Start Something: #GHC18 Reflection

“It is not enough to be a trailblazer, we need to create and build movements.” Padmasree Warrior, CEO NIO, GHC18 keynote

I am not a stranger to starting things, but it is a fairly recent phenomenon for me. In 2010, on a whim, I submitted a scholarship application to attend Grace Hopper as a K-12 educator. I came to learn about the latest tools and curricula in technology education to bring back to my school. I’ve been a woman in tech my whole life from a career at IBM to web design consulting to computer science educator, so I knew there was a gender gap, but I assumed we were making progress. It wasn’t until that conference that I realized it was actually getting worse. It made me so mad and sad and frustrated and I wanted to know what the hell happened. Needless to say that experience rocked my world! So, I started Tech-Girls and helped start Charlottesville Women in Tech.

I went back to Grace Hopper in 2012, where the theme was Are We There Yet? I went to sessions to see if we were there yet for education and innovation for girls and women, for computing among girls of color in K-12, for mentoring for diversity. We weren’t there yet, so I started a K-8 CS Program at St. Anne’s-Belfield School with a focus on integrating computer science into the curriculum as well as our SPARK! Outreach program to share what we’ve learned about CS education with the wider community.

“It is only just & fair to build tech that transforms every part of society for the better.” Chiara Amisola, GHC18 Student Abie Award recipient

The theme of the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration was We Are Here and you could really feel it everywhere — from the rock concert keynote venue to the lively expo hall to the packed sessions. With over 20,000 women in tech and their allies from 90 countries, it is not hard to feel hopeful that we really are turning the corner on bridging the gender gap in tech. But what was also evident from all the sessions I attended during the history-making week of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s confirmation hearing testimony, is that it’s got to be full steam ahead with more women in tech taking on leadership and starting things.

“The work that we are doing to change the culture is worthy. It is worthy of all our talents and all of our energy.” Anita Hill GHC18

I came back to GHC because as an educator and non-profit founder, I feel we need to strengthen connections between K-12 educators and women in tech. Events like this bring together fantastic role models to inspire educators to make the changes we need in education like integrating CS into the curriculum. This is a big ask of K-12 educators, but is a critical to raising the next generation that is empowered to take control of how tech will affect their lives, their culture, and their future.

Kim Wilkens, Amira Dhalla, Nora Poggi, Arelia Jones & Kai Morton

That’s why I brought the #WhereAretheGirls panel session to GHC because I wanted the awesome women on this panel to share their stories of seeing a problem related to the gender gap in tech and starting something.

Amira Dhalla worked at the Mozilla Foundation as the Lead for Global Participation where she focused on creating an accessible, safe, open and innovate web for people around the world. She is now working on her MPA at Columbia University with a focus on human rights and technology because she wants to address these issues at a policy level to make lasting structural change.

Nora Poggi is the director and producer of She Started It, a phenomenal documentary that follows 5 young women entrepreneurs on their startup journey. She has been working tirelessly to get the film in front of as many young people as possible and created a curriculum to help educators infuse entrepreneurship into their middle & high school curriculum.

Arelia Jones is a software engineer at Sprout Social, co-leader of the Chicago Chapter of Girl Develop It. She is also the co-founder of CoderSpace, because she saw a need to bring computer science education to high school students on the South Side of Chicago.

Kai Morton is college freshman majoring in Computer Science and she is also a video gamer, artist, model and bassist. She was recently picked as one of Teen Vogue’s 21 under 21 as a young disrupter in the field of technology. She discovered her love for technology as a middle school student and works to spark that interest in others through Black Girls Code.

“People who thrive in an inequitable system won’t cede that upper hand without a unified, unrelenting demand for change.” Brenda Darden Wilkerson, AnitaB president, GHC18

At some point, I believe the kind of change we need comes down to education and of course, the sooner we can make an impact on a student, the better. Making change in education is tough, frustrating, agonizingly slow and yet that is where I still feel the need is greatest. So, what else am I going to start? It’s definitely going to be at the intersection of technology, education & social justice. Stay tuned, more details coming soon…