Special | Inspiring Women - Sara Chipps, JavaScript Developer: CEO of Jewelbots

As co-founder of the non-profit Girl Develop It and co-founder and CEO of Jewelbots, technology-enabled jewelry for tween and teen girls, JavaScript developer Sara Chipps is actively working to increase the number of women and girls becoming web and software developers and entering STEM fields.

[Editor’s Note: The following post is part of American Masters’ #InspiringWomanPBS campaign, which highlights the powerful, creative, and innovative women in our lives. Visit the Inspiring Woman page to join the campaign and submit the story of a woman who inspires you.]


The Inspiring Woman web series is a production of the Interactive Engagement Group. Daniel Greenberg is executive producer. Kait Hoehne is supervising producer. Gerry Johnson and Joe Skinner are producers. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer. Junko Tsunashima is American Masters series supervising producer. Inspiring Woman is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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When I was little, I was a home-school kid.

I think there's like a whole generation of coders that got into coding because they had no friends when they were little, so I'm part of that generation.

My name is Sara Chipps and I'm the CEO of Jewelbots.

I was pretty young when I started coding.

I was like 10, 11 years old.

We had a Pentium 386 computer, and I learned about these things called BBSs - Bulletin Board Services - it was kind of before the Internet was big, and what you would do is you would take your computer, plug it into your phone line, dial into another computer - you would chat with other people, and play role-playing games.

And I started to help to operate a BBS in our town, so that's how I kind of got started coding.

Microsoft is coming out with some cool stuff.

When I talked to my male peers, what I heard from them was often they would get into gaming, realize that they could code to make cool games, want to grow up to become a game developer, which is how they got started, and young ladies in that demographic don't game as much as young men.

So I thought it was important to create something for that audience - something that they would love.

So Jewelbots are smart, programmable friendship bracelets.

This is a Jewelbot.

The way they work is they light up when you're near your friends, and they match each other, so if our friendship color was blue, our Jewelbots would be blue, and we can use them to send secret messages to each other.

Like we might say, 'If I send you two shorts and a long buzz, the guy you like is right outside the door,' or something like that.

Users can program them to make games.

We had one girl make a metronome out of hers.

It's super fun and it's kind of limited only by their imagination.

After messing around a lot with hardware and kind of figuring out the thesis of this company [...and we created Jewelbots to get girls excited about coding...] I applied to a hardware accelerator in San Francisco called Highway1, and then after that we did a Kickstarter.

Halfway through our Kickstarter we got a video from Bill Nye randomly.

Hi, Bill Nye here, and here's Jewelbots.

It's a bracelet that has an app on a phone to get girls excited about writing computer code - that's cool.

Half the humans are women and girls, so you want half the engineers, half the computer code writers, maybe, should be women and girls.

We're in 35 countries, we're on Target.com.

We're getting our second shipment of Jewelbots in next week.

It's really exciting!

My senior year of high school, I took a C++ class with a teacher named Mrs. Gaul.

When I saw someone like Mrs. Gaul, who was very successful in her field and was a wonderful teacher, I was like, 'That's what I want to be when I grow up.'

So I went to Penn State to study computer science and that was 15 years ago.

It took me a while to find the community in software.

I was usually the youngest person on a team, usually the only female.

I kind of always thought I would be a bit of an outsider, and then, through Microsoft I actually started going to Microsoft meetups, and that's how I discovered the community and I was like, 'this is amazing!

I love these people, this is awesome.

And they love the same things I do.'

And then we started Girl Develop It! in 2010.

Girl Develop It! is an organization that teaches classes to adult women.

Usually they're about $20 a class.

They're in the evening so people don't have to take off of work.

Everyone is welcome.

We really wanted to make a place where people could ask stupid questions and not feel self-conscious.

It kind of grew organically from there.

And now it's in over 50 cities, and it has taught over 60,000 women in in-person classes, which is wild.

When I upload this, our game is going to be ready.

So we can stick around.

We can make it harder, we can make it different, but the basics of the game are done.

I've been doing this for a long time, so I've seen kind of the ebb and flow of different communities and different languages and different things like that.

It was five years before I worked with another woman, and it was another five years after that until I worked with another one, and I think that if I didn't love what I was doing so much, I would probably have done something else, but I think that there has been a lot of progress and good direction.

In the last few years, JavaScript has kind of become the center of the community, and in New York especially there's an amazing JavaScript community that is super diverse and full of really brilliant people.

Diverse teams build better products, so I'd just really love to see more progress in that direction.

So we're not going to put anything in this sketch at all.

I just went to File New.

We just started doing a series called Jewelbots Build.

They're designed to have a learning environment where people could come, bring their Jewelbots, or borrow ours if they don't have any, and we teach them how to build something really fun.

And now I've got my purple light.

I'm going to make sure I have the right fork, and now I'm going to upload my code.

It's really easy to get up and going coding in just a few hours, you know, and be able to do something fun and walk away and be like, 'Wow, I built something today.'

I get to hang out with the best people in the world, and that is 8- to 14-year-old girls.

They are at an age where they have such strong opinions, and they are just the most empowered and the most entertaining group of people.

You can have a hard day at work, you can be stressed about something and then all you need is like five minutes with a group of 10-year-olds and you're like, 'Man this is amazing.'

So that's the best part of my job, hands down.