The Impact of Education on Women in Tech
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As far back as I can remember, computers and technology were a part of my life. Whether it was playing Pitfall or using my Tandy 1000 to learn how to type, my family utilized technology.
Early on, I was always good at math and enjoyed science. My wonderful high school math teacher/mentor encouraged me to think about how software technology could be used to support math and science. After obtaining my degree in mechanical engineering, I looked for a job where I could leverage my analytical skills in technology. This led me to global professional services company, Accenture, and a job in technology consulting.
In retrospect, my mom’s career journey has had an uncanny effect on my career. My mom furthered her education by taking courses in information technology. She then transitioned into the payroll industry. Only now, I realize how her experiences shaped mine. One vivid memory I have is talking about cycling the backup tapes and why that was important! Little did I know that backups would be a topic that I still discuss today.
It’s been almost 20 years since entering the field, and I now have two young children. The landscape for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education has changed dramatically. Each school term, my daughter comes home with a list of after-school enrichment classes. She’s taken creative beading, theater, tennis, and art. I love that my daughter tries different things and has an open mind. This semester, “Boolean Girl,” a class focused on coding for girls, was offered. I love the title. The students act out a story, and then they use a software program to develop the same story on a computer. My 8-year-old daughter asked me what Boolean meant. I fumbled through a response about “0’s” and “1’s”–I’m sure it was super clear!
After her first class, we were discussing the session, and she said, “It’s complicated.” Thinking back to my first programming class, that’s probably what I thought.
“Mom, it took me a little to figure out how to put the pieces together to make it work, but I figured it out,” she said. I was energized that she was trying something new and felt it was challenging–yet she seemed unfazed that it wasn’t easy!
The creativity around software-development programs for children has changed the way I think about technology and how our children engage with it. I wonder how different my generation’s initial experience with coding would have been if we didn’t spend our time doing such things as coding to calculate the area under a curve in math class. Would we be having such a technology crisis with women if there were as many opportunities to make technology fun and interesting and adaptable to a woman’s way of thinking?
My daughter is taking her fourth class now, and I know she’s learning how to think more analytically. Whether it’s creating a loop or an if/then statement, these new methods of incorporating fun into technology allow girls to be enthusiastic and creative while learning new technical concepts. I can’t wait to hear the excitement in her voice when she gets home.
With great new opportunities for children to learn skills in STEM at an early age, the sky’s the limit. The change in education will fundamentally change the skills and the tools our children will use to live their lives and create our common future. When I speak to college students of all majors, they develop and use software to make their lives easier–whether it is for a school project or even supporting an extracurricular activity. Their adaption to technology at an early age will change their interaction with it as they move through their careers. They will remain in the core technology fields without migrating to the softer-skilled careers many women move into as they progress. What a change from the past!
I am a huge proponent of organizations like Girls Who Code. They are working to educate, inspire, and equip high school girls with the skills and resources to pursue opportunities in computing fields. Having mentors at an early age with a love of technology makes all the difference to create an exciting and interesting industry for girls to grow in. I encourage girls to get involved with organizations such as Girls Who Code and Hour of Code. It’s not just good for kids, it’s fun for the adults!
Recently, through my work at Accenture, I was honored to be named as a finalist for the Women in Technology (WIT) 2016 Technical Leadership award. I’ve always found purpose in giving back to the community. I support the work of others to broaden and heighten women’s roles in technology. Through my personal journey with my daughter, I have realized we have to focus on encouraging technology across all levels. We have to make technology exciting and thrilling for anyone interested. I founded a Washington, D.C., Women in Technology forum focused on staying relevant in technology, while finding a career path in technology.
As a leader in technology, it is my duty to give back and help the tide rise to support our girls and women and colleagues to improve and diversify our business and community.
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