A Weekend with 40 Teen Girls Who Are the Future of Tech
This post was submitted by AiC Community Member Katherine Huang.
On March 8-10, 2019, the 40 national recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, for awards weekend. And, what a celebration it was!
On Friday, I flew from Boston to Charlotte. After I landed around noon, a professional driver took a fellow winner and me to the Ritz-Carlton, an upscale hotel connected to several buildings with restaurants, shops, and offices. We dropped off our belongings and grabbed lunch, and then I went to explore. Although it was rainy, I walked around uptown Charlotte for a bit and stumbled upon an art gallery open to the public at the Foundation for the Carolinas.
Back at the hotel, one of the other winners had just met P!nk in the elevator! More people arrived, and we all received gift bags and info packets upon registration. After a social/dinner, the winners participated in some fun icebreakers, followed by a pool party. I chatted with lots of people and went in a hot tub for the first time.
As I took in my surroundings, I thought about how I first got involved with Aspirations in Computing. In 9th grade, I escaped that winter’s record-breaking wind chills by staying up 24 hours coding in a company office for CodeDay Boston. There were only 30 attendees, which created a tight-knit atmosphere. I chatted for hours with the organizer, who told me about NCWIT and gave me a high-five for using Github. As an 11th grader, I applied for the NCWIT Award for AiC and was selected as a Massachusetts affiliate winner. The following year, I almost didn’t apply because I believed I had no chance at winning nationally. Fortunately, a friend of mine talked me out of this line of thinking!
During the award ceremony itself, I found it almost impossible to listen to the biographies of my fellow winners and not be impressed, inspired, and a little intimidated. What inspired me more, though, was interacting with everyone face-to-face at the celebration afterwards. No one introduced themselves with a list of accomplishments, and I got the vibe from everyone that I could talk to them for hours because they’re so interesting, kind, and funny. My fellow recipients, now friends, inspire me not only to pursue activities similar to what they’ve done, but also to be someone open to connecting with others and learning new things.
The future is bright. This can be tough to see when you’re stressed, facing failures, or otherwise experiencing difficulties in your life. In fact, it might sound very privileged of me to be able to say that. However, knowing what every young woman in the NCWIT Community has achieved and experiencing the support we have for each other assure me that though the future won’t be perfect, things will improve.
I want to see more women leading and succeeding everywhere, unobstructed by gender or biological sex. Technology, however, stands out. It provides the fastest way to make and share ideas, to amplify your voice, to find a supportive community—what could be more empowering than that? In a world of institutionalized sexism, it is powerful and crucial for women to make ourselves, our projects, and our concerns heard. I’m grateful to not (yet) have experienced many instances of blatant discrimination specifically for being a woman in tech. Nonetheless, my experiences of sexual harassment, as well as environments fueled by implicit bias and strict gender roles, send discouraging messages. Many incredible people I know, particularly females, suffer from impostor syndrome. I wish for everyone to be able to conquer self-doubts just enough to design, or write, or build something and put it out there. Make yourself be seen and heard.
I’ll be attending MIT this fall, where I hope to study Course 6-14 (Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science) and minor in Anthropology. That being said, I recognize that what I’ve had the chance to experience during high school only scratches the surface of all that’s out there. I view college, especially the beginning of it, as a time to explore unfamiliar topics and find what uniquely excites me. To me, it is more important to remain true to my values and be constantly learning than to have a clearly defined career path. In five years, I aim to have my bachelor’s degree and be making positive impact on the world as a social entrepreneur, data scientist, or interactive journalist. No matter what, I know I’ll be giving back to organizations and communities like NCWIT.