RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – One day, 18 locations, throngs of middle school girls lining up for coding workshops held simultaneously across the country.

The result: 304 girls coding at the same time, setting a world record.

Hosted by TechGirlz, a non-profit dedicated to getting young girls interested in tech careers, the nationwide challenge — called Code Breakers  — was held to much fanfare on Saturday, aiming to set the record for the first time ever.

In the Triangle, the first session at NC State University College of Engineering was maxed out with 14 girls. As a result, the local chapter added a second location at IBM Triangle Park that catered to around 29 girls.

“Everybody has ‘aha’ moments in their life,” said IBM Fellow Rachel Reinitz, 54, who was on hand to provide support and mentorship.

“I do believe these kinds of events can have that; there can be something that really triggers it. It may not be the case for every girl in there, but if that’s the case for some of them, that can also be the inspiration that carries them through.”

IBM Fellow Rachel Reinitz, 54, who was on hand to provide support and mentorship. WRAL TechWire photo

On the day, students participated in the Make a Website Using HTML/CSS workshop. Using a text editor and web browser, students will edit web page templates and use them to make their own website.

Before the session in Durham, Reinitz, who has worked for IBM for more than 27 years, gave the girls a pep talk about what’s it’s like being a woman working in technology.

“In general, for me, being a woman in technology is a great thing,” she said. “It’s not to say that I never encounter biases or those kinds of things. But certainly, it’s been an opportunity, and being a woman has not been a disadvantage. If anything, it has been advantage bringing a different point of view, bring some female characteristics to the table. I’m very people oriented, and some of those characteristics have made me successful combined with my technical skills.”

Coding for the future

Diya Nerurkar, 12, from Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, was among those in attendance.

“I really like coding. I had some experience, and I wanted to do more of it,” she said during a break.

Diya Nerurkar (left) and Christina Burton (right) learning how to build a website during TechGirlz’ Code Breakers event. WRAL TechWire photo

In the end, she designed a website dedicated Lisa Pratt, a biogeochemist and astrobiologist who currently serves as the Planetary Protection Officer for NASA.

“I want people to know who she is. There are not a lot of really famous women in technology, and I think she’s really cool,” she said.

Ten-year-old Nellie Purdy, who attends Little River K-8 Elementary School in Durham, was also excited to take part. She said she could see herself having a career in technology one day.

“It’s interesting to me that you can create something from nothing. I find that really cool.”

She added that she was grateful for the opportunity to learn:  “This is probably going to be the start of a career for someone in this room, maybe even me, so that would be nice.”