WIT – TechGirlz

A true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your successes. Cullen Hightower

My good friend Larry Arrance once said that “one of the best ways to reach your goals is to surround yourself with enthusiastic and supportive people.” Those of us who are active in the SQL community realize this and we all benefit immensely from our community. In addition, we love to spend time together and share many interests outside of our love of the technology.

One of those interests that has recently become more prominent in my group is WIT: Women In Technology. The last few years I have been on the fringe of this group, helping where I can. For me, women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) was not something I thought about until my second year at  university. At that time I was majoring in Quantum Chemistry. It had never occurred to me, and I honestly was too naive to realize that I was one of very few females in the Chemistry department. In hindsight, being the only white female in advanced Chemistry, I should not have been shocked when the associate dean asked if I would be interested in a job speaking to high school girls to encourage them to take STEM courses. To this day I regret not being able to do it. I had tuition, books and life expenses that student loans did not fully cover, so I needed to keep the chemical lab position I had acquired for my summer job. It was a job in my field and paid well for a summer job (I am still trying to justify my decision).

I still wonder, what if…

Now I’m working in a different STEM field, and, having 2 girls of my own, I am more passionate than ever about encouraging girls to pursue STEM fields of study. Recently a new SQL WIT group started up on Slacker.  Thank you Kendra Little (@kendra_Little) for that! I was eager to join and interestingly enough the first post I read on slacker was about TechGirlz. Lindsay Clark (@LindsayOClark) posted asking if anyone had used TechGirlz? I immediately checked it out. I had many questions and this led to a number of great conversations, with many interesting women. I was convinced of the importance of this program and signed up. I think many women have signed up because of Kendra’s and Lindsay’s efforts. Lindsay, as always, was enthusiastic, encouraging and helpful, and I was excited to get started.

It turns out TechGirlz, is an amazingly simple program to implement. They provide you with a set of outlines and slide decks that allow neophytes to put on a 2-3 hour workshop focused on encouraging girls to pursue education in STEM fields. It is simple and inexpensive. It uses free tools on the net like code.org to structure a seminar for kids. It is focused on girls but as Janice Gerbrandt (@Gerbyj) points out it does not have to be just girls.

I was sold and ready to jump in with both feet! I am sure those of you who know me are not surprised. I immediately called, well, actually texted my local network. (I rarely phone anyone I can text). Within the week I had a co-presenter, a date for our first session, approval to use the local high school for free (a huge win), and a group of excited girls and moms ready to sign them up. I had 2 target groups from which I was going to get participants: (1) my daughter’s Girl Guides group and (2) our local Youth group. There is some overlap but I am positive we will have no trouble getting enough kids; if anything, from the initial response I have received, even in our small town, I expect I will easily fill all the seats available. If I am wrong, I can still look for interest at the high school 2 small towns over where we got the use of the computer lab. My co-presenter and I are already committed to doing additional sessions and even sessions to train other presenters; possibly older high school kids.

As Lindsay pointed out more elegantly than I can, we all want to help, but we are also very busy. Having the TechGirlz program means that everything is already set out for us so we do not have to create anything from scratch. They have made this program so “plug-and-play” that anyone can go from zero to hero with very little time or effort. We have the skill set to pick it up and run with it with very little preparation. I am amazed how easy they have made it for ordinary people to be able to make such a difference in the lives of so many young girls.

Last January I did a career day talk at the local girl guides to talk about what I do and it encouraged a couple of the girls to solidify their ambitions in STEM and that made my year! I hope this will continue to encourage young people in my community, because it is not just lip service when we say the youth are our future.

I now have 2 girls in the local high school, my oldest, at 16, cannot even take a computing course as there isn’t one offered. When I talked to the councillor about it I asked why? She said there was not enough interest. I remembered a few years ago when she was entering high school I looked at the computer courses and they did not have any real introductory courses. You either had to know how to code already or you had to want to learn a particular skill like web development. They completely skipped over the kids who need to experience computing in a fun way to see if they like it or have a knack for it?

Is part of the issue that we don’t approach teaching STEM in a fun way or in a way that is meaningful to kids? I sometimes wonder if more kids are not interested because we expect them to all be natural coders? The movie cliche about the 13 year old hackers may be ruining the field for us.

At my user group meeting last month I mentioned TechGirlz, and one of the developers said that he had been coding on his own by age 8. One of the DBAs quickly pointed out, that he is the exception and not the rule. He had done some research and found that the type of logic needed to do actual coding is not even developed in children until they are 11 or 12. Nevertheless, it is stories like these that make young girls think that because they aren’t already coding, they cannot reasonably enter the field.

After this conversation at the user group, I knew I had made the right decision. It was another reminder of how important the years between 12 and 16 are when trying to get kids interested in technology.

Teaching coding to the average kid has to be fun and not too difficult. It is a time when they are insecure, dealing with puberty and in general, riding an emotional rollercoaster. The TechGirlz program has made learning to code fun. It is exactly the encouragement that young girls need to help them find their passion in the tech community.

I love technology because computers never lie (and they do what they are told). There is no grey. You just have to figure out what is black and what is white or specifically what is a 1 and what is a 0. Piece of cake!  Girls need something stable in their adolescent hormonal soup and I think TechGirlz will be it.  I will keep you posted on how it goes.

Here is to a great 2016!

4 thoughts on “WIT – TechGirlz

  1. Janice says:

    Good read, Melody! I was chatting with a friend who is knowledgeable about youth education about this. I asked whether these kinds of STEM programs should be offered to females only, and her response was that girls do better / try harder / get more from a program when there are no boys. I don’t know why exactly, (it was a short chat) but it would seem that if the goal really is to get more girls into STEM, that the girls-only approach is preferred.

    Now coming from a smaller community where there isn’t much offered STEM-wise to either gender, and also as a mom to boys, I feel that we need a balance. And maybe that balance is that we run this (or another) program for each gender. Just as long as we’re running it at all!

  2. Lindsay Clark says:

    Melody it’s amazing and passionate women like you that keep the fires burning to find new and exciting ways to reach the next generation of WIT. Like you, I’ve always wanted to help usher young women into he exciting and fun world of technology earlier than I made it. TechGirlz looks like our quickest and easiest answer while we all continue to try to find new ways to reach out to the girls that remind us so much of our younger selves. Congratulations on your first session I cannot wait to hear all about it!

  3. Larry Arrance says:

    Interesting read Melody. I can easily see you delivering this as part of your Ted Talk. Your passion for this needs to be shared again and again. Keep up the good work!

  4. Brad Pommen says:

    Thanks for sharing Melody. I see the same successes with the Nelson Tech Club. Our female participation has reached 20% as of 2016 and more girls are learning to code in the 10-16 ages group than ever before. Offering more exposure to the multitude of options is certainly the key to success. Keep up the good work.

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