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Silicon Valley Women Star in Video Series Urging Young Women to Study Computing

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 10:07am
Tom Abate and Priya Ganesan, Stanford Engineering

Produced by female undergraduates at Stanford, the she++ Video Library is meant to inspire young women to pursue careers in technology.

Stanford student Saguna Goel, right, co-director of she++, said many young people shy away from computer science. But "computer science doesn't mean sitting in a cubicle and having to code," said Gabriele Fisher, center, a Stanford student who served as lead researcher on the she++ Video Library team. (Norbert von der Groeben)Many people talk about encouraging young women to study computer science. Now some female undergraduates at Stanford hope to do just that by starting an online video library that features motivational interviews with Silicon Valley women in computing.

View: Inspire Young Women to Pursue Careers in Technology

The videos were produced by she++, a two-year-old volunteer organization at Stanford University dedicated to empowering and encouraging women to pursue tech fields.

In the past, she++ has held conferences and other events designed to interest students, especially young women, in computing. This year the group decided to broaden its reach by producing an ongoing series of short YouTube videos, the she++ Video Library, the first six of which will be released today.

“We wanted to showcase a lot of different people and careers so that viewers could watch the videos and see future versions of themselves represented,” said first-year student Alyssa Vann, one of the leaders of the video library project.

The videos are aimed at high school and young college students, teachers, and counselors. But the Stanford undergraduates who made the videos hope that parents will share the interviews with children to help them expand their horizons.

“Many people, both girls and boys, start shying away from computer science at a young age,” said Stanford junior Saguna Goel, who is co-director of she++’s 18-person team.

The videos range from three to 10 minutes long. The interview subjects are women who hold jobs in programming, project management, computer security and other aspects of computing.

“Many students struggle to get past common negative preconceptions about the tech industry and the people in the field,” said Amber Rockwood, a senior who worked on the videos and will work for a high tech company after graduating in June.

The first six videos feature Raylene Yung, an engineering manager at Facebook; Reshma Saujani, founder of the outreach group Girls who Code; Masha Sedova, a cybersecurity expert at Salesforce.com; Christina Forney, an Internal tools engineer at Palantir Technologies, a data visualization company; Helen Hastings, she++ Director of Finance and developer at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Laboratory; and Jessica Lord, a designer at GitHub, a site for sharing and developing software as a group effort.

Part technical tutorials, part a repository of career tips, the video library is designed to encourage and empower more people – particularly women, minorities and high school students – to study technology and pursue tech careers.

Gabriele Fisher, a first-year Stanford student who served as lead researcher on the she++ Video Library team, said one lesson that emerged from the videos is the variety of paths that interview subjects took to arrive at their computer science careers: for some, the gateway was an interest in graphics, while others got into software development as a way to accomplish other goals, such as creating applications for local government.

“Computer science doesn’t mean sitting in a cubicle and having to code,” Fisher said.

Sophomore Rachel Mellon, co-direcor of she++, said the group will add videos to the library weekly from now until mid-June, then slow down for the summer break.

The group formed in 2012, when she++ hosted Stanford’s first-ever conference on women in technology. The following year, the group hosted a second conference and produced she++: The Documentary, which has since garnered more than 80,000 views.

Other initiatives include a mentorship program to pair high school students with men and women pursuing degrees in computing or in the tech industry, and a fellowship program known as “#include” that helps high school students start tech initiatives in their own communities.

In April, she++ will host the #include Gala (http://www.eventbrite.com/e/she-gala-2014-tickets-5449563792) an event that will bring industry women together with female high school and college students to build an extensive and long-lasting support network.

With initiatives such as the she++ Video Library and the #include program, she++ hopes to foster such support networks and build a culture of women helping other women.

Reshma Saujani, one of the featured speakers in the video library, puts it this way: “21st century feminism is about the sisterhood. We’re powerful. We’re badass. We’re the majority in college; we’re the majority in workforce. Eleven million of us make hiring decisions. It’s really not about men and sexism. It’s about us.”

For more information visit http://engineering.stanford.edu/

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