On December 11th, The Community Corps, NPower’s skills-based volunteering program facilitated a connection between four female information technology (IT) professionals and over twenty girls at the Urban Assembly Gateway (UAG) School for Technology. The four IT professionals were invited as guest speakers to UAG School for Technology’s “Women in Tech Panel” to commemorate Computer Science Education Week. The Community Corps facilitated the recruitment of the four volunteers via its skills-based volunteering platform.

During the event, it was obvious that the girls were very engaged and enthusiastic about interacting with the panelists. In fact, several of them spoke eagerly about what they hoped to gain from attending the panel discussion. Some of the girls revealed that they are pursuing an engineering track in the school and would like to know more information about what it is like to be a woman working in a male dominated field. Several of them stated that they had just started taking CS courses that require coding and would like to get more information about software engineering from the panelists.

The women on the panel stressed that the girls needed to “dabble” to seek to understand as much about the field as possible because technology is always changing, and the very rare person is one who can speak effectively to both business people and tech people. A person who is able to bridge the gap between subject matter experts in a company and the information technology team can get tremendous respect. They talked about how women’s needs and women’s perspectives are not being represented in tech developments because of the skewed statistics. Consequently, more women need to enter to change this dynamic. They also stressed that coding and CS is about learning and not being afraid. People’s coding on CS projects rarely work the first time, so every “failure” is really just feedback.
During the question and answer session, one student noted that she was one of only two girls in her CS class. Another student commented that sometimes it is difficult to write code to accomplish a goal and asked the panelists if they ever have difficulty writing code. The panelists humorously confessed that they frequently experience difficulty writing code when trying to build a system, particularly because technology and programming languages change very rapidly, requiring them to remain intellectually agile. In response to a student’s observation regarding her application of computer programming skills to solve complex problems, the panelists emphasized that coding is not only about building information systems, it also enhances problem solving and critical thinking skills. The speakers were impressed with the girls for their good questions and their fortitude in persevering with a program that is 80% boys and 20% girls. They are a tight knit group – and they are personally working to change the stats.

During lunch, one of the panelists (Justine Chen) from Sungard sat with a group of girls and spoke to them in more detail about her work and what it takes to have a successful career in the IT field. The girls asked several thoughtful questions and there appeared to be significant bonding between the panelist and the girls.