Girls supporting girls in technology

Girls supporting girls in technology

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Editor’s Note: Recently, the Microsoft Citizenship team had the opportunity to participate in the Millennial Impact Conference, joining the Case Foundation for a chat along with two youth beneficiaries of Microsoft programs entitled, “Creating International Opportunities for Action”. One of the youth participants in the chat, Genevieve L’Esperance, a participant in a number of Microsoft programs including Innovate4Good, has expanded on the ideas she shared with us in the chat. Below, she shares more detail on the work she is doing to create opportunities for girls in the technology industry and why it matters so much to her.

By Genevieve L’Esperance

I am no different than any other millennial.

The first real internship I acquired was last summer, at the age of 18. Alyssa Goodman, a professor of astrophysics at Harvard, suggested me to Curtis Wong, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, after seeing my work at a conference. I started a web channel called GenINCtv to bridge the gap between girls and the technology industry.

I was clueless, but Curtis is what you would call a superhero. A superhero will see confusion and chaos, maintain clarity, and be a leader. He saw me as a Millennial whose power could be harnessed with the right project. He welcomed me to the WorldWide Telescope team and asked me to inspire youth with astronomy.

Millennials can be a little nutty. Our “loyalty” as an employee is most often questioned, and I cannot necessarily argue the statistics.

I can argue the question of “loyalty” in general.

My work with GenINCtv has been my driving force for five years. Even with the other countless projects I have picked up and discarded, my loyalty to the cause is unwavering. Young people are often drawn to projects that appear to support a moral/social cause but often don’t fulfill those requirements, thus GenINC and the mission I undertook to educate and inform youth has always remained steadfast.

What’s the big picture?

[Note I am choosing female-specific stats, but the millennial population has a stagnating enrollment rate for NSE (Natural Sciences and Engineering).]

In Engineering and Computer Science, female enrollment at the Bachelor’s level is below 20% in Canada (2008-09). That is a shortage of about 31,000 women to balance the gender gap. (NSERC Report)

There abound a number of theories as to why. Whatever may be the root of this problem, the medium to engage those of us at risk of overlooking such career opportunities, is in need of a makeover.

You may be asking yourself - “What on Earth is the youngling yammering about?”

The problem: enrollment of millennials (particularly women) in technology disciplines at the college and university level.

Solution: Start engaging students between the critical ages of 9-14. By age 12, only a small fraction of girls will pursue STEM-related courses offered by secondary institutions. This can restrict their access to many STEM faculties post-secondary and in their careers.

Leading the way are founders Lynn Langit and Llewellyn Falco of Teaching Kids Programming. GenINCtv’s Teaching Girls Programming is a direct offshoot of this NFP and is designed to directly engage girls through classroom-based events designed to showcase how creative and rewarding programming can be with girls working side by side in a team format. TKP is now associated with the MONA Foundation.

This program, which is a form of alternative education, is carried not only with an older age bracket but also in many developing countries.

Your argument: Not everyone could/should be a programmer.

My argument: Skills in logic and mathematics are beneficial no matter your career.

Finally, how can you be sure millennials will work if engaged in a meaningful way?

Well other than the many social revolutions being led by youth via social networks at present, consider the number of participants in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup – 358,000 competitors in just 2011. When they’re not in lectures, these students have taken it upon themselves to address the world’s toughest problems, from their college dorm room, with limited resources.

In my opinion, millennials will never work harder than you.

They will work more effectively, and they will work for a cause.

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  • Kudos to Lynn Langit and Llewellyn Falco for engaging, supporting and taking TKP global and helping GenInc by allowing access to their program for kids. Equally proud to be associated with Genevieve and GenINC. As a woman in tech for over 26 years I understand as well as anyone in the IT industry the enormous opportunity to not only fix a shortage problem overall, but to engage more females in tech and to do so in developing countries where this will have a rippling effect. What I have seen watching these girls learn coding would amaze you. Check geninctv on YouTube and you'll understand why even James Cameron spoke to Genevieve and confirmed his belief in this mission.