Inspiring Girls to Tech
Camp coaxes girls to cross the digital divide
By: Mike Antonucci
A deep sense of intimidation and pervasive sexism — those are the infamous obstacles for women interested in technology careers.
But at least some of the 70 or so high-school girls attending a one-day DigiGirlz tech camp Tuesday at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus came away instead with a huge dose of motivation.
“I think that it’s a big challenge,” said Amber Yarnell, 17, a junior at Mountain View’s Alta Vista High School who’s curious about a variety of technology professions. “But it would also be more of an incentive to pursue something that you really want.”
Like a number of other students from area schools, Yarnell was particularly impressed with the vibrant attitudes of women who described their tech careers during a morning panel discussion.
“A lot of them seemed like they were so happy,” said Joanne Woodward, 18, a senior at Mountain View High. “It seems like they’re having fun, but it’s actually work at the same time.”
The day’s star power came from an afternoon talk by Teri Takai, the former Ford Motor strategist who was named the state’s chief information officer in December by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Takai, whose appearance wrapped up the schedule, emphasized that an understanding of technology was a gateway to numerous career experiences — including government and community service — instead of what students might assume was a limited road to programming or hardware design.
Takai said later that getting young
people to consider a technology career is a personal passion. But she added that any falloff of interest, particularly among girls, is a problem for the state in an era when technology proficiency is inextricably linked to state efficiency and public services.
The backdrop for Microsoft’s DigiGirlz camps, which are taking place in almost two dozen cities through August, is a variety of statistics that show a dearth of women in computer science and software engineering, not to mention executive technology positions.
And while the women describing their careers radiated determination, the theme for the discussion was how to gain confidence and empowerment.
“The technology universe is definitely male-dominated,” said panelist Veronica Belmont (www.veronicabelmont.com), the host and producer of the Web show “Mahalo Daily” for Mahalo.com, a site that researches the best links on the Web.
Belmont said “a lot of men think we’re given our jobs because we’re women.” But her advice to students was focused on their ability to independently demonstrate their potential by creating blogs and Web sites at an early age.
“You need ‘Google juice’ — people are going to look you up online,” Belmont told the gathering.
Over the course of the day, the students got instruction in techniques and issues including building Web pages, maintaining privacy and data security online and using the Internet on cell phones — and yes, most of that was illustrated with Microsoft products.
The Web-page session made a sharp impression on Elaine Sang, 14, a ninth-grader from Mission San Jose High in Fremont. She was especially enthusiastic about demonstrations for using images and photos on Web sites.
“I saw how to view things in new ways,” she said. “You can view things in more creative ways instead of just page by page by page.”