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By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs
Careers in technology are a hot topic of discussion these days, and for good reason. According to Code.org, computer science is a top paying college degree and computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average. Outside the United States, the tech sector is also experiencing a fantastic amount of growth, making it a viable career option for young people around the world. But when I say “young people,” it’s important to point out that there’s a gender gap in those entering computer science jobs. There is a significant lack of women entering the field around the world.
As part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, we created DigiGirlz to help address the lack of women pursuing STEM and computer science education. With DigiGirlz, we introduce high school girls to female mentors and show them a range of careers within the technology sector. The program has been growing year over year with events all over the world and just last year more than 4,000 young women participated. Recently, I had the great opportunity to attend one of these events, organized with support from Zup de Co, in Paris with 80 young women.
The day started with a presentation from our host, Laurence Lafont-Galligo, Public Sector Lead at Microsoft France. “Is this the idea you have of someone working in the digital industry?” asked Lafont-Galligo, showing a drawing of the proverbial geek with thick glasses and pimples who looked like he had no life outside of the computer screen. A unanimous yes was the answer. “Well, let me introduce six digital women and see if they can change your minds.” These six female technology leaders – engineers, a web designer, a developer, and start-up entrepreneurs – led a roundtable discussion debunking misconceptions.
The students were then divided into four groups: an introduction to the joys of coding; a mentorship session with a Microsoft employee to learn what a career in the technology field is like; a deep dive on Bing with software engineers; and a tour of the Microsoft offices so they could see demonstrations first-hand and get a sense of what it’s like to work at a tech company.
In the coding session, the students had a blast learning how to program a robot named Mr. Nao. They learned the basic rubric of coding through simple games. I watched them sitting in small teams crowded around a computer screen, as they learned how simple keystrokes led to action on the screen. They quickly learned they had the power to take an object and move it, rotate it and multiply those actions.
Throughout the day, I had the opportunity to offer a few words of advice and encouragement for them to explore science, love math, and experiment with building things so they could grasp the basics of engineering. All of the girls I spoke with were having fun, but were also concentrating deeply on what was being said. These girls will soon decide over the next academic year whether they will go into the science field or not, so this moment was a very important time to inspire them and get them excited about the possibilities of STEM careers.
In my opinion, this is one of the most fun and important things that Microsoft does as a company. We work with young students to inspire their excitement about science, engineering, math and technology. We engage our employees to mentor these young girls, invite the students and their teachers into our offices, and let them have fun exploring a day in the life of working at a technology company. Throughout the day we had the opportunity to motivate these 80 young women and help them explore new opportunities. That is truly what YouthSpark and DigiGirlz are all about!