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Talking Girls Who Code and women in tech with MongoDB

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed July 6, 2016
Each year, MongoDB has some cool surprises in store with their Girls Who Code partnership. At MongoDB World, I sat down with MongoDB's Meagan Eisenberg and Francesca Krihely for an update. They also shared stories of their own career obstacles, and the prospects for change.

The digital divide looms as a defining problem of our time. Without access to skills and opportunities, the outlook gets grimmer. Each year at the MongoDB World user event, I get an update on their efforts for Girls Who Code, as well as their own Women and Trans Coders initiatives.

This year's highlight? A sit down with Meagan Eisenberg, MongoDB CMO and Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at MongoDB. What began as a briefing on Girls Who Code and MongoDB ended with reflective views from Eisenberg and Krihely on their own careers in tech, and where we go from here.

Girls Who Code - trying to change the women in tech numbers

Since June 2015, MongoDB has had a partnership with Girls Who Code. To frame its mission, Girls Who Code points to some disconcerting stats:

  • The gender gap in computing has been getting worse not better: in 1984, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women. Today, that percentage is down ton 18 percent.
  • Tech jobs are among the fastest growing segments in the U.S., but girls are not being geared towards tech careers. Girls' interest in computer science decreases over time, with the biggest dropoff between ages 13-17.
  • "By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. US graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%."

Girls Who Code's ambition is to lessen these gaps, through the creation of after school clubs and summer immersion programs for girls in the 6th-12th grade. With clubs/school presence in all fifty states, Girls Who Code upped its game in 2016, announcing the launch of 1,500 more computer science clubs in the U.S., bringing the exposure to 40,000 students. So far, so good:
  • 65% of Clubs participants say they are considering a major or minor in Computer Science because of Girls Who Code
  • 90% of Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program participants said they were planning to major or minor in CS or a closely-related field.
  • "57 top companies have pledged to hire Girls Who Code alumni."

Since the '90s, tech worker have emailed me their frustrations about the canyon between training and that all-important first job. Girls Who Code is working to address this, obtaining commitments from tech companies to provide paid internships that are intended to turn into full-time jobs.

Expanding MongoDB's role in Girls Who Code

MongoDB expanded its Girls Who Code participation at this year's event. When you download a copy of MongoDB software, you have the option to sign up for a newsletter. For each email sign up (that doesn't bounce), MongoDB donates a dollar to Girls Who Code. A check is cut for Girls Who Code each quarter.

At MongoDB World, all speakers' honorariums were $50 donations to Girls Who Code. Krihely:

I've had that type of speaker gift given to me at conferences, so that's why I really felt passionately about it, because when I got a donation gift instead of a regular gift, I felt like I actually made a difference.

Eisenberg (left), Krihely (right)

So how did the speakers respond?

We were thinking, "What are people going to think? Are they going to wish they had swag?" Everybody was so happy about it.

Speakers sounded off on Twitter:

A big piece of the puzzle is reaching girls when they are most in need of role models. Eisenberg agrees:

Girls Who Code [representatives] were actually at the woman's and transcoder's lunch. They're actively looking for folks to come to the schools and teach. I'm going to work with her out of our Palo Alto office, to see what we can do with the high schools and other groups. It's definitely part of our DNA to work with groups like this, and support the Girls Who Code.

Women in tech - looking back, and ahead

I brought up the disturbing lack of progress on women in tech, I don't think we've come as far as we think. Eisenberg responded:

That's true. I started out in computer science, undergrad, at Cal Poly and transitioned. I ended up getting a minor in computer science, but transitioned into MIS. At that time, it was not easy. I had professors just say, "Why are you in this group?" . I remember them saying, "Why aren't you going into marketing?" 20 years later...

Laughing, Eisenberg pointed out while she ended up as a CMO, it's marketing for a tech company, so her professors had it wrong. She added:

We were also still doing Cobol... I'm sure Cal Poly has come a long way as well, since those days. It was a lack of infrastructure for women.

Krihely had similar experiences:

When I was in high school, we had computer science as a requirement. You had to take one semester. I had a woman teacher, and she was also my math teacher. She said, "Francesca, you're really good at this, you should keep doing it." I said, "Okay," and I took the next class, which was Visual Basic. The next year, I took a year of C++ programming.

But things went sour:

The first year and the second year were completely different. The first year, I was in a class with tons of people, because it was a requirement. The second year, I was the only girl in a group of boys and they could not stop making fun of me. I could have handled it, I think, but my teacher was so unsupportive. It was a male teacher; he was like, "I don't know why you're in this class. You can't do the problems. You don't have the mind for this." Then I stopped. I didn't take the final year.

Later, there was a silver lining:

When I interviewed at MongoDB in 2011, I knew what C++ was, so my interview process was a little easier.

But contemplating the effect on girls is discouraging. Krihely:

Everything you learn ends up coming back to you. I still feel really strongly that those interactions strongly dissuade people from doing things they are told they can't do.

The wrap - progress but no time for complacency

We wrapped our chat with a sense that progress has been made, but hardly enough to justify complacency. I brought up a recent "booth babes" incident, recalling how in decades past booth babes were everywhere at tech shows. Now it's a topic that becomes a social media lightning rod.

I don't believe social media shaming is equivalent to genuine change, but it's an indicator of a time where assumptions about the roles of women in tech are debated, and questionable practices challenged. I've been on the receiving end of that more than once, appearing on all-male panels to the derision of some on social media. I don't mind the critique; event organizers should expect that kind of heat when their panel makeup is homogeneous. I plan to make a few changes to my criteria for panel acceptance as a result.

For MongoDB, it's neat to see how their internal commitment to women and trans coders ties into their Girls Who Code partnership. I'm hoping to see them raise that participation bar even higher; in particular leaders such as Krihely and Eisenberg can have a powerful impact in front of younger audiences. I look forward to seeing where that collaboration goes next.

End note: I also had an excellent chat with Eisenberg and Krihely about MongoDB's use of (customer) advocate marketing - that will be the subject of a subsequent feature.


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