By: Angela Cleveland
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend WeCode Harvard this past weekend (Feb 2-4, 2017). “WECode (Women Engineers Code) is the largest student-run Women in Computer Science conference, held at Harvard University each February. Our mission is to expand the skills, network, and community of technical women worldwide. We bring together women over the course of two amazing days to share ideas and conversations on technology and innovation.”
This was my first time attending, and I couldn’t stop jotting down notes from presentations, panel discussions, and individual conversations with students and presenters. There were moments of incredible inspiration, amazing insights, and also some appalling conversations about challenges women in STEM are facing today. I’ve compiled a list of my top twelve takeaways, the moments that are replaying in my mind and are shaping my advocacy moving forward.
1.This conference highlighted the power of coming together, collaboration, and supporting each other. So many women shared their experiences of women who encouraged them in their journey and how they are creating opportunities for the next generation. Aimee Sprung of Microsoft talked about how her manager encourages women to use “on-ramps” to support colleagues in joining conversations. This simple concept of verbally creating a pathway to the conversation by reaching out, asking for someone’s thoughts or making a connection to their work, project, or experience encourages inclusivity and collaboration.
2. WeCode Harvard is open to all allies in STEM! I was so excited to see the diversity at the conference. It was impressive to have young men in attendance who don’t view supporting women as a “women’s issue” but as a human issue. Kudos to these young men who view their female friends and colleagues as equal partners in their educational and professional journey!
3. I encourage everyone to check out the free downloadable magazine Careers with Code, which illustrates how your unique interests intersect with technology. I shared out copies of the free print magazine at WeCode Harvard, and it sparked some exciting discussions about the limitless application of technology in every industry! Instead of thinking of internships and jobs at only tech companies, expand your search to include industries or causes you are passionate about and learn how technology is infused into and elevates the industry.
4. WeCode Harvard is inclusive of the K-12 educational system and not just about the college experience. I met Grace O’Shea, co-founder of Room2Learn, a “sharing platform and design consultancy that tailors school spaces to learning and teaching needs.” Learning is no longer confined by the classroom walls with students seated at desks in neat rows. With the infusion of technology, students with their own devices and teachers “flipping the classroom,” the physical structure of our schools and classrooms should reflect the digital revolution. Innovators like those at Room2Learn are changing the way students experience learning in their physical environment.
5. Panel discussion “Education x Tech” was so insightful! Two reflective questions raised keep replaying in my mind: How can schools work to create psychological safety for failing and growth? How do you celebrate failure in your school? The words “celebrate” and “failure” don’t seem to go together. How can these concepts go hand-in-hand? Kat Slump explains it best in her Medium Blog and on a recent feature on ReigningIt: “By shaking hands with failure, many times we are saying ‘hello’ to success.”
6. Keynote speaker Latanya Sweeney, professor of government and technology at Harvard, was the first black woman to earn her Ph.D. in CS from MIT in 2001. She talked about “How Technology Impacts Humans and Governs Our Lives.” I never before realized how advances in technology are driving political changes and laws.
7. I learned a great strategy for unbiased brainstorming at WeCode Harvard. Across all fields, sometimes the most vocal person in the room is able to promote their ideas. But does that mean they are the best ideas? How can we brainstorm ideas divorced from the individual and give a fully equal voice to all participants? Saqi Mehta of Square shared a fantastic and simple strategy! Write each idea on a post it note (no names), and stick post-it notes on walls around the room. Everyone does a gallery walk around the room, reads ideas and adds a “+1” on the note with ideas they like. This strategy is a great way to see the best ideas, not the most vocal ones, emerge! Simply genius!
8. WeCode Harvard flipped the script on a well-known adage: Treat others the way you want to be treated. The Golden Rule we were all taught since we were little received a dose of inclusivity and acceptance from panelist and Operations Engineer at LinkedIn, Carol Dmello. Carol said, “Treat people the way they want to be treated, not how we want to be treated.” This concept requires us to consider an allocentric rather than egocentric perspective when supporting others.
9. Several speakers encouraged attendees to explore interests beyond their specific major or field of interest. A well-rounded candidate for an internship or job is one whose educational background or professional experiences are not confined, limited only to school time or work hours. I reflected on this concept and a question by a student at WeCode asked me how with working full-time as a school counselor, I can dedicate the energy as a co-founder ReigningIt. I’ve had colleagues ask me how I can find the time to write three therapeutic books for children. The answer is simple: It never feels like a job. Advocating for children, equal access to technology, and sharing resources to create a community of support are a calling, not a 9-5 job.
10. The attrition rate for women in the industry is shocking! Julie Elberfeld, Commercial CIO of Capital One reflected on her early experiences in tech in the 1980’s. If you are thinking (as I was) that the progress for women has all been upward, well, that’s just not the case. Right now, 57% of women leave the field within 10 years. Wow. Let that sink in.
11. Thank you to Nora Poggi, producer/director of the inspiring film She Started It, about women tech entrepreneurs, for screening the film at WeCode Harvard! All too often we hear stories about the amazing successes of startups that began in a dorm room or garage. The journey is lost in the glamour of the dazzling success stories. She Started It highlights the challenges many entrepreneurs face and the unique issues women in the industry encounter. Learn more about the film by first watching the trailer and then hosting a screening!
12. WeCode Harvard was not all positive, inspirational moments. One of the most insightful conversations I had was disturbing. Young women shared experiences interviewing for internships and jobs during which they were sexually harassed and propositioned during the process. While these conversations made me angry, they also inspire me to continue to advocate for Women in STEM. We gain strength by sharing our stories, shining a light on work that still needs to be done, celebrating our successes, and developing a community of support.
Angela Cleveland is a professional school counselor/Google Certified Educator. She advocates for equal access to STEM, emphasizing the critical need to empower and support girls and minorities to access CS opportunities. Angela consults with Counselors for Computing/NCWIT, is a member of White House initiative United State of Women, and is an Executive Board Member/Webmaster for NJSCA. Angela is a technology contributor to national publications, such as Edutopia, and she presents on a national level about computer science and technology. Angela’s advocacy has earned her several recognitions, most recently the “2016 Somerset County School Counselor of the Year” award. Angela is honored to be co-founder of ReigningIt. She is extremely passionate about providing a platform for women to share their experiences in CS and advocate for closing the gender gap in STEM. In her free time, Angela enjoys writing and is the author of several therapeutic children’s books. Learn more about Angela: www.angelacleveland.com.