Last week I had the honor and the privilege of presiding over our Girls Who Code graduation ceremony here at First Data. As the executive sponsor inside First Data, I have developed a special affinity for this program and the work that it does. What it accomplishes in just a few short weeks over the course of a summer can be life changing for the attendees. It is transformative. Watching these kids come in slightly tentative in both the technical challenges presented and the situation of being surrounded by strangers contrasted against them leaving roaring with determination, new friends, and self-confidence is enough to make you cheer.
While I could talk about the impressive technology-related graduation projects built and showcased at the ceremony (a first person shooter game, a phone app designed to de-stigmatize mental illness with the ability to locate facilities and centers near you, and much much more!) or how remarkable it was to see these high schooler’s deliver their accomplishments in such a short period of time – the real value is what the program does for these girls.
Through the use of technology, the program allows them to open the doors to their own abilities. It sparks their creativity. More importantly however, it gives them the power and the vehicles to express and explore wherever their imagination takes them in real and meaningful ways. In doing so it opens channels for boundless confidence, releases a world of possibilities, and the very real ability to execute against them.
If you take as a starting point that women make up 50%+ of the global workforce the representation of women in Technology and Engineering roles is shockingly stark. Projections state that there will be 1.5 million new Technology jobs in 2020. The graduation pipeline of future candidates to meet this demand is only projected to fill 49% of those jobs. Of that 49% – women only make up 3%. That is a pretty stark reality for us as Technology professionals on many levels.
One of the more poignant stories I heard in my roaming around talking to the girls, their parents, and others in attendance was the personal journey of how one of the students ended up in the class. She is a high-schooler at a local Atlanta school, who really had no specific interest in Technology or Computer related jobs. One of her teachers recognized her latent talents and strongly recommended that she give the program a try. Despite some personal challenges she decided to pursue it. At the graduation ceremony she joked with me that she used to think that ‘Tech Jobs were mostly for boys’ and that she would never have even considered it. But after taking the class she was ‘determined’ that this was the future for her. She was excited to show me her project and tell me about the more challenging bits they had to accomplish. At one point, she stopped and turned to me smiling, “Listen to me talking all this geeky stuff!”. It also speaks to the power and influence teachers can have in our lives.
Another story I would call out is a student from our graduating class last year. At the time she was remarkable for many traits not the least of them being someone who was brimming with confidence, a desire to learn, and an incredible work ethic. Just before summer break started, she reached out to see if we had any internships available in the technology groups inside the company (we do!). We quickly fast-tracked her into our program to begin in the summer. As she was prepping to come aboard, she discovered we were having an Hack-A-Thon. Even though the event took place before her summer break began, she asked if she could be a part of it. One of the many teams took her in and over the course of the weekend long event – she proved herself a valuable team member. Her team ended up coming in 3rd place overall. An incredible learning experience for sure. She is now part of our summer intern program which is just about to wrap up with final presentations and I cannot help but step back and reflect that without the Girls Who Code Program we would never have met this incredible young woman.
I have to say it was an amazingly fulfilling event. As a father, as a technology leader, as human watching others realize untapped potential it is almost impossible not to feel good about this program. If this post sounds too much like a commercial for Girls Who Code… I guess it is. I hope it inspires you to create a program at your own place of employment.