About a week ago, the company hosted “Bring Your Parents to Work Day”. It was great to see all of the parents walking around with their “kids” (the employees) and learning about the company and experiencing the environment. It’s a great idea built on “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”. Our companies’ kid day actually coincided with a World Cup match, so the company was buzzing with energy and excitement as we watched a fun match and munched on snacks. I remember that day because it was a turning point for me personally, and hopefully for many others that I am able to connect with. Let me explain.
It all started when a fellow employee asked me to talk to his daughters that were attending that day. He wanted me share my experiences as a woman in technology. You see, they were both very smart young ladies (grades 7th and 11th), good at science and math, but the 11th grader, in particular, was not thinking about majoring in STEM. Yes, they were taking math and science classes in school, but their reaction was “no way” to being asked if they wanted to be an engineer or scientist some day. He needed help in opening their minds.
We sat down in my office, and they were chatty, funny and really smart. I liked them both immediately. I asked them about school, what they might want to do when they grow up, what did they love to learn, what are their hobbies, what did they want to be when they grew up? One wanted to be a vet (7th grader), but the older one just didn’t know. They were both hesitant to consider engineering or science, even though they said they actually liked math and science, but it wasn’t for them. Why? “it’s too hard”, “not for me”, “not interesting”.
So I started discussing all the great things you could do in the world with a technical degree. We had a very open conversation and the 11th grader admitted that she did actually like math and was getting really good at it. I could relate to that and told them about my career and journey. How I got a math degree, then started my career as a software developer, worked my way through marketing which had resulted in being CMO and head of marketing at four different technology companies. I told them that I had an amazing career that is not only highly energizing and fun, but also highly rewarding. The light bulbs went off in their heads.
The next week, their dad thanked me. The 11th grader had come home, said great things about our conversation and signed up for a Python class (a programming language, not the snake). He said, that my conversation excited her to the possibilities of a really great future and it had made a difference.
I too was completely energized by the discussion and decided, I need to help where I can to guide and encourage young people, one at a time. I have since spoken individually to young students of both genders in several states about their love of math and what to do with it.
One was on a college tour with her dad, ready to get her math degree and advanced degree and she was applying at the top tech universities including Cal Tech, Harvey Mudd, UC Berkley and Stanford. I was very excited for her and we chatted about all the possibilities in front of her.
Another very smart young lady talked to me at her college orientation. She exclaimed to me that she “loves math!” I shared my love of math and computer science with her. We both talked about how fun it is to solve problem, how satisfying, how it makes your heart sing. But when I asked her what she might want to do with a math degree, she responded with “oh, I don’t know. Become a teacher?” She admitted her interest weren’t really in becoming a teacher, but she had no idea what to do with math. So I talked to her about the massive amounts of opportunity in front of her. I encouraged her to think bigger and broader. The world of technology needs people like her. Silicon Valley needs her. Every day we all use technology and it comes out of the brains and passion of people just like her. I gave her a number of tips on what to explore including taking CS classes while getting her math degree. She lit up and was beaming with the idea of a new and exciting future.
Since then I’ve spoken individually to a lot of high school and college kids and all of these conversations have opened their minds. They all need more of us talking to them, encouraging them, and guiding them. We can all play a part especially those of us that are in the midst of technology today. I believe that we need to pay it forward and that we can make a difference, one at a time.