Last weekend I attended Google’s Women Techmakers Summit in Chicago, the last stop on their celebration tour of Women’s History Month. It was a day-long conference filled with speakers, panels, and a workshop, all led by women who actively work to make a difference in the world, specifically through the STEM fields.
It was inspiring to see so many women attendees, mainly from Chicago, interested in supporting diversity in tech and taking an active role in making it happen. Being the only attendee working in Detroit, I couldn’t help but draw connections from the speakers to some of the great initiatives we already have going on here. I wanted to recap my experience and also expand on ways that you, too, can get involved in making tech a more diverse industry in our proud hometown.
By giving we gain the most
In the opening remarks given by Urpi Pariona Meza, Account Manager at Google and former Director of Regional Hispanic Press for Obama for America, she spoke about how 7th-12th grade girls are less likely than boys to be aware of and encouraged to pursue computer science-related learning opportunities. It is on us in the industry to ensure that our community members and team members are working with and encouraging children who show an interest to pursue computer science and the STEM fields.
There are many Detroit-based organizations that focus on supporting underrepresented groups in tech and are always looking for members, sponsors, and volunteers:
- Ladies That UX
- Black Data Processing Association Detroit
- Blacks in Technology
- Girl Develop It Detroit
- Girl Develop It Ann Arbor
- Women in Computer Science at Eastern Michigan University
- Michigan Council of Women in Technology
- Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation - many services including robotics
Within all of us is the desire to make a difference
The keynote address delivered by Roya Mahboob, Afghan entrepreneur and philanthropist, recounted her life and how she put it all on the line (literally) to educate herself and fight to educate others. Accused of having Western morals by the Taliban, she started the Digital Citizen Fund, which helps girls and women in developing countries gain access to technology, virtually connect with others across the world, and obtain necessary skills to succeed in today’s expanding global market. One of the most beautiful parts of her speech was her statement that “no matter where they live, we must give girls the tools they need to imagine the life they want.” I truly believe this for girls, women, and anyone who is not allowed access to technology.
Access to this kind of education and information creates the potential for freedom, financial gain, and fulfillment that women and girls in many parts of the world wouldn't have otherwise.
There are a number of Detroit-based organizations that take an active role in educating girls and underrepresented youth in tech. They are always actively looking for volunteers, mentors, and leaders:
Empowering women to try things they haven’t had the opportunity to explore
- Use networking spaces and events to meet contemporaries that you do not work with.
- It always pays off to have a passion outside of work. Get involved in extracurriculars that give you confidence and energy.
- Talk about your accomplishments, skill set, and being willing to go after opportunities.
- Try things before you think you're ready. Trust that there's a lot that is awesome about yourself that you may not see. You don't always see the magic that others see.
- Examine how you fail. Try it over and over again. The louder the fails, the better. You will get error messages, and guaranteed, your code won't work all the time. Push through anyway. You can't take failures personally and get discouraged. Iterate and turn your failures into success.
- Listen to or read original content from someone who is different than you, or looks different than you, and share their work.
The theme that kept coming up throughout the panel was networking. Networking can lead to peer connections, finding a mentor, finding new friends, and in general, finding a community of people who like doing the same things you do. Getting to know people who are actively employed as developers can help you level up faster. Meetup Groups, for those who are not familiar, are community groups that are usually free to join and attend. They often involve networking, a speaker, and if you’re lucky, food and drinks! Here are some of the local tech meetups that I know of. Build that community!
- Ann Arbor Cocoa Heads
- Ann Arbor Computer Society
- Detroit Craftsman Guild
- Detroit Google Developers Group
- Detroit Java User Group
- HackerNest Detroit Tech Socials
- Internet of Things Detroit
- IT in the D
- Metro Detroit Networker and Business Club
- Michigan Technology Leadership & Entrepreneurship Association
- Mobile Monday Detroit
- Motor City Cocoa Heads
- Motor City Software Testers
- Nerd Nite Ann Arbor
- Startup Grind Detroit
- Virtual Reality Detroit
Describe your work like you describe your passion
This workshop was led by Claire Slattery, who works for the LA-based company Speechless. Every day, Claire gets to help presenters be more creative and persuasive using improvisation and comedy techniques. I’ve done a little bit of improv before and I cannot recommend it enough, especially to those who get caught on their words, but the exercise that was the most meaningful to me was this:
Step 1: Tell me about a project that you are working on right now.
Step 2: Tell me about something you are passionate about.
Step 3: Describe step 1 like step 2.
The shift in mindset was small, but incredible. Sometimes we get so in our heads, focusing on getting everything right in order to please everyone, to look and perform so perfectly, that we beat the life out of our work.
You would think that as a marketer I have a great deal of storytelling under my belt already, so why would I need this? The truth, dear reader, is that I write copy most of the time. I ghostwrite, where I take on another’s voice and, after an interview, put together a piece in the interviewee's voice. I write for Detroit Labs business units and their audiences which, over three business units, allows for seven different voices. Kind of schizophrenic, right?
The thing is, I spend so much time writing in someone else’s voice that even though I have seven years of experience in marketing and one-and-a-half years of experience in development, I have a tiny voice inside my head that says, “You have nothing to say.” Of course, this is not true, but this workshop was so timely, and so needed, that it helped me write this piece in my voice.
Similar classes in Detroit:
Driving home to Detroit
The Google Women Techmakers Summit was wonderful, and it made my heart sing to see so many women willing to work to make the tech industry more diverse. Get involved here in Detroit. Teach someone something new. Provide support, backup, and promote others. There are people like you in tech, there is support for you in tech, and we can’t wait to see what you bring to the table.