Brad Feld

Tag: aspirations in computing

Last week I was called out on a blog titled Stop Squawking; Embody The Change. In it, Nilofer Merchant (the writer) asserts that while my writing about the lack women in tech / entrepreneurship / computer science is useful, it doesn’t have much impact. Nilofer says:

“Those posts are all “Yeahness”; maybe they are helping educate the few people on this earth who haven’t read the research, statistics that says that diversity of opinions improves the performance of any workgroup. Perhaps they counteract the “women just want to have babies” or “women don’t take risks” posts out there.”

She goes on to make a call to action for me and a few others, saying:

“If Mark, or Fred, or Brad wanted to actually see things change, they have to be willing to be changed. They have to have their networks changed. They cannot stay in their current circles, talking to the same people they already talk with, and then imagine they will run into more women to invest in. They cannot expect things to change by asking “boy, I wish things would change”. That’s a gesture. A politically correct gesture, sure, and maybe it gives the warm fuzzies, but accomplishes little else. It is certainly not embodying the necessary change. To move from impossible and unattainable to possible and attainable is more than chopping off a few letters. It means we need to embody the change.”

I agree strongly with Nilofer that we need to embody the change. Since I don’t agree that all I do is write about the issue, I left a comment with a few examples of the things that I actually do, rather than just write about, to address this issue.

One of the things I do is chair the board of the National Center for Women & Information Technology.  It is well documented that there is a significant gender imbalance in IT. Only 18% of computer and information science degrees were awarded to women in 2009 (11% at major research universities), though 57% of college degrees are awarded to women (source: NCWIT By the Numbers 2009.) One of the things I’m especially proud of is the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.

The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing is designed to reverse this trend by identifying, recognizing and supporting young women interested in and aspiring to pursue a major in computing. It was created in 2007 and has grown to a combined National and Affiliate program with local awards serving 22 states in 2011. To date NCWIT has recognized 855 young women and plans to grow the award program to a reach of 10,000 young women and recognize 1,000 award recipients annually. I wrote about my experience attending the 2010 awards and spending time with the winners, including the college scholarship that Amy and I decided to give each winner in the spur of the moment.

The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing is much more than an award program. Recipients are provided long-term support for their interests in computing through peer networking, mentorship, scholarships and access to opportunities. Applications are now open to any high school young women residing in the US. Please encourage all the young women you know to apply before the end of October.

I had an amazing day on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I attended the Bank of America Technology Stars of the Future awards ceremony for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.  If you’ve been following along on this blog, you know that I’m chairman of NCWIT (the National Center for Women & Information Technology).  I’m proud of a lot of things that NCWIT does, but after attending the Aspirations in Computing awards I think it has moved to the top of my list.

We gave awards to 2^5 (32) young women (all in high school) for their computing-related achievements.  At the awards ceremony Lucy Sanders (NCWIT’s CEO) and I read out descriptions of the accomplishments of each winner.  They are remarkable young women doing awesome things with computers, especially around robotics and research.  Bank of America – who sponsors the awards – was a gracious host, put on a delightful event, and awarded each winner $500 and a laptop (most of which were opened and up and running before the evening was over.)

I got to Charlotte midday on Friday.  After hiding in my hotel room for a few hours grinding through email and phone calls, I went out to dinner at Mac’s Speed Shop with Lucy and Ruthe Farmer (the excellent NCWIT staffer who runs the entire awards program) – we had beers and BBQ (veggie BBQ for me) and managed to avoid the bikers.  I crashed hard and slept 12 hours, waking up in time for the intro lunch with the award winners and their parents.  At lunch, I sat at a few different tables, met the young women, and heard a few stories.

After lunch, Bank of America did a full afternoon of show and tell for the attendees at their innovation labs.  I went for a three hour run in Charlotte – basically heading south for 90 minutes and then turning around.  It was a perfect day (60 degrees and sunny) and I got a good feel for a bunch of Charlotte’s neighborhoods.  During the run, I pondered how incredible the young women were that I’d met.  The cliché “these kids are our future” definitely applies and whenever I encounter young people like this it gives me a renewed sense of hope and optimism.

When I got back to the hotel, I called Amy and asked if she’d be game for us to add on to the award and give each winner a $1,000 scholarship for college from our foundation.  Not surprisingly Amy agreed and, as part of the award ceremony, each winner got this as a special bonus award.

Among the seniors that I met, one was going to Wellesley (where Amy went to school) and five have been accepted to MIT (two have committed; the other three cornered me to talk about my views on MIT).  Stanford, Caltech, Columbia, and a bunch of other schools were well represented.  I’m pretty sure that every one of the winners is planning to go to college, although a few have several years to go before they have to decide as there was one freshman winner, a few sophomores, and a number of juniors.

I invoked my superpower Sunday morning and slept the entire flight home, partly as a result of recovering from my Saturday run.  A day later I’m still thinking about the great things all these young women did and the incredible futures they have in front of them.

Finally, a huge thanks to Bank of America for their ongoing support of NCWIT and these awards.