March 5, 2014
Successful Silicon Valley women star in Stanford video series urging youngsters to get into computing
Produced by female undergraduates at Stanford, the she++ Video Library is meant to inspire young women to study for careers in computer science.
By Tom Abate and Priya Ganesan
Members of she++ meet at Stanford to pursue their goal of encouraging more girls and young women to study computer science. (Norbert von der Groeben)
A group of female undergraduate students at Stanford is encouraging girls and young women to study computer science by means of an online video library that features motivational interviews with Silicon Valley women in computing.
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.
Curious? Check out the online question-and-answer session at 10 a.m. PST today (Wednesday, March 5) here.
In the past, she++ has held conferences and other events designed to interest students, especially young women, in computing. This year the members decided to broaden their reach by producing an ongoing series of short YouTube videos, the she++ Video Library, the first six of which they are releasing 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 college students, teachers and counselors. But the Stanford undergraduates who made the videos hope that parents will share the interviews with their children and 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 a 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 go to work for a high tech firm 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 firm; 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 student at Stanford 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.
More than coding
"Computer science doesn't mean sitting in a cubicle and having to code," Fisher said.
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 over 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 (https://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.
Eventually, she++ members hope 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: "Twenty-first-century feminism is about the sisterhood. We're powerful. We're bad-ass. We're the majority in college; we're the majority in the workforce. Eleven million of us make hiring decisions. It's really not about men and sexism. It's about us."
For more Stanford experts on computer science and other topics, visit Stanford Experts.