PASS Summit 2014: WIT Lunch

Two posts from me in one day?  What’s up with that?!  Well, today at the PASS Summit we also have the WIT luncheon, where Kimberly Bryant, who is the founder of Black Girls CODE, will be speaking.  I am live-blogging this event as well, so watch this post for updates starting around 12:15PM EST.  If you want to learn more about Black Girls CODE, check out this MSNBC interview.


Denise McInerney is introduced first – she asks how many people were at the first WIT lunch, back in 2002 (I am pretty sure Denise has been a part of WIT since its inception – a long-time leader within the community).  The WIT luncheon has grown a lot in the past 10+ years – today’s lunch has over 900 attendees.  Denise brings out Kimberly Bryant – such a different setting this year, just Denise and Kimberly on stage.  Denise is going to ask a few questions, then open it up to the audience and people watching on PASStv – you can tweet your questions and include the #passwit hash tag.

Black Girls CODE is a non-profit organization started in the Bay Area in 2011.  What really drove Kimberly to make a change when she recognized that her daughter, who was 12 at the time, might be following in her footsteps.  Never thought her daughter was an engineer.  But she was a heavy gamer (World of Warcraft, D&D) and spent a lot of time on the computer.  Her daughter was at the age where she could learn and create with a computer – and that was a life-changing moment for her.  Her daughter first wanted to grow up and be a game tester 🙂  Once she went up to a programming camp, she saw that the environment actually allowed her to create, not just be a participant.  As a parent, Kimberly noticed that she was only one of three girls at the summer camp, and the only person of color at the camp (out of about 40 campers total).  At that point, Kimberly knew she had to make a difference, not just for her daughter, but for other daughters.

Question from Denise: “Why is still so hard to get girls and young women interested in technology?”  Kimberly cites a Girl Scout study that showed tha tif you surveyed girls BEFORE they get to middle school, over half the girls show an interest in STEM, but by the time they get to high school it’s less than 5%.  In some cases, girls don’t have support from parents and teachers.  There are fewer opportunities for girls to flex the STEM skills.  Kimberly says she hates the pink aisle.  Do Legos need to be pink?  (ES: They don’t, I grew up without pink or purple Legos and played with them all the time.)

What type of programs does Black Girls CODE run?  The secret sauce is the environment of girls in the environment to do coding and engineering and they have relatable leadership – the women that come in to teach the programs.  Over 75-80% of the instructors are women.  They are reflections of what the girls can become, and that gives the girls the ability to see the possibility.  Kimberly had a counselor who said, ‘You’re good in math and science, you should go into engineering.”  Kimberly didn’t know what that looked like – what does an engineer do, what do they look like?  But if you’re able to actually see that, suddenly you have an idea of what you can really do.

Denise asked what languages are taught via Black Girls CODE?  Kimberly explained that in the beginning they didn’t know what the girls would be willing to learn, so it was open in the beginning.  The goal was to always teach them Ruby – and Kimberly had a core team that knew Ruby.  Also did some testing with Python, but do a lot with open source learning.  Have also started to talk to organizations about coding – she has talked with Lynn Langit, and Lynn’s program (Teaching Kids Programming) teaches Java.

Question from Denise: How can people who want to bring STEM education to kids get started doing that?  There are so many opportunities for technology professionals.  We are at the beginning of this code movement – but we are lacking in teachers that can teach these skills.  Look for opportunities to give back in the school district where your kids are.  We need more than after-school programs and camps.  Black Girls CODE has over 2000 volunteers across the US, there are multiple chapters.  There is a need to talk to students and parents about what we (as women) do in our careers.  (ES: I find it interesting that she mentioned that parents need to hear that discussion as well.)

Kimberly believes that kids can start learning about technology at grade 1.  (ES: I agree – my kids have had a tech class since kindergarten.  Last year, as a 3rd grader, my son put together a PowerPoint presentation.)  Starting to introduce technology in high school is too late.  We need computer science to be counted as a high school credit – it shouldn’t take the place of math or science, it’s in addition.

Denise: Many companies have released diversity statistics.  Does Kimberly talk to attendees about the culture of tech and what it might be like to have a career in tech.  Kimberly states that they do – they try to prepare students to be active participants, and also prepare them for what challenges they might face within the data environment.  Changing the community is not quick thing – it’s a continual effort and requires some difficult conversations (then followed by action).

Over half of the women who enter tech fields drop out at the half way point.  Kimberly says she can relate to this personally.  She understands what it’s like to get in to the career and then see the glass ceiling.  Often, women don’t have the support network to break through that glass ceiling.  The role of mentors, sponsors, and advocates is so important.  On average, most women CEOs come to one company and stay there for 20+ years – that’s how the majority of women CEOs get there.  Women need to stay in the pipeline longer in order to get to the top – but a welcoming and positive environment will help.  Advocates and sponsors for women, within those communities, are needed.  Need more male advocates and mentors to help women get to the next level.  Also, women need to be willing to take the risk to get to that next level.

Denise opens up the discussion for questions from the audience.  It’s mentioned that only 15% of attendees here at PASS Summit are women.  (ES: Really?  15%?)

One of themes from today and Kimberly’s message: mentors are needed.  Both and male and female.  Kids need role models, college students need them, women in technology need them.  (ES: I’d argue that everyone needs a mentor.  Ask yourself: can you be a mentor to someone?  I bet you can.  And don’t be afraid to go ask for – seek out – a mentor for yourself.)

Work culture cited as a top reason that women leave technology.  How do we change that?  Kimberly says to hire more women.  If there’s a company with its heart in diversity, and there’s isolation in the company still, need to change it from the ground up and from the top down, and to do that, need to get more women into the organization.  (ES: That’s not a complete answer, in my opinion, I think it’s more than just getting more women into a company.  You have to understand what the barrier is – what’s the resistance?  Then, you need to figure out how to change that.  And I don’t know if it’s a one-size-fits-all in terms of the barrier – there might be a huge variety of barriers.)

Input from an attendee: go to local school career fairs and talk about IT.  The issue isn’t having to choose between two candidates, it’s trying to get one qualified candidate.

Jes asks how we can get kids to understand that technology skills are important – they’re not just a degree.  Kimberly – we agree, technology skills provide just one tool in a person’s toolkit.  This is why it’s important to get computer science into school, so then it becomes a tool that they can use as they’re learning science, math, and even in non-science courses.

As women we need to be advocates for each other.  (ES: Agreed, we do.)

Kalen has a challenge to parents: talk to your boys about smart women and how they’re not someone to fear.

One of my mentors, Allen White, stands up to ask a question.  Allen has been in IT for 40 years.  He asks, “What can I focus on so I don’t make “bad” choices, since I am not a female, nor a person of color?”  Kimberly tells him to be cognizant, make his company inclusive, to help someone who’s “different” from him.  He’s done all that 🙂

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