Women in Tech

Deepening Social Bonds Through Gaming: Kaho Abe’s Journey from Designing Fashionable Tech to Innovative Games

Kaho Abe ● Game Designer ● NYU Game Innovation Lab

Kaho Abe ● Game Designer ● NYU Game Innovation Lab

When you picture a gamer, you’d be forgiven for imagining some of the least flattering stereotypes that abound in pop culture, like the basement-dwelling troll screaming obscenities into a headset. But that’s not the audience Kaho Abe thinks of.

“The whole ‘boys play video games’ stereotype is so weird to me. A lot of women I know, including women who are older than me, play games — my grandmother played games with each child and grandchild in the family, and I used to play video games all night with some of my aunts.”

For Kaho, playing games ran in the family.

“Growing up, my parents were really into playing games; they were so enthusiastic about taking us to arcades or pachinko parlors. As foreigners (from Japan), they didn’t have a big community in the US, so for our family games were an important outlet for leisure time. And that social aspect of games is super important to me.”

As a child, Kaho was also interested in technology, modifying electronics and learning how to code in elementary school with the educational programming language, Logo. Later, she studied fashion design in college, and continued to take programming classes. In graduate school, she pursued an MFA in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design. There, she focused on user-centered design and interaction design, learning about circuits and how to build interfaces and utilize sensors. At one point, she took a game design class.

“That was the most amazing experience of my two years there. Game design satisfies my brain in so many ways.”

She saw parallels between what had drawn her to fashion design and what was increasingly attracting her to game design.

“Fashion design is creative, about understanding proportions and colors but also about observing people: what are they excited about? How do they dress? People use fashion to communicate with each other. There’s that social aspect of fashion. I saw parallels between that and the different identities people get when they play games: like [in the context of a game] suddenly the person who you think is shy and reserved is so aggressive. It was this thing that was creative, intuitive, but also logical and structured. I loved that combination.”

In 2005, Kaho finished her degree program, focusing on wearable technology. But ultimately, she knew that she wanted to move away from fashion and towards game design. The expertise in wearable technology that she had developed to apply to fashion design became useful as she explored designing custom controllers for games. Although many people are used to playing games with a mouse, gamepad, or maybe a joystick, game controllers can run the gamut from steering wheels to guitars. Kaho started designing wearable controllers.

“Custom controllers lead to novel experiences. Wearable stuff is interesting because it allows you to play the game through the body. You become the character, your movements move the avatar, and you can feel a more immediate connection.”

In her 2016 game, Hotaru, cooperating players wearing a gauntlet use gestures to accumulate lightning to fight an invisible enemy. Her 2011 game, “Hit Me!” invites two hard hat-wearing players to bop buttons on the top of the other player’s head. When you successfully hit the button, a photograph is taken on the wireless camera perched on each hat. Then, the photographs are evaluated by judges and extra points are assigned for photo quality. The game’s overview video shows people playing the game, all flailing arms and million-watt smiles. That joy and social connection is what Kaho looks for in gameplay.

“I usually show my games at public events; people know they’re going to be playing with other people. I make so many multiplayer games because it’s the relationship between the players that I think is most fun. A lot of times the people who play already know each other, and a shift in their relationship comes out when they play a game together, in how they feel about each other. The game lets their relationship exist in a different space. That’s what is so beautiful about games: they create that opportunity for people to bond with each other in different ways.”

She points to Katherine Isbister’s work on the emotional side of human-computer interaction (HCI). Isbister took photos before and after people played a cooperative game involving hand-holding. In the after photos, you see people’s arms around each other.

Warm and fuzzy feelings and deepened social bonds are optimal outcomes, but they’re not the only ones possible. Kaho is interested in the behavior she can’t always predict or design. Game designers use the term “emergent behavior” to describe all the behaviors — from harmless side conversations to toxic trash talking — that exist on top of the game, behaviors that designers maybe don’t intend. Thinking deeply about emergent behavior makes Kaho realistic about the limits of what can be planned through technology, and what requires other forms of intervention.

“Technology is not the only way I design gameplay. There’s also when I say something like ‘you can’t hurt each other’ before people start playing. That’s not something that’s embedded programmatically, but that link between analog and digital elements is key.”

It makes sense that someone who started her career designing physical objects for the real world in the fashion industry would pay careful attention to analog elements. Indeed, Kaho credits her unusual path to game design with many of the ideas she’s been able to make use of today.

“A lot of people follow the beaten path. It’s important find a stable career of course, but I always think that if people looked at what I studied it would look as though I dabbled, when in reality it makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. I’ve used everything I’ve studied.”

Kaho’s advice to anyone thinking about what they want to do is to do some introspection on what projects and industries light your creative and intellectual spark.

“The state of your brain, the happiness of your brain, is super important. Games stimulated all the sides of my brain. Find the path that stimulates your brain the most. Whatever that means: trying things out, challenging yourself in ways you wouldn’t have in the past — deliberately seek that out.”

Building Technology for Impact: How Kishau Rogers’ Passion for Technology Starts with Problem-Solving

Kishau Rogers ● Founder ● Time Study

Kishau Rogers ● Founder ● Time Study

For Kishau Rogers, a love of technology starts with understanding the problems it can enable her to solve.

“I like the impact. I need technology to have some meaning behind the use.”

Drawn to the field of computer science while a college student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Kishau took her first job as a programmer when she was a junior in college and has been building software ever since.

“I worked primarily in the research, health, and social service space, using tech to create solutions to real-world problems. Being in that field allowed me to see the impact of the technology.”

She started her first company in the early 2000s, Websmith, to build custom software for other companies. Kishau ran Websmith for almost 15 years, designing software for numerous Fortune 500 companies. Her newest venture is a company called Time Study, a startup she founded in 2017 that uses machine learning and mobile technologies to help hospitals understand how employees spend their time at work.

“Our mission is to eliminate timesheets. There’s complexity in the healthcare space around how they collect data; it’s different from standard timesheets, because there’s different levels of stakeholders that want to know different things. Our thesis is that there’s enough data to automatically tell a story of how people are spending their time, using mobile technologies, machine learning, and data science, and categorize unstructured data in a language stakeholders can understand.”

She says that the same interest in problem-solving and impact that she found in computer science is what draws her to entrepreneurship.

“I like the idea of understanding a problem and its lifecycle completely. Studying CS, thinking about structuring solutions to problems really appealed to me, more than just hacking away at the code and creating things for the sake of it; ‘Hello world’ doesn’t do anything. Health and social services make it clear why the tech is needed, and it’s also very outcomes-driven, meaning that the conversations usually start with a vision and what impact do we want to see, and then you sort of reverse engineer it and determine whether tech can have a role in that.

Her guidance to others thinking of entering STEM fields is to identify problems they want to solve and then learn new skills with solutions to that problem in mind.

“I mentor a lot of people and I tell them to think more about the outcomes of what you’re doing, and less about the process. Sometimes we dive in with a vague concept of ‘learning to code.’ Figure out your reason for it. Think of a problem you’re interested in solving, then learn for the purpose of using the tool so that you can create a solution that you’re going to actually use. I find that a lot of people learn better when they understand why they need to know, when they feel they need to know it in order to solve the problem. Sometimes you want to learn a thing and your reason may not be the same as the person next to you. Someone may want to learn to code because it’s fascinating for them to see the function and framework. Someone else may want to learn to code for economic empowerment, so they can earn more money in their career and have more promotion opportunities. All these reasons are great reasons.”

Her desire to solve problems in healthcare and social services also led her to join the board of a technology nonprofit called Think of Us, a nonprofit building tech tools to help youth transitioning out of foster care.

Kishau’s guidance to young people considering computer science should be encouraging to anyone who wonders if they have enough experience, resources, or interest in coding for coding’s sake.

“I didn’t actually own a computer when I picked CS as my major. Computers were really expensive back then. My parents couldn’t afford to get me a computer in my dorm room. I would suggest surveying your resources: what are the environments that you can learn best in? A home office, a library, a coworking space, or a computer lab in your school.”

She is deeply passionate about mentorship, pointing out that we need to adopt a more expansive view of what it means.

“Mentorship for me is a two-way relationship. We use the term ‘mentor’ and ‘mentee’ and that implies the mentor can’t learn something from the mentee. You get mentorship where you find it, so if you ask someone for coffee, and you want to speak to them about your career, start by asking for feedback, keep in contact with the people you reach out to, and over time you build a relationship that becomes a mentor/mentee relationship. Start small and keep in contact with the people you consider mentors so that you can know about opportunities in the field, because that’s really where most of the magic happens, is through relationships.”

For Kishau, the combination of seeking and providing mentorship, identifying available resources, and learning through problem-solving have been recipes for fulfillment and creativity in computer science.

From Microscale to the Sky: How Dr. Denise Wong’s Robots are Changing our Workforce

Dr. Denise Wong ● Robotics Engineer ● Exyn Technologies, Inc.

Dr. Denise Wong ● Robotics Engineer ● Exyn Technologies, Inc.

“As a kid, I always imagined myself being an engineer, it was just a matter of what kind of engineer I would choose to be!”

As a robotics engineer for Exyn Technologies, Inc., Dr. Denise Wong spends most days at work analyzing flight data from autonomous aerial robots. Exyn is utilizing robotics research to develop autonomous aerial robots for commercial applications. The robot that Dr. Wong works on at Exyn “is a quadrotor aerial robot equipped with a wide variety of sensors and a computer that allows the robot to fly autonomously, without a pilot, and maps new environments it has never flown in before.” The goal is to create a tool that can do tasks that are dangerous or impossible for humans, as well as unpleasant and monotonous tasks that humans would rather not do. For example, an autonomous aerial robot could explore areas of a mine that are inaccessible or unstable for people, perform inventory management in large warehouses, or monitor progress on large construction sites.

Inspired by her mother, a chemical engineer, Dr. Wong started her career in robotics on bit of a smaller scale, working with micro robots. She came to the U.S. from Hong Kong for college and first started studying robots as an undergraduate at Cornell University. She responded to an engineering email her sister forwarded looking for students to work on vibrating particle robots. She was encouraged to apply by the wording of the ad, targeting underrepresented students and students with no background in robotics. From this experience she learned how to design a robotic system as well as design and run experiments. This piqued her interest in research and robotics and she went on to receive graduate degrees in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in the robotics laboratory of Dr. Vijay Kumar. She entitled her thesis: Actuation, Sensing and Control for Micro Bio Robots. She notes that “biology is the best model for finding super small organisms that are well designed for things we’d like robots to do.” Dr. Wong says that working with genetically engineered bacteria that respond to sensor input, such as light, felt like being inside a “science fiction story.”

Dr. Wong initially found it a challenge going from researching microscale robotics to developing aerial robotics, since microscale robots involve different physics than aerial robots. The coding done in research is different than writing commercial code that needs to be more stable and interact with code written by others. In addition, research is a more solitary endeavor and Dr. Wong is now enjoying being on a team at Exyn and having a support network of people all working toward the same goal. She has learned a lot from this experience including how willing colleagues are to help if you ask. She advises anyone thinking of changing careers — 

 “don’t overthink it! It’s never too late to try something new!”

There is so much about digital technology that Dr. Wong enjoys, such as being able to solve problems that couldn’t be solved before and discovering new information from the large quantities of data that digital technology enables us to collect and analyze. New types of sensors allow humans to “see” things impossible for humans alone. For anyone interested in robotics, she advises students to look to the Internet.

 “There’s a lot of open source hardware and software, such as Arduino, that you can get experience and try out in a low risk way some of the common tools in the industry. Get experience with tinkering.” 

Dr. Wong also notes that it is equally important to understand the human-user interface, i.e. “how will a non-technical human interact with the robot?”, as well as other computing topics such as networking. She hopes that many people will consider robotics as a career. “Robotics is a great field with many, many opportunities!”

Mapping the Future: How Olivia Horace is Digitizing Local Communities

Olivia Horace ● GIS Technician ● City of Columbus, GA

Olivia Horace ● GIS Technician ● City of Columbus, GA

When Olivia Horace started high school, she intended on becoming an explosives technician. While it’s hard to beat the appeal of blowing stuff up, an inspirational high school teacher helped her discover she had a talent for computer programming and she turned her interests to software engineering. She found the world of programming purely by chance. Oliva was supposed to be in a wood working class, but was placed into a computer science class instead. At first she hated it, but once she realized they weren’t going to let her out of the class, she started paying more attention and found that she really enjoyed the challenge. The teacher encouraged students to solve problems on their own and Olivia quickly built the skills that allowed her to skip the first required programming class when she enrolled at Columbus State University.

Olivia’s most memorable project in college was a game she created for her object-oriented design class. It was the first time she really struggled with a project and couldn’t immediately figure out a solution on her own. After visiting the instructor, she was frustrated to realize that she needed to redo most of her work. However, she persisted, recreated the project, and did well on her final presentation. The accomplishment of running into concepts she couldn’t grasp, getting help with understanding, and then being able to successfully implement a solution in a short period of time gave her the confidence to face future challenges. It’s also a great example of the importance of failure and persistence in the learning process.

After graduation, Olivia took a job with the city of Columbus, Georgia’s Consolidated Government as a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technician where she maintains and fixes existing systems. She works on digitizing unnamed streets such as parking lots and driveways as well as cemeteries. These are important because emergency responders, such as police, firefighters, and ambulance drivers, rely on these maps being as accurate as possible to provide services to the community. Future projects include digitizing maps from the 1960’s into the system and matching them with local geography.

While Olivia didn’t intend to pursue GIS, she is learning a ton and is proud of the work she’s doing. It’s not everywhere you get the opportunity to learn how to map the world. And that’s her biggest piece of advice for future engineers:

“Don’t be afraid try new things even if they don’t initially sound interesting. You might be surprised!”

For women going into technology she recommends,

“not to be intimidated and don’t let others run you over! Share your ideas. Even if one person ignores you, it doesn’t mean others will. And network, network, network. The more people you meet, the more opportunities you will have for new possibilities.”

Olivia’s next stop is as a software engineer for company in Atlanta. Who knows where life will take her after that?

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators

Ruthe Farmer is Chief Evangelist at CSforALL

Ruthe Farmer is Chief Evangelist at CSforALL

“This girl gang of tech women will revolutionize the tech industry from the inside out.”

Ruther Farmer’s proudest accomplishment is launching Aspirations in Computing, a talent development program for young women that identifies participants in high school and then supports them through college graduation.

“That community now numbers more than 12,000 girls, and I continue to have a relationship with them. And now I’m in a position where not only am I helping to shine a light on them and put them in front of people and opportunities, but they are doing that for each other.”

She looks forward to the day when truly diverse teams build technology, because “we’re going to solve a much broader set of problems.”

“People tend to address things that are relevant to them; you’re going to innovate to solve problems that others like you are having, and dismiss other things as ‘less relevant.’ That’s why we haven’t seen as much innovation in women’s health, things like bras and breast pumps and menstruation tools.”

She is also optimistic about the ways increased female participation in STEM fields will impact organizational cultures.

“Having watched now 12,000 girls progress through high school and college and into the workforce, the way that they interact with each other is really inspiring. I’ve seen young women help each other on applications for a scholarship they’re all competing for. It’s ‘coopetition’ — cooperation and competition.”

Ruthe advises young women that not every decision is make-or-break: “I see young women getting really caught up in ‘oh, I have to get the right internship’ or ‘the right college,’ but you’re going to have many opportunities to make choices that will have an impact on your life. Take it in stride and keep moving.” She also cautions against comparing yourself to wunderkinds:

“In our society there can be this obsession with exceptionalism, and it sets people up to feel like they’re failing when they’re actually doing really well. You don’t have to be better than everyone else to be OK.”


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Written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. These stories are proudly told in partnership with AnitaB.org in a joint effort to showcase inspiring and diverse women in STEM at the 2019 ASU/GSV Summit.

Creating Diverse Pathways into Tech

Brenda Wilkerson is the President and CEO of AnitaB.org

Brenda Wilkerson is the President and CEO of AnitaB.org

“I had no exposure to CS in high school and was a pre-med major in college.”

Brenda’s CS journey began by accident. But two programming classes sent her down a different path, and she entered the corporate world as a programmer at Sears. She later became an adjunct professor, teaching continuing education classes to students in a Chicago community college.

“In continuing education, you find the whole gamut of people — from people who have BAs and MAs and are coming back, people 18 to 80 years old exploring tech for the first time. I wanted to become a bridge for those people who wanted to learn tech skills to change their lives.”

After running the division for a decade, she started creating apps for small businesses, and then pioneered CS education classes in Chicago public schools at a time when CS was in only 10 out of 200 high schools. An important part of her work was advocating for CS to be accessible to students outside of the region’s most affluent schools.

“I’m excited about the impact that we can have on an industry that impacts everything in our lives,” she said. She’s passionate about welcoming people from all backgrounds to technology.

“It’s not just for all of us who have gone through the traditional pathways, but those of us who get in through all pathways. Whether you are a student considering it, or whether it is your 4th or 5th career. I’m excited to change the dynamic of who gets to address problems. We have the opportunity to change the story for global problems — from domestic violence to clean water access.”

We can only innovate as far as we push ourselves out of traditional, narrowly defined sites of prestige, though; as she says, “let’s stop hanging out in the same 8 universities.”


Written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. These stories are proudly told in partnership with AnitaB.org in a joint effort to showcase the inspiring women in STEM at the 2019 ASU/GSV Summit.

Dr. Aygul Zagidullina’s Hope for the Future

Dr. Aygul Zagidullina ● Google Developer Expert for Google Assistant, Technology Speaker and Women in Technology Advocate

Dr. Aygul Zagidullina ● Google Developer Expert for Google Assistant, Technology Speaker and Women in Technology Advocate

“Technology is so powerful, that we can use it to make the world a much better place.”

For Dr. Aygul Zagidullina, technology has always been a part of her life. Her first major coding project was the official website for her high school. From there she and her classmates won a citywide competition which inspired her to keep learning more about coding. She studied quantum computing in university, using computer programming to model chemical reactions and earn her PhD.

After her scientific research at the University of Stuttgart, Dr. Zagidullina found herself on a new path working in marketing for Google in Germany where she had a chance to work with some truly top-notch people and brands like Eurovision Song Contest, Fools Garden and many others. She currently is based in London and develops apps for the Google Assistant, Dr. Zagidullina was recently recognized by Google as a Google Developer Expert (GDE) for her contribution to the global developer community. 

She is most proud of the Sunscreen Check app she wrote. Getting ready to deliver a conference keynote on a hot day in Dubai, she asked Google Assistant for the UV index and sun protection recommendations. When Google Assistant had nothing to offer, she did what engineers do when they find something missing, she built it! Sunscreen Check helps users “stay safe under the sun, avoid sunburn, and reduce the risk of cancer by choosing the right sun protection for your current location.” Sunscreen Check is used by thousands around the world and was officially recognized by Google with a “Keeping Users Engaged” milestone pin. This app is a meaningful example of how technology can be used to improve people’s lives.

In addition to creating new apps, Dr. Zagidullina blogs, organizes technology events, and speaks at conferences all over the world (18 countries and counting). She believes nothing is more valuable than human connection. She wants to break the stereotypes people have about “tech people” and increase accessibility and participation in using technology to solve problems. 

Dr. Zagidullina was named as one of the NEXT 100 Top Influencers of the European Digital Industry in 2013. One of her upcoming projects is running a free five-day workshop on programming for the Google Assistant in London as part of her Google Developer Group efforts.

In the future, Dr. Zagidullina sees great things for the tech industry and hopes that more people are drawn to it for passion rather than monetary gain. There is such potential in developing innovative technologies, such as sensor networks and AI, to make life improvements, especially in health and education.

To overcome challenges, Dr. Zagidullina recommends surrounding yourself with positive people, remembering why you started, and being persistent. 

She advises women not to be discouraged by the low numbers of women in tech; “be excited to be a groundbreaker. Be a part of positive change and make it your mission to help break stereotypes.”

She's Got Game(s): How Asema Hassan channeled her passion for art into creating video games that fight dementia

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan is addicted to developing video games. She has channeled an early interest in art into a career creating and programming video games. Asema has a particular passion for games that can change the world for the better; games that can be used to improve education, promote personal growth, and build communities. Asema had her first full time job as a software engineer at a game studio while completing a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at COMSATS Islamabad. She developed over 35 educational games before moving to Germany to complete another Master’s in Digital Engineering at Otto von Guericke University, specializing in Artificial Intelligence. She now works as a Virtual Reality, VR, programmer for DZNE, the German Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, developing simulations and games to fight Alzheimer and dementia. Asema is especially excited about how advances in VR can increase the power and influence of games.

Asema doesn’t just create games, she is also an advocate in the game development community. She volunteers at gaming conferences and co-founded the International Game Developers’ Association (IGDA) Pakistan in 2018 to help build a community network for game developers in Pakistan. Asema is currently an Advisor and International Representative of IGDA Pakistan and actively mentors game developers in the community to create a viable career path in games and to help improve the quality of game production. She is also working with Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) to establish a PWiC Europe — Berlin Chapter.

Asema started her education in a school founded by her parents to educate the children in their village in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. They had lost their jobs in Kuwait after the first Gulf-War (1990–1991) and had returned home. Asema’s experience in the Jhelum Valley Public School watching first hand her parent’s passion for education, has been a constant motivation to always strive to learn and accomplish more. When she finishes one project, she is ready to move on to another. The Jhelum Valley public school has now been operating for more than 20 years and currently serves more than 350 students ages 5–16. Although the students are in a rural area where electricity and Internet access is scarce, Asema dreams someday of bringing gamification to the school to help improve student outcomes.

Asema has faced her share of challenges, but always looks to the positive. She encourages others to try to do the same.

“Never give up, no matter how hard the situation gets, keep moving forward. Enjoy every step of your journey towards a goal. But remember once, you have reached a goal you will look for another one. It’s a natural human tendency to evolve and grow with time and circumstances.”

Asema is optimistic that more women in tech will help improve the culture in ways that improve circumstances for everyone. Such as opportunities for part time work, remote/flexible work schedules, and the recognition that working too much is counterproductive. “Crunch time can be avoided by planning ahead!”

For women interested in getting into games, Asema advises not to be afraid. There are lots of opportunities and women already in the gaming industry. Look for a mentor.

“It is tough for women, but you have to stay focused on what you want. Keep learning and keep improving yourself. Find someone to support and push you.”

Finding Superwomen: How supportive mentors and a love for art jumpstarted Becca Refford’s career

Becca Refford ● Web Developer ● Women in Tech Summit, TechGirlz

Becca Refford ● Web Developer ● Women in Tech Summit, TechGirlz

“I have this old busted-up computer. You want to take it apart and get to the guts?”

When Becca Refford heard those words from her aunt, Steph Alarcon, she had no idea that her childhood love of making would later help other young women launch their own STEM journeys. Becca’s aunt introduced her to an organization called TechGirlz, which provides free, hands-on workshops for middle school girls to help them “get their hands dirty” with all kinds of technology.

“We offer a little bit of everything. We offer plenty of programming workshops, but we also offer workshops in graphic design, virtual reality, security, robotics, smart textiles, the list goes on! The more that I started learning about TechGirlz, the more I started thinking, ‘wow I wish there was something like this for me when I was growing up.’ ”

As a student at a competitive high school, Becca encountered negative attitudes toward careers in creative fields, often being asked “what are you going to do with an art degree?” so she looked for alternative ways to do what she loved.

“The minute I found out that there was a path to creative pursuits using technology, I was sold. There’s no dichotomy between being creative and being in tech. If you’re into art or design, consider UI and UX, how people interact with technology or graphic design. In this day and age technology touches absolutely everything. I want to break down that misconception of ‘you need to have a math brain to do tech.’ ”

Becca knows this firsthand, because it was her work in marketing that initially led her to web design. After producing numerous graphics for TechGirlz, she decided that she could scrape together enough knowledge of the scripting language PHP to completely overhaul the website in 2016.

“TechGirlz was the first website that I ever launched by myself and took from start to finish. That got me really excited about web design, thinking ‘I could do this as a career.’ ”

Becca went on to design the website for the Women in Tech Summit. Her belief in her abilities to design websites from scratch took off because of support from other women.

“The TechGirlz founder, Tracey — she’s my Superwoman. She exemplifies what a super savvy business woman looks like: knowing your strengths, but also knowing exactly where to find a solid group of people to fill in those blanks for you. I watched her do that with hiring Karen [long-time Program Director, now Advisory Board member at TechGirlz], another one of my Superwomen. Karen is detail-oriented, she’s got spreadsheets for everything. She is more on top of it than I could ever hope to be in my entire life.”

The mentorship Becca received from women like Tracey and Karen proved pivotal in her professional journey, and she encourages other young women to find mentors early in their lives as well.

“Finding a mentor — not just anybody, but somebody who you look up to personally and whose values you respect — is huge. Get your hands dirty. Say yes. Find a little bit of time to volunteer, join a group, or offer your skills or talents to an organization that you can really get behind. That opens doors to meet women who can speak to the specific challenges you face. Ladies gotta stick together!”

The value of mentorship goes both ways, with mentors often learning a great deal from their mentees. Becca mentioned that she learned from the girls she taught in TechGirlz camps.

“They knew what they wanted. All we had to do was put the tools in their hands and they would fly. When we were packaging our workshops, TechShopz in a Box, so that people anywhere could teach girls, we faced doubt from parents and organizations who thought the curriculum would be too hard for twelve-year-old girls. They could not be more wrong. These girls were capable of grasping big concepts: minimum viable product, prototyping, user flows. Don’t undersell these girls for a second, because they are whip smart.”

Ultimately, the value of mentorship is far deeper than career advancement and networking connections. In December 2017, Becca was biking in Philadelphia when a delivery truck struck her and ran over the bottom half of her body. She spent a year re-learning how to walk.

“The women who I had surrounded myself with for the first couple years of my career — Tracey and Karen, these superheroes — were the first ones to scoop me up in such a scary and awful time. Coming out to my parents’ house way outside of the city just to spend time with me. Helping me transition back to working again. To have emotional bonds with these women was just absolutely breathtaking. That’s the power of community.”

Just as Becca seeks to do away with the notion that technology and creative pursuits are diametrically opposed, her personal story evokes the idealism and values of the early internet — the idea that technology, at the end of the day, is about bringing people together.

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This story was written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on Twitter.

WITS has several summits happening around the country. Learn more and check out their event schedule at https://womenintechsummit.net/.

Breaking Down Walls with Open Source Technology: Srishti Sethi’s developer advocacy at the Wikimedia Foundation

Srishti Sethi ● Developer Advocate ● Wikimedia Foundation

Srishti Sethi ● Developer Advocate ● Wikimedia Foundation

Going to school in India, Srishti Sethi found little inspiration in the unyielding rigidity of her curriculum and teachers who prized rote memorization more than creativity from their students.

“Back then I was in a space where I had no guidance from my lecturers or professors. I was interested in what I saw happening outside of the curriculum — places where I could learn and grow.”

It was friends and classmates, not professors, who first taught her about open source software — software that anyone, not just the creator, can freely use and adapt. The concept of open source was a revelation.

“For me, the appeal of open source was freedom, collaboration, peer learning, and transparency.”

Srishti’s interest in open source led her to new communities. She writes on her blog about borrowing her mother’s laptop in 2009, her third year of college, to attend the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) conference in Bangalore. She continued to attend that conference and numerous others, and in 2011, participated in Google’s Summer of Code (GSOC).

“As part of GSOC, I helped develop educational software, which introduced me to this exciting intersection of technology and education. After working for a couple of startups back in India, I found myself wanting to enter a research program that would allow me to keep contributing to education technology.”

A friend told her about Mitchel Resnick’s storied research group, Lifelong Kindergarten, at the MIT Media Lab. That’s the group behind Scratch, the block-based programming language known for its child-friendly design. Reading about Lifelong Kindergarten online, Srishti immediately felt drawn to their work.

“But I was like ‘they’re not going to accept me, who am I?’ I applied to seven grad schools, including MIT, but I thought I probably wouldn’t get in.”

Despite that self-doubt she did get in, and completed a Master’s degree in Media Arts and Sciences. Srishti’s research focused on the intersection of education and technology, including designing online learning platforms to engage people in peer learning.

“When I was done, I asked ‘Where next?’ At that point I was adamant about going to an organization that was interested in free knowledge and shared my values.”

The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs Wikipedia, was a natural choice. In her role as a Developer Advocate, Srishti supports new developers in the massive volunteer community that upholds Wikipedia.

“We run mentoring programs to draw in new contributors to Wikimedia projects. I help coordinate the Wikimedia Foundation’s participation in the Google Summer of Code and Outreachy. Those two programs help us bring in folks who are underrepresented in tech.”*

Srishti says it’s deeply fulfilling to see the GSOC and Outreachy mentees’ personal and professional growth, from the projects they complete at the end of their internships to their progress through jobs and grad school applications. She can relate to their journeys: her own experience of stumbling into the world of open source technology ultimately gave her a concept — and a community — that acted as guiding lights throughout her career.

Indeed, when Srishti reflects on her current role and the volunteers, collaborators, and interns she’s been able to work with, she reflects on her own past.

“Through my work, I see so many people like me, who may be in academic settings with very little exposure to opportunities or guidance, just like I was, craving opportunities and a sense of direction. These projects and open source programs that bring in new contributors make a difference in their lives.”

Srishti advises others thinking of careers in STEM fields to keep experimenting and learning in order to find their direction.

“Finding your passion doesn’t just come automatically, it comes with a lot of experiments. For me, the beginning was a bit challenging. I kept asking ‘what next, what next?’ Even now, I’m still thinking critically and asking how I can tie what I’m doing to the bigger picture of impact.”

*Google Summer of Code, which is open to university students, is accepting applications between March 25th to April 9th.

*Outreachy is accepting applications between February 18 to March 26. A few projects have extended deadlines until April 2. They recommend that applicants start on their applications a couple weeks in advance of the deadline.

The Hidden Value of Detours: How a serendipitous stumble into a cyber-cafe catalyzed Gladys Maina’s IT career

Gladys Maina ● Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Professional and Mentor in Kenya

Gladys Maina ● Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Professional and Mentor in Kenya

Gladys Maina wasn’t always going to be an IT professional. A dutiful daughter, she initially obeyed her parents’ directions and pursued a medical laboratory certification, following in her medic father’s footsteps.

“Then during a long holiday, a friend introduced me to a cyber-cafe. These had just started coming up in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004. They said, ‘Here, you can pay a bit of money and then you can access the internet.’ I came from Nyahururu, a village, so I was very impressed. I remembered thinking, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Gladys describes the halcyon days of the early internet with fondness, reminiscing on MSN and chatting with people around the world. The feelings of liberation and connectedness that the early days of the internet provided proved to be alluring distractions from the career opportunities that awaited her in the medical field. She got her opportunity to switch sectors when a friend recommended her for a sales position at a newly opened a cyber cafe. After working in that role for three months, she became a cyber cafe attendant.

“That meant internet was free. I could research as much as I wanted, and had a computer at my disposal.”

Later, she studied information of management systems at Kenya Methodist University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Nairobi. Now, she’s optimistic that young women from similar backgrounds as her, who haven’t grown up in Kenya’s biggest cities, will have a more direct path to tech access. She points to innovations like the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) communications protocol, which enables information and money transfer over basic phones.

“For instance, you can use a standard phone to enroll in M-Shule [mobile learning management platform delivering educational content via SMS]. You don’t really need to have a smartphone for you to access technology. The government of Kenya is trying to digitize a lot of schools and services, from issuing tablets to students to establishing walk-in centers such as Huduma where you can access internet and get government services.”

Access isn’t everything, though; it’s always helpful to have somebody model what success looks like and encourage you throughout your journey. That’s why Gladys is active in mentoring young women pursuing STEM paths, working closely with African Women in Technology since 2016, and mentoring girls through the Ghana-based Nsesa Foundation. The experience of working with young women has left her with strong beliefs about the importance of lifelong learning and letting youth choose their own paths.

“Mentorship is a symbiotic journey where you are both learning. I believe you are never too old to be taught and never too young to learn. I would tell [parents and educators] to let their young ones pursue their dreams.”

She alludes to her own decision to switch fields as one of the reasons she feels strongly about giving young people the freedom to decide their vocations, and says that choices about work can cause friction in relationships between parents and children. In such situations, all is not lost.

“You can finish the degree that your parents are paying for, get a job, and then work toward what you want to do. That’s what I did. My parents finished paying for the medical laboratory school, but for my diploma, bachelors and masters, I paid using my own money.”

Her story is a testament to the value of flexibility and risk-taking, starting small and working your way up. Today, technology has advanced from the days when Gladys worked as an attendant in a cyber-cafe and chatted on MSN. So too have public perceptions of women in tech.

“Now people can celebrate women like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. Here in Kenya I look up to Dr. Chao Mbogho, who has been changing the narrative and showing that women can make it. We aren’t born with a male brain or a female brain. You can achieve what you want, you just have to put in the hours, then keep on going. Sometimes it will get tough, but you have to keep going, keep learning, and keep developing yourself.”

The Data Scientist Who Mastered Multitasking: How Sundas Khalid Became the First Female in Her Family to Pursue a Degree and Career

Sundas Khalid ● Data Scientist ● Amazon

Sundas Khalid ● Data Scientist ● Amazon

Sundas Khalid had never considered attending college, let alone a profession in engineering. As a young woman coming from a conservative family in Faisalabad, Pakistan, she says receiving an education and building a career was unheard of.

Shortly after finishing high school in Pakistan, Sundas got married and came to the United States in 2004 to live with her husband. After a six-year gap in her education, she decided to pick up where she left off and further her studies. Sundas attended a community college for two years before transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle in 2012. While earning her bachelor’s in business administration, she simultaneously raised her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

During her time at UW, Sundas interned at Amazon as a financial analyst intern and worked with databases. She won first place for her presentation among all the interns and was offered a position. At Amazon, she recognized a newfound passion for technology.

“I never considered tech as an option because no one in my family or friend circle studied tech,” she says. “And it was a bit late, as I was three months away from graduation.”

In the last three months before graduation, Sundas took a database management certification course and began interviewing for Amazon’s technical and analytical positions. In 2014, she graduated from UW as valedictorian and gave a speech to an audience of 3,000 students, parents and faculty at the Husky Stadium.

The path to success has not always been easy for Sundas, especially because she has been raising two children while building her career. In difficult times, she says she reminds herself of her husband’s support and stays inspired by those around her.

“I look at where I was and where I am. Compare yourself to yourself, not to another person,” Sundas says. “Don’t compare yourself to other people because everyone has different journeys.”

Sundas started attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2016 and has not missed a conference since. In 2017, she took part in the local Seattle chapter as a member of the speakers’ committee and was in the data science committee the following year. In 2019, she plans to be on the mentoring committee.

Through the AnitaB.org community, Sundas connected with the two co-founders of Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) in 2018 and now leads the PWiC Seattle Chapter.

“To overcome imposter syndrome, I’ve started surrounding myself with women who look like me and pursue similar career paths,” Sundas says. “[I have been] mentoring young women who are entering tech and helping them shape their future.”

Sundas currently works as a data scientist in Amazon’s A/B testing platform and Weblab, the centralized science team for testing and launching new features for the Amazon site worldwide. She has given over 20 presentations and has worked with several Amazon teams, including Alexa, Amazon Music, Search (A9), Amazon Devices, Amazon Kindle and Prime Now.

In November 2018, Sundas won two awards for exemplary work at Amazon with her non-Prime experience (NPX) team. After five years at Amazon, she says that she has taught herself data engineering, statistics, machine learning, SQL, R and Python with the help of courses and the people around her.

“If you have a dream, make sure you have the right people around you,” Sundas says. “It’s about who you involve in your life and surrounding yourself with people who believe in your dreams.”

The Art of Code and the Code in Art: How Aimee Lucido Blends Code, Music and Writing to Tell Her Story

Aimee Lucido ● Senior Android Engineer ● Uber Eats

Aimee Lucido ● Senior Android Engineer ● Uber Eats

“I love working on hard problems that actually touch people, I love working with a team, and ultimately, I love shipping a product to millions — if not billions — of people. That feeling never gets old!”

Aimee Lucido loves being a working engineer. One of her most memorable projects at Uber was the development of a robust and stable UI to allow drivers to get a bonus by recruiting riders to sign up to become drivers themselves. The project spanned four different teams, three microsystems, and involved large changes to the API. As the sole engineer on a very large full-stack project, she had to learn new languages and navigate differing team priorities.

Aimee got interested in coding in middle school through games and continued her interest in high school. She went on to receive degrees in computer science and literary arts from Brown University, and a fine arts master’s degree from Hamline University in creative writing for children and young adults.

Her advice to anyone who thinks they might be interested in coding: Just give it a try! See how it might be related to other interests you already have. Learning anything new can be a challenge. She recommends breaking challenges down into steps.

“If I’m feeling overwhelmed by something (or, more often, too many somethings) it helps me to make a list. Checking things off that list gives me a feeling of completion, and also it ensures that I don’t forget anything. And so often a really hard challenge feels hard only because there are so many tasks to accomplish, but no one item on the todo list is particularly strenuous. So if I remember that a big task is made up of lots of little tasks, it instantly becomes more manageable.”

In an effort to inspire more girls to share her love for engineering, Aimee authored a new children’s book, Emmy in the Key of Code, that will be published in September 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify.

“It’s about a twelve-year-old ex-musician named Emmy who accidentally ends up in a computer science class, and finds herself connecting with code the way she always wanted to connect with music. It’s told in a hybrid of verse and Java code, and my hope is that kids will read it for the story, not realizing that they’re secretly also learning computer science.”

Adding to her passion for engineering and writing, Aimee is a lot of other things: A marathon runner, a musician, a crossword puzzle creator. And that’s the message that Aimee Lucido embodies: Computer science can be the main focus of your life or it can be just one of the many things you do. And you can use code itself to do the other things. Aimee sees math, music, art, poetry, and code as, essentially, the same thing: A way of communicating; a recipe to convey something to the world.

“Once you know code, it bleeds into everything you do.” Besides her first novel being about the connection between music and code, Aimee uses coding to help her make crossword puzzles she has published in The New York Times, Crosswords With Friends, and smaller indie publications.

Aimee is a vocal advocate for diversity in computing. While she knows that underrepresented groups, including women, still face challenges in the field, she appreciates the opportunity to be involved in the charge for change. Part of her work at Uber is to help increase diversity through leading by example and sharing her own experiences.

Her advice for anyone struggling to find a place for themselves in the tech industry is to “keep yourself loosely defined” and “say yes to everything” to maximize opportunities and possibilities you can’t yet imagine.

“Change your definition of yourself often; it keeps things interesting. But make sure to say no to things that don’t move you towards your goals.”

Empowering Women in STEM Around the World

Nehal Profile Pic.png

Wogrammer is excited to introduce you to our newest board member, Nehal Mehta.

Nehal grew up in Mumbai, India and moved to the US for her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan. While she has built an impressive career in the tech industry she did not grow up thinking she’d become an engineer.

“I did not always want to be an engineer. I didn’t even know what engineers did. I thought that they worked on factory floors. However, I liked math and science in school.”

She was all set to go to business school, when she found herself in an accounting class truly bored and decided to look at other majors. So, with help from a college counselor, she took some new classes which steered her towards analytics and tech.

“I loved my programming and statistics classes. I embraced that area and graduated with a degree in Computer and Information Systems.”

From there Nehal embarked on a decades long career in tech, growing in leadership roles and building strong teams. She especially excelled at growing, mentoring and managing large teams across multiple countries.

Leveraging her vast technology background Nehal moved into strategic partnerships at Symantec and Veritas. More recently she joined Genesys as their Director of Global Strategic Alliances. Having lived and worked in multiple countries, Nehal is a global citizen who deeply believes in the power of bringing together diverse cultures and communities. She shares how her varied experiences allow her to, “draw parallels in the challenges that working women face across the globe and how we can positively move it forward through removing conscious and unconscious bias.”

Nehal brings years of passion and experience advocating for women and kids in STEM. She regularly speaks at conferences, highlighting the importance of networking and building a strong personal brand.

Her advice for women is to “build a personal board of directors and to actively give back to your network.” You can read more about her advice in this post, “Who’s on your Personal Board of Directors.

Join me in welcoming Nehal to our board and the Wogrammer community! You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.

Old Code, New Tricks: How Andrea Goulet is renovating code through her business Corgibytes

Andrea Goulet ● CEO ● Corgibytes

Andrea Goulet ● CEO ● Corgibytes

As the daughter of entrepreneurial parents, it was only fitting for Andrea Goulet to learn the ropes of owning her own business at an early age. By age 12, Andrea was running a business that supported her father’s clients — handling everything from logistics and orders to invoices. Her natural ability to understand business was further propelled in college as a marketing student at Virginia Commonwealth University. When an old high school friend approached her about a business proposition after reading her marketing blog, Andrea was surprised to hear what he had to say.

“He told me that the way I think about marketing is very technical. He noticed I used algorithms and patterns, and my thought process included many elements of programming. I was always interested in technology, and he believed I would be a good fit for leading his startup.”

Since 2009, Andrea has become a serial entrepreneur and the founder of several brands, including Corgibytes. What started as a simple side hustle became her ultimate niche and passion. At Corgibytes, Andrea and her team revitalize legacy code, which Andrea describes as “code without trust,” but is commonly thought of as “fixer upper” software that needs to be modernized.

“When people ask me what is the purpose of re-engineering old code, I use this analogy. If you want to remodel your kitchen, you don’t bulldoze the entire house. There is good business logic embedded in an existing system, and there is usually a way to update and modernize something by doing a little bit at a time.”

Andrea explained that for many companies, updating software instead of rewriting it is not only cheaper but more efficient, especially if the code supports many users. To reinvent old code, there are a series of processes Andrea uses. First, she starts with a report that her company calls a “Code Inspection.” Because Corgibytes operates in a digital space without a physical product to touch, this report helps business teams visualize and understand different things that make code very healthy. Her team of developers measure and report on these aspects, such as code complexity, duplication, test coverage, team communication, and more. From there, they are able to decide how fragile the code is and what needs to be repaired. Andrea’s marketing background means that these recommendations, which are usually difficult to decipher by people who don’t code all day, are in plain English. This makes it easy for executives to understand and act on. To effectively lead Corgibytes, Andrea had to first submerge herself into coding classes.

“In the beginning, learning how to code was really hard. It’s difficult to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. I watched a TED Talk by Carol Dweck about developing a growth mindset, and it helped me see that I can grow and eventually I’m going to learn it.”

The most popular programming languages that Corgibytes supports are Ruby, Python, Java, and C#. With the help of Code.org, Code Combat, freeCodeCamp, and various other learning tools, Andrea has become proficient in coding and she built a team that can help clients with a variety of programming languages.

Andrea shares her expertise through Legacy Code Rocks, a podcast she started that uncovers new tricks that programmers can use on old code. After previously having a marketing background and discovering what it is like to enter the tech industry, Andrea prides herself on being able to create a dialogue between business people and programmers.

“It has been an amazing feeling to translate business, which is my native language, to people who speak code because I understand both very well. Now I am able to help two people who normally wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively work through a problem.”

Her advice to others hoping to develop their own businesses in the technical industry is that the initial idea does not have to be perfect. She believes that anyone can create and develop a business on the side and work to watch it steadily grow over time, just as Corgibytes did. With the added help of a growth mindset, anything is possible.

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This story was told in partnership with Women in Tech Summits (WITS), which hosts events across the United States to connect, inspire and build a community of women building the future of tech. Andrea Goulet is a past speaker and serves on the WITS advisory council. Register for an event near you at https://womenintechsummit.net.

How Melika Farahani Builds Her Confidence and a Path to Success

Melika Farahani ● Software Engineer ● Cafebazaar

Melika Farahani ● Software Engineer ● Cafebazaar

As soon as she showed an interest in technology, Melika Farahani’s family encouraged her to pursue that path. Despite being a young girl, her curiosity in her father’s engineering work with computers sparked an early interest in working in the same field.

Melika first started to explore this interest at Farzanegan High School in Tehran, Iran. As a student, she chose to participate in the Iranian National Olympiad in Informatics, an optional competition in which winners often receive admission to top universities. After several rounds of exams, Melika won a bronze medal in the competition and established a great ranking in Konkour, Iran’s annual university entrance exam. Melika then received admission to the Sharif University of Technology, Iran’s most renowned technical university.

During her first semester as a computer science major, Melika searched for a part-time job that would allow her to work with professionals and improve her technical skills. She soon joined Cafebazaar, a famous software company that offers more than 170,000 downloadable Iranian and international apps to over 39 million active users.

“I learned a lot from my coworkers and became familiar with cutting-edge technologies in programming, development and software engineering,” Melika says.

Melika continues to work at Cafebazaar part-time. During her four years in this role, she says her greatest accomplishment has been the recommender system project she worked on with a team of five data scientists and engineers. The main goal of this tool was to help users find apps they are most likely to download, making recommendations based on their interests and preferences. To do so, Melika’s team built a model to process the data of users’ interactions with Cafebazaar’s platform and suggest related applications in a list format.

“A big challenge [I faced] was time management. Handling university and a job together was a difficult problem, [but] having this amount of work makes me more organized,” Melika says. “Before this project, I never directly saw my work’s effects but this project had a real result and we got lots of positive feedback from our users.”

Melika used those same time management skills to participate in other projects for both school and work. As a college student, she was a member of the first women’s team for numerous local STEM tournaments. Melika was also a technical staff member in the 2017 International Olympiad in Informatics. To hone her communication skills, she became a teaching assistant for database, data structures, advanced programming and game theory courses.

Melika says she struggled with and overcame the challenge of low self-confidence in the first few months of working. She says that over time, it was a matter of targeting her areas for improvement, such as public speaking, that helped her gain confidence.

“In Iran and even in the world, there are fewer women in tech than men. Also, all my coworkers were older than me, [so] it took some months for me to have confidence to make big decisions at work,” Melika says. “Of course my work teammates had a huge effect on this, but more importantly, I tried to change my attitude. I decided to accept roles, take risks and improve my soft skills, such as speaking.”

Melika currently supports research projects (on a voluntary basis) in machine learning and data science with university research groups in Denmark and Canada. She plans to leave Iran for three months this March to intern at the National University of Singapore’s Institute for Application of Learning Science and Technology research group. Melika aims to pursue graduate studies in other countries to further her career.

“My family’s support really helps me so much. From the beginning, they supported me during the Olympiad,” Melika says. “It’s not very common in Iran for girls to be working at the age of 18, but my family got permission for me to do it. I really appreciate their support and trust.”

Girl Scout to Galaxy Explorer: How Caeley Looney discovered her path to aerospace engineering in middle school

Caeley Looney ● Mission Analyst ● Harris

Caeley Looney ● Mission Analyst ● Harris

It’s almost as if the stars aligned to bring Caeley Looney into the world of aerospace engineering. Caeley was born to two engineers — her mother was a naval engineer and her father worked at a defense contractor. She knew it was only a matter of time before her love for STEM pulled her towards engineering, too.

“I went through elementary school wanting to be a wide variety of things, from a fashion designer to a teacher, but the thought of being an engineer never crossed my mind until I was exposed to robotics.”

When Caeley was in middle school, her parents saw an ad for the local Girl Scouts FIRST robotics program and encouraged her to join. After getting a taste of STEM on this all-girls robotics team, she quickly began exploring different fields. During her first two years at Farmingdale High School in Long Island, New York, Caeley conducted research projects for her science course. When she realized that she enjoyed researching the Mars Rover, Caeley explored her newfound interest in space-related work through similar projects. These high school projects honed Caeley’s interest in STEM to aerospace engineering.

In 2014, Caeley enrolled in an aerospace engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. During the summers before college and after her freshman year, she volunteered at We Connect The Dots, a nonprofit organization that offers STEM-related programs to underprivileged students. Then the summer before her junior year, Caeley had a computer science internship with the Institute for Defense Analyses, where she she got her first look into the defense industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. Caeley went on to complete an internship with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center during her last semester of senior year, where she had the opportunity to focus on aerospace engineering and some computer science.

Caeley is a member of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a community of more than 1,100 universities, companies, nonprofits and government organizations nationwide working to increase girls’ and women’s meaningful participation in computing. After receiving the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award in 2014, she was invited to join the NCWIT Facebook community, a support system of thousands of girls in tech.

“Any time I have an issue or concern, I just go and make a post on our Facebook page,” she says. “Within five minutes, I have ten different girls giving me advice and telling me not to give up!”

While attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2017, Caeley was interviewed and recruited as a mission analyst by Harris Corporation, a defense contractor and information technology services provider. She started working at Harris after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in May 2018.

At Harris, Caeley supports several key elements of satellite analysis. She simulates the orbital mechanics and dynamics of their small satellites system and her responsibilities include plotting different orbits, defining station keeping boundaries and optimizing spacecraft subsystems. Caeley says she is lucky to learn about a variety of systems rather than diving specifically into one topic.

“I always get to learn about different systems. I get to learn about things like balancing a power budget, sizing solar panels and developing a communications link budget. It’s great because I never get bored!”

“Any time I have run into a challenging situation, I have forced myself to step back and remember why I am in that situation: to become an aerospace engineer,” she says. “It has definitely been difficult to remember that while I’m in the midst of a tough problem but that has always been what gets me through. Well, that and ice cream!”

Caeley also battles the stigma against mental illness with the support of her service dog, Charlie. With her special furry friend by her side, Caeley says he is one of the biggest reasons she was able to make it to where she is.

“Mental illness is something that I struggled with for a greater part of my life and once I got to college, many of the symptoms worsened,” Caeley says. “My service dog has helped me realize that my disability shouldn’t hold me back from achieving my dreams and literally reaching for the stars. He reinforces my self confidence every time I begin to doubt it.”

Her advice for others — don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Caeley says that her incredible support system and a list of things that make her smile are what get her through the tough times.

“It made it a lot harder to give it up knowing that I’ve worked since the sixth grade towards this [goal]. Don’t give up,” she says. “This world needs women in computer science, aerospace, etc. Without us, progress isn’t made, so remember that.”

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This story was told in partnership with NCWIT Aspirations in Computing.

Joanna Tong blazes a trail for women in biotech and chemical engineering

Joanna Tong ● Supplier Collaborations Technical Manager ● Genentech

Joanna Tong ● Supplier Collaborations Technical Manager ● Genentech

For many of us, medicine is the sought after solution for a cold, flu, or allergy. It can be the promise of a cure or a healthier lifestyle. For Joanna Tong, medicine is much more than that. It is the opportunity to make an immediate and tangible impact on the lives of those overcoming chronic illnesses. As the Senior Technical Manager for Genentech, Joanna is primarily focused on the overall quality of the medicine, its production, and its ability to be transported to different companies.

As a young student, Joanna enjoyed biology and genetics, and considered becoming a biologist early in her career. While studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was exploring different paths that aligned with her ambitions, when a professor recommended chemical engineering. After taking a few classes in the field, she grew to like the discipline because it empowered her to think outside of the box.

“In school, I did traditional lab work, however I found it more interesting to utilize technical problem-solving skills that are involved with engineering.”

Joanna put her skills to the test when she began interning at Genentech, over 10 years ago. Genentech gave Joanna the chance to dip her foot into the biotech and pharmaceutical worlds and allowed her to realize how much she loved the work she was doing.

“When I say that I help ensure we make high-quality medicines for patients, most people don’t realize that the medicine we make is quite different and much more complex than the pills you would see at your local pharmacy. Most of the medicines Genentech makes are proteins that are delivered via an IV infusion at a hospital, and those proteins are made by live cells that we grow in giant bioreactors. You have to control for and understand so many variables to keep the cells happy and producing the protein you want. It’s an incredibly complex process.”

Joanna spent most of her career as a Manufacturing Engineer, which plays an essential role in Genentech’s production of high-quality drugs. The complex drugs could aid those with serious medical conditions such as colon cancer, lung cancer, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. One of the many important part of that role was making sure that the medicine-producing cells were effective and safe. Now, as a Supplier Collaborations Technical Manager, Joanna’s tasks are less focused on the manufacturing process and more on collaborating with suppliers.

“I work with the suppliers that give us the ingredients and equipment we use to make our medicines. It’s important to partner with them because if we don’t have good starting materials, it’s hard to have good quality come out the other side.”

As one of the only girls in advanced math and science classes early in her educational career, Joanna understands what it is like to be a minority in a technical field. Because of this, and in addition to her job, she now serves as the Regional Lead for Pharma Technical Operations Women Professionals at Genentech. Through this organization, she develops programs and organizes monthly events that help over 1000 women in the Pharma Technical Operations in the Southern San Francisco organization accomplish their career objectives while building the company’s pipeline of future leaders.

“I think opportunities for women in STEM are already changing and increasing. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for a lot of amazing women leaders. It helps to have role models and mentors.”