Why I volunteer with App Camp for Girls

Why I volunteer with App Camp for Girls

You’ve probably heard of App Camp for Girls by now, right? It’s a fantastic organization founded by Jean MacDonald, who is a friend of mine as well as a an amazing, smart, experienced, well-connected, fun, patient, and tireless advocate for women in tech. The camp helps middle school age girls learn about mobile app development, from ideas to coding to pitching investors. I was the MC for Seattle’s camp last year, and will be again this year. I also help organize and recruit as much as I can.

I wanted to take a minute to write about why I’m so passionate about App Camp for Girls and women in tech in general. I think a lot of people (particularly men) I’ve worked with over the years assume that things are pretty darn OK for women in tech. Well, guess what—they’re not! :( They weren’t when we worked together in a tech job back in 2007, and they aren’t now. Things have actually been pretty terrible for women in tech, myself included, and in some ways are only getting worse. That’s why App Camp for Girls is so important to me, and why I think it should be important for you, too.

I’ve been sexually harassed, passed up for countless advancement opportunities, and generally regarded as less than my male counterparts in every tech role I’ve held. I’ve also bought into this myself, assuming I was less capable or knowledgeable even when I was confronted with evidence to the contrary. Even when I had capable, technical female managers as role models. This stuff runs VERY deep. But I think if I’d encountered more targeted support such as App Camp for Girls at a younger age, it would have had an impact in my overall career trajectory as well as my confidence in my own potential.

AC4G
Here’s me, frizzy and exhausted, as I prepare to record a podcast from the App Camp for Girls HQ.

Let me tell you a story from my own adolescence. When I was a junior in high school on Bainbridge Island (a suburb of Seattle), I took a short trip to the Bay Area to visit college campuses. A friend of the family took me under her wing, introduced me to people she knew, drove me all over the area, and generally made it exciting to look into college life. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do with myself career-wise, but it was a rad trip that left me feeling like my future was full of promise.

On the plane ride home, I ended up sitting next to a woman who worked as a developer at Microsoft. We got to chatting, and she mentioned that she could go to work in much the same attire she had on the plane—Birkenstocks with socks (hey, it was 1998), jeans, and a non-ratty sweatshirt. I was in AWE. The idea of having a proper grown-up job where you could NOT WEAR A SUIT was kind of mind-blowing to me at that age.

I remember thinking to myself, right then and there, “What a shame I’ll never get to work somewhere cool and chill like Microsoft.” You see, because I fully believed, at age sixteen, that I wasn’t capable of being technically savvy enough to work at a software company.

By the way, after I graduated high school, I ended up attending an all-female college with a strong STEM program. But the damage had already been done by then—I didn’t think I could possibly survive as a CS major, so I pursued another path (linguistics) despite being surrounded by incredibly capable and technical role models and classmates.

Why on earth would I think I couldn’t work in tech?

It wasn’t because of my awesome badass career-driven mom, who had been working in a complex field her entire career. It wasn’t because of my encouraging driven dad, who had been nagging me about how smart I was in math and science since birth. It wasn’t because of my innate abilities, because trust me, I’ve now worked at some tech companies and there are plenty of folks less innately tech-capable than myself. So what was it?

Society. My lame condescending boyfriend at the time. My teachers. The entire educational system. The entire culture! Books I read, movies I saw, TV I watched, games I played, men who talked over me or condescended to me, women who implicitly coached me to pursue female-friendly fields. Who the hell knows? It was EVERYTHING about our world.

If a program like App Camp for Girls had come along when I first started getting excited about computers and realistic career possibilities, I might have taken a different approach to my education and my post-college work. Heck, I remember coding games with my dad on our Commodore 64, and chatting with random people via something called Q-Link on an incredibly basic modem. There was such an exciting appeal to computers and technology and the early Internet back then—where did that excitement go? Why is it that, by the time I reached high school, I was *certain* I had no place in that world?

Sexist biases start young

Here’s another story: when I was about three, I had a book that my parents would read me about careers. In it, the doctor was a woman, and the nurse was a man. I got *so distraught* by this, and regularly engaged my parents about how they must have made a mistake in making this book (future tester in the making!), because it was so weird to me that there were ladydocs and dudenurses in this book. That wasn’t *correct*, according to my knowledge of the world.

THREE YEARS OLD. Can you think of any explanations other than ALL OF SOCIETY, even at an amazingly young age, teaching me to conform to crappy gender norms? Ugh.

This is why I volunteer. This is why I donate my time and energy and hardware and connections and expertise. This is why I uncomfortably ask for money, tap people I barely feel competent about emailling, tweet at famous folks who don’t usually give me the time of day. This is why I force the conversation towards donations, towards equality, towards feminism, towards topics that sometimes feel too frequently discussed or burdensome in some social situations. This is why I bug everyone I know on Facebook and Twitter and beyond to get involved, to donate, to like, to share, to comment. I do it so my future three-year-old daughter won’t have already made up her mind about what she can’t do for a living, because that is INSANE.

How you can help us

You don’t have to be a woman to help us. You don’t have to have a daughter. You don’t have to volunteer your time, or even donate money. You can still help a TON!

Donate what you can afford, and ask others to chip in. Corporate relationships are particularly valuable, as they can often afford to sponsor more than any given individual. All of your donation info can be found at http://appcamp4girls.com/contribute/. Make sure your employers know about us. Ask about donation matching policies. Really dig deep to see if you can increase the reach of smaller individual contributions.

Volunteer your time, sponsor a team, or connect us with people who might be good volunteers or sponsors. Volunteer info can be found at http://appcamp4girls.com/volunteer/. The most helpful thing you can do is to fill out the form on this page, so we can capture you in our system and tap you when the appropriate need arises.

Share our Indiegogo fundraising campaign with your world! Comment on the post, donate there even if you’ve already donated elsewhere. Pay attention to our milestones and stretch goals, and consider helping us get over hurdles as the campaign progresses. Info about the campaign can be found at http://igg.me/at/appcamp4girls/x/3845393.

Like us on Facebook and share our statuses, possibly with your own custom message. Tag people you think might like to be involved. Tell stories about how gender inequality has affected you or people close to you. Take a second to personalize your sharing from time to time, so that people understand and relate to the cause and feel more compelled to engage. Put up with the fact that I use words like “engage” when talking about this stuff. :)

Follow us on Twitter. All of us. Signal-boost our voices by retweeting important messages, and tagging people you think would be interested in volunteering, donating, or otherwise furthering our cause. Consider keeping us un-muted even when we might be noisier than your typical following habits permit—recognize that hearing our voices at full volume is a small part of effecting change. It helps you and everyone you follow understand the very real struggles that women in tech face even in 2015, and it helps normalize a more balanced and diverse gender breakdown in tech and in general. Twitter lists of all App Camp for Girls volunteers can be found at https://twitter.com/superpuppy/lists/app-camp-for-girls/members and https://twitter.com/macgenie/lists/ac4g. We’ll consolidate at some point. For now, just click twice; you can handle it. :P

Follow us on Instagram. C’mon, that stuff’s just fun! ;)

-Remember that no matter how great an ally you are, you (and I and all of us) still have room to learn and grow. We probably harbor implicit biases and internalized sexism that takes FOREVER to dismantle. We’ve probably been accidentally sexist or judgmental in a way that harms our own cause at some point. We have to aim to do better moving forward, but we can’t let every misstep hold us back. Be gentle with yourself, be gentle with us, and be gentle with everyone you encounter as you try to help us all bridge the significant gender gap in STEM fields. This is a moving, shifting, learning process for all of us. It’s hard work, and it sometimes puts us all in an uncomfortable position, but the end goal is so totally worth it.

Thanks for reading and for your support—see you around WWDC next week!