October 31, 2023
Celebrating Software.org’s Ninth Annual Girls Who Code Classroom
July 21, 2023
With the rise of groundbreaking innovations in today’s tech industry, the industry’s need for skilled and diverse perspectives in its workforce is more important than ever. To help equip students with the skills they need and create opportunities in STEM jobs, Software.org hosted its ninth annual two-week Summer Immersion Program (SIP) in partnership with Girls Who Code.
SIP was held remotely, allowing students from around the United States to participate. This year’s SIP graduates included over 50 students from across: Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
For the first virtual event, students heard from women working at various BSA member companies to discuss software’s crucial role in augmenting public sector operations, shaping policymaking, driving innovation, and mitigating cybersecurity threats within national governance in Washington, DC. BSA’s Jessica Salmoiraghi moderated the discussion with these panelists: Anjelica Dortch, Senior Director of U.S. Government Affairs and Head of Global Cybersecurity Policy at SAP; Kelsey Moran, Senior Manager at Autodesk; and Yelena Vaynberg, Executive of Government and Regulatory Affairs and Workforce Policy at IBM.
Panelists discussed the importance of reducing the digital divide in technology and the top software-related issues at the Capitol, then emphasized the importance of keeping up-to-date with the rapidly evolving technology industry.
“Software is in every industry, so tech issues are often not just issues within the tech industry,” Kelsey Moran said. “There’s more that needs to be done in eliminating the gap between tech and non-tech industries when it comes to policymaker thinking.”
Hearing From Tech and Policy Leaders
For the second event, BSA CEO and Software.org President Victoria Espinel moderated a conversation with Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. Dr. Prabhakar described how an emphasis on science and engineering within her Indian immigrant community inspired her to value making contributions to those fields of knowledge. She explained how OSTP is making impactful legislation a reality with its research into the climate crisis, health, security, and economic opportunities. In addition, Dr. Prabhakar fielded questions from GWC students, providing insight into handling power in government, staying safe with cybersecurity, and improvement of internet access.
“I’ve spent about half my career in public service. I’ve had roles in venture capital and public organizations, and what drives me is how we handle big things today,” Dr. Prabhhakar said. We need to address the climate crisis, fix national security challenges, build a growth-up economy, and raise health outcomes.”
During the second half of the session, students heard from US Representative Chrissy Houlahan and Julia White, Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer at SAP. The speakers discussed the progress made in increasing access to science and technology opportunities for women and praised the rise in female-specific benefits, such as increased maternity leave, across the tech industry. Both speakers also emphasized the importance of avoiding biases and a lack of human control regarding artificial intelligence (AI).
“The lived experience as a woman has really improved over time,” White said. “When I was at Microsoft, I was the only woman on my team with a child, but now maternity benefits are standard across the industry.”
The New AI Landscape
For the third event, BSA’s Shaundra Watson moderated a discussion about the current AI landscape and its role in the workplace with the following participants: Winter Casey, Senior Director at SAP; Dr. Tonya Custis, Director of AI Research at Autodesk; Courtney Hodge, Program Manager of Inclusive Learning at Microsoft; and Amanda Perrot, Director and Associate General Counsel at Adobe.
Panelists discussed the advice they would give to young women looking to pursue careers in AI and talked about some of the most prominent obstacles women can face in the workplace. They talked about how they had not always planned to have careers in technology, but were able to enter the field and find success.
“AI is inherently interdisciplinary and there are so many roads to get involved,” Dr. Custis said. “AI is a tool that lets us do many things. I was interested in music and language, which doesn’t seem AI-related at first, but it becomes very relevant when you think about teaching language to an AI.”
Software in Everyday Life
For the fourth event, participants heard from panelists on software’s role in everyday life and familiar industries, as well as crucial skills for careers in software and future trends in tech industries. Software.org’s Lilia Stone moderated the discussion with the following panelists: Alejandra Ceja, Vice President of the Office of Social Impact and Inclusion at Panasonic; Marie Kissel, Senior Advisor of Government Affairs at Abbott; and Katharine Saunders, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Network Regulatory Strategy at Verizon.
Panelists discussed their personal journeys and what their organization is currently doing to support women. They shared insight into how digital transformation can improve accessibility, reduce the digital divide in broadband access, and provide education for valuable opportunities.
“Even if people have the right infrastructure and can afford to install digital tools, it doesn’t help if they don’t know how to use those tools,” Saunders said. “Education can help to remove that final barrier to technology.”
The Power of Mentorship
For the fifth and final event, featured panelists from BSA and Software.org discussed the power of mentorship and sponsorship, the need for diversity in tech and policy, and the innovative paths that are shaping the future of the industry. BSA’s Lindsay Emery moderated the discussion with the following panelists: Danielle Brown, Senior Director of Legislative Strategy at BSA; Stefania Durden, Senior Digital Manager at BSA; Dilara Kamrava, Research Intern at Software.org; and Olga Medina, Director of Policy at BSA.
Panelists discussed how they had overcome personal barriers to success in STEM fields, such as imposter syndrome, and shared how strong mentorship can make significant differences in career journeys. They emphasized the importance of creating a culture of inclusivity where no one’s voice feels less valuable than another’s.
“One of the benefits of creating an inclusive culture that is rooted in principles of equity and making sure that everyone is heard within the organization is that it almost minimizes that effect that imposter syndrome has, particularly on women,” Medina said.
Guest speakers during all events emphasized that every sector is a software sector and offered advice about breaking into their fields despite being part of historically underrepresented minority groups. Together with programs like Girls Who Code, Software.org is working to guarantee diversity in all fields by introducing students to coding skills at a pivotal age.
Congratulations to the Girls Who Code Class of 2023 for their hard work and achievements this summer!