as the tech community tries to become more accepting of female leaders. LeGrand isn’t the type of person to make a big deal out of it, but BaltimoreGamer had some time to sit down and talk about her work and her role in the Baltimore ecosystem.
Sean: “We know the big reason is educating kids, but why did you get involved with Code In The Schools?”
Gretchen: “My husband and I founded this organization three years ago. He is a programmer in the video game industry for the past 15 years or so. I was a social worker in the non-profit sector for a while. We kind of combined our interests and thought that it’s crazy that nobody is teaching kids to code because theirs is such a need for computer programmers.”
Sean: “Before this you weren’t really into the game world at all?”
Gretchen: “So, I had sort of taught myself how to code and made a couple of my own video games, but pretty amateur hour ones.”
Sean: “Besides teaching teaching yourself how to code, what were your hobbies before all of this?”
Gretchen: “I’ve definitely always been into games for a long time. I played some old school games. Growing up I was really into theater and puppeteering. I’ve always been into reading and arguing and debating, things like that.
I definitely enjoy gaming but I don’t know if I’d call it a hobby of mine. I’ll do it occasionally like if a really good game comes out. Like back in the day when I had time to play I would play games like Mist or Journey. I really liked the Portal games when they came out.
I think for us, video games are a big thing for what we do here at Code in the Schools because it’s such a great way to get kids into computer programming. I think if you just start teaching kids how to code with no context it can get very tedious. I think it’s something that they wouldn’t be as into if they didn’t get a chance to create something from it.”
Sean: “So they’re playing games in order to learn?”
Gretchen: “Yeah, I think any time you can teach kids through doing something instead of being passive it is better. Everything we do here is project based and hands on so they’re always involved in the process. We’re teaching them how to Sauder and create circuits and they learn basic programming through doing that.”
Sean: “It sounds that you are very relaxed about all of this, but do you feel any sort of special tie to this being a female leader in the gaming community.”
Gretchen: “Well as you know women are really underrepresented in the computing careers and the gaming industry. Our staff is very diverse, we have a lot of women who work for us and a lot of minorities who work for us. I think it’s important that when they go out teaching for us that kids see themselves represented as having these jobs and being able to do it. So certainly I think as a woman when I go and teach a class, for the girls in the room it’s really important to see female leaders doing these things.”
Sean: “Have you ever shaped your message [to the kids] as not just one of learning, but of inclusion as well?”
Gretchen: “Oh yeah. We have programs that are specifically for girls only as well. We have a program called technovasion, it’s a global one but we participate in it as well, where we have a group of girls participate in it. We are not shy in intentionally trying to get underrepresented people into these careers.”
Sean: “Why do you think it is that women are underrepresented or not really accepted?”
Gretchen: “I think it can be a very hostile environment sometimes, for women. Particularly the gaming community. Whether it’s hostile or not it isn’t a very welcoming world for women. I think women a lot of times just aren’t comfortable being in a community that doesn’t want them there.”
Sean: “Moving forward, not just with your organization but the technology world all together, what specifically would you like to see change?”
Gretchen: “There are lots of things that could change. I think we’re missing out by having the gaming community and technology center be dominated by such a homogenous group. There’s a lot of potential that women and minorities can bring to the table. I think that’s why we are doing what we’re doing. Because we’re not getting the value those people could bring to the table yet.”
Sean: “Do you want to see this organization grow on a larger scale or stay local?”
Gretchen : “We’re definitely committed to Baltimore. If we were to ever expand our programs we would never leave our home base here.”
While it is possible to think that a woman like Gretchen LeGrand could be forced into a more public role, she has managed to lead a pretty normal life. There’s no crazy backstory, nothing that made LeGrand want to pick up the mantle and search for the spotlight. Three years ago she took a risk and joined her husband in his dream of starting a non-profit for coding education; the role model label just came with the territory.