Get Interviewed
Published in

Get Interviewed

Episode 13: The “Difference”

Danica Pascavage is truly an inspiration in how she and her organization, TechGirlz, are paving a future for girls in tech

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

A few years ago a coworker of mine from Think Company had tagged me in a tweet from Danica Pascavage simply posing the question, “related”? While we both share the same unique last name, no we are not 😊. Although one really cool thing we did have in common was that we both had a career in the tech industry!

I’ve always had the desire to give back to our youth and help them learn more about a career in tech, but never knew how to go about it. Having met Danica and learning what TechGirlz was about, was incredibly inspiring. I was both equally nervous and thrilled when she approached me with a handful of opportunities to host a workshop at Think Company with middle school girls around the Philadelphia community. Let me just tell you how fantastic each student was. I was seriously blown away with how talented and driven they were to learn more!

While I could continue raving about my experience for a few more paragraphs… I think it’s better you just hear it from one of the faces that are making this possible. Go TechGirlz! 🎉

<fact>”Code knows no gender.” ~Anonymous</fact>

About Danica Pascavage

Before joining the TechGirlz program, Danica Pascavage was a technical instructor for 18 years, beginning her career at IBM. She created and taught courses throughout the United States, focusing on AIX system administration and shell scripting. After working at IBM, she began teaching Red Hat Linux classes. Danica was elated when she learned about TechGirlz’s mission. After taking her daughter to a workshop, she was hooked and volunteered to teach her first TechGirlz workshop in 2015.

Danica loved her required computer programming class in middle school and remembers being the only girl in her high school computer programming and physics class. The same pattern repeated in college. When she taught for IBM and RedHat, she was usually the only woman in a room full of male students. While she enjoyed having a private bathroom, she could never understand why there was such a gender divide. After years as a technical instructor, she was ready for a change and knew her passion lay in gender equality. A position opened at TechGirlz and she saw an opportunity to be part of the change by introducing the next generation of girls to the many careers available in the world of technology.

Danica has a BS in Mathematics from University of Maryland and an MS in Education from Gwynedd Mercy University. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering in the community, gardening, and coaching lacrosse and gymnastics.

💡 Philosophy

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What is unique about your philosophy for girls in tech?

Danica

I’m not sure this is unique, or even my most important philosophy, but I think it is one that doesn’t get discussed enough. Research has shown that middle school is the age that girls step away from tech. There are many reasons for that, including not wanting to be seen as “different” and not wanting to associate with the tech professionals as portrayed in movies and shows. But there is another reason that I personally believe doesn’t get enough attention. Very typically speaking (there is just as much variance within gender as between), middle school is when girls begin to have feelings of wanting to change the world and society to make it better. Looking at their typical role models, they see counselors, doctors, nurses, and teachers as ways they can make the world better. They don’t see tech as a way to improve the world. Part of that is because the way we often teach tech is to teach coding to create a game, animation or a website, which doesn’t automatically translate to making a difference in the world.

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
How does that help motivate you to think differently?

Danica

This motivates me to talk to girls about how technology can help people. When we think of a physical therapist, we know they are helping people. What we don’t think of right away is the technology they are using to do so. Some PT’s use video tools to observe a runner’s gait. That technology may be being used by hundreds of PTs and therefore helping thousands of runners. Technology is used in mapping to help find water pollution sources. Ipad software is used to help people communicate when they otherwise could not. By talking about those opportunities and helping TechGirlz brainstorm workshop ideas that are project based, I believe it provides a very different way of looking at technology to the girls.

Photo by Andy Falconer on Unsplash

👩‍💻 Projects

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What kind of projects have you been working on recently?

Danica

Obviously, we had to pivot to all virtual workshops due to COVID-19. Luckily, my TechGirlz team rocks and we were able to do that within 2 weeks. We were nervous about replicating the environment we try to provide at in-person workshops, but we found that there was little to worry about. The girls loved connecting with each other, even virtually. In fact, we noticed that the girls tended to ask even more questions (and answer each other’s questions!) in the virtual world because it is so easy to use the chat function. After a few months, when public schools were talking about going virtual throughout most of the US, we realized that we were not just providing extra tech education to the kids through the pandemic, but we were providing a sense of normalcy and community. We had parents reaching out to us to thank us for those few hours of escaping the “stay at home” mentality. We had girls connecting with other girls from other states and even other countries. We decided to pilot “TechPodz”, a play on TechGirlz and Pandemic Pods that had been popping up throughout the country. These podz would mimic an after school club where the advisors and the girls met at the same time each week. We cycled in different lead teachers each week as we have a wide range of tech (not just coding), but the girls and TAs remained the same. We knew the girls would truly benefit from really connecting with each other and having a routine. We ran this absolutely free program in the fall and it was amazing!

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on with girls in tech?

Danica

Beyond the pandemic pivot, (which was so interesting on the quick turn around of design), I would say that the most interesting thing we have worked on with girls in tech is the wide variety of topics. We don’t focus on only coding. We have courses on podcasting, web accessibility, architecture, 3D Jewelry Design, rehabilitation robotics, and more.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

👋 People

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What are some common misconceptions you’ve noticed people have towards girls in tech?

Danica

The most common misconception I’ve noticed is that people think their daughter won’t be interested. I have daughters and when they were in middle school, I would mention the workshops to their friend’s parents and about half of the parents would say “I don’t know if my daughter would like that.” There will absolutely be girls and boys who don’t like tech (just like I don’t get much joy out of painting), but it seems as though parents of girls are more likely to assume their child would not enjoy coming to a tech workshop. On the flip side, we see girls write in our student surveys, “My parents dragged me here, I didn’t want to come, but I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to come to another workshop.”

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
How do you see opportunities for girls in tech evolving over the next decade?

Danica

I see girls having more mentors of diverse backgrounds, genders, religions, and races. I see girls having more courage to speak up when they don’t feel welcome in an environment. The women (with the help of allies!) before them are working hard to help create a new environment for the upcoming generation.

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼
What advice would you give to girls starting a career in tech?

Danica

Don’t assume that tech equals coding. There are so many ways to be involved in tech, Artificial Intelligence, GIS, Medical/robotic surgery, Data Analytics, User Experience, Movie Editing, IoT, Architecture and Jewelry Design with CAD, Cyber Security. Try as many things as you can to find what you love the most.

👏 Thank you for reading!

Everything you and your organization are doing Danica brings me so much joy. You have an awesome story, and I have no doubt TechGirlz is making an incredible impact for so many girls out there! I can’t wait to see what you do next, and applaud how you continue to shape the future of tech. Bravo 🙇‍♂️

This interview with Danica Pascavage is part of a blog series by Joe Pascavage ✍🏼 called “Get Interviewed”. If you would like to learn more about this initiative you can read about it here.

Do you want to share your story?

Send me a DM or tweet @joepascavage letting me know that you would like to “Get Interviewed”, and I’ll take it from there.

--

--

--

This is a platform for both practitioners and leaders alike in the fields of design, research, content, tech, development, and product. With your consent your story will be published, and mutually shared across social media. 📬 Email to participate: info@joep.design

Recommended from Medium

Sending messages on LinkedIn? Please don’t be any of these 4 tropes

How to create a resume that meets the requirements of an applicant tracking system.

Conducting a PoSH enquiry while working from home

I Quit 2 Jobs After a Month in a Pandemic, and I Have No Regrets

A person closes their eyes and looks towards the sun, their hands behind their head, appearing relieved. #relief #relax

Lessons Learned: 2021

The TL;DR, scented with cherry blossoms and systemic change

Looking for a new career?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Joe Pascavage ✍🏼

Joe Pascavage ✍🏼

Design Manager at thinkcompany.com & Founder of getinterviewed.blog. Find me @joepascavage or at joep.design

More from Medium

Reaching the Last Mile: The Trachoma Investigators of Mozambique

The Good and the Ugly

Accepting Change

Hiking Grand Canyon & Waimanalo Trails