Mission possible: Close the gender gap in technology

My summer of 2016 started with a little uncertainty, but ended with a lot of fulfillment.

I was leaving one job, a program manager for a young adult professional and leadership development program at a non-profit organization, and attempting to move on to something more aligned with what I was passionate about and more akin to what I imagined my future looking like – using my Computer Engineer degree in a way that would help provide opportunities to marginalized people groups. Through a couple of drive by references (similar to you reading this blog) and a little bit of online surfing, I stumbled across an organization called Girls Who Code (GWC)

Girls Who Code is a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Through after school clubs and summer programs nation wide, Girls Who Code is building a pipeline of future female engineers, computer scientists, programmers, and overall tech talent across the United States. This was the pitch that sold me. Working to help develop high school girls – check! Exposing young women to the opportunities available to them in technology careers – check! Using my hard-earned Computer Engineering degree in a way that doesn’t require me to sit behind a computer screen all day – check! I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it seemed to be leading me in the right direction.

I spent all summer as a Summer Immersion Program Instructor with Girls Who Code in the Atlanta and Seattle markets. The Summer Immersion Program is a free 7 week program for 10th and 11th grade girls to learn coding and get exposure to tech jobs. Girls Who Code depends on the generosity of companies and corporations to open their office doors and host a classroom of 20 girls for the entire summer. My host companies were GE in Atlanta and Microsoft in Seattle. Not only do these companies allow Girls Who Code to use their facilities, but they also work to plan field trips, secure guest speakers, and organize a graduation ceremony for the students. As a GWC staff member, I got the opportunity to network with employees of the host company, the field trip sites, and the guest speakers to form connections that would serve me immensely in the future. As someone who was in the middle of a career transition, this was a huge benefit, but it was even more defining for the Teaching Assistants – current college students looking for opportunities to build their resume and secure future internship and job offers.

Over the course of 7 weeks, the students learn multiple programming languages and work on projects covering the multi-faceted purposes of computer science. While they leave gaining  experience in programming, exposure to careers in tech, membership within an ever growing group of GWC Alumni, a better understanding of leadership and teamwork, I believe that I still walked away with more. There were many opportunities where I was able to encourage a student to speak up and lend her voice to the team, or convince someone to take a risk even with the outcome is uncertain, or call out the leadership that I saw in girls who didn’t see it in themselves. Almost 8 months later, and I am still getting notes from my students sharing with me the impact they felt I made in their lives. I am still writing college letters of recommendations. I am still getting invited to award ceremonies and science fair competitions. Because of my summer with Girls Who Code, I am now a full time Program Director for the TAG-Ed Exploring STEM Careers Pipeline Program, a program that teachers high school students in underserved schools and communities how to program, how to apply and interview for jobs, how to communicate effectively, and how to build confidence in themselves and their ability to reach for their dreams! The fulfillment that I continue to receive, all because I committed my summer to Girls Who Code, is immeasurable.

That is my story. That is my good news. The even better news, for you, is that Girls Who Code is continuously growing and is still looking for instructors and TA’s for their 2017 summer programs. If you ask me, I can give you a long list of reasons why you should look into applying for the program this summer; I’d rather you not take my word for it and see for yourself instead. You can apply online to be an SIP Instructor or an SIP Teaching Assistant, and if you don’t have the flexibility to give up 7 weeks of your summer, you can always apply for the Campus Instructor or Teaching Assistant. Visit the GWC Job Page for a list of all current openings and apply today!

By Kristina Smith
Kristina Smith STEM Pipeline Program Director