I had the unique opportunity to attend a marketing conference last week in Boston, where I had the pleasure of listening to a number of celebrity and professional speakers. Their sessions included marketing topics, of course, but also highlighted the experience of ‘making’ oneself. The presentation by “Girls Who Code” founder Reshma Saujani really hit home even though her story begins thousands of miles from here.
As a child, she lived in African during Idi Amin’s regime. In the early 1970’s her family was given orders to leave the country within 90 days. Fortunately for Reshman, both of her parents were engineers with strong science and math backgrounds. They were two people of only two thousand that were given visas to bring their family to the United States. They arrived in Chicago in the dead of winter with only the clothes on their backs – shorts and t-shirts. Reshma and her family were grateful beyond words to their new country. Without refuge in America, Reshma questions whether they would be alive today.
At this point in her speech, the crowd of 10,000 people at the Boston Convention and Expo Center, were on the edge of their seats. As a member of that audience, I felt a subtle shift in the mood of the room. It was already clear that she had overcome obstacles that most of us can’t even imagine.
Reshma went on to share that her family settled into their new lives, she grew up, and she eventually went on to attend Yale Law School. After a successful academic career she was determined to give back to the country that rescued her family, so she decided to run for Congress. She lost the election – “by a landslide”, had used all of her savings and even the savings of some of her friends and family, and felt she had failed in life.
Sitting in the sea of listeners, I closed my eyes for a moment as she paused here for a moment. The message was crystal clear. It wasn’t actually a failure. It was the beginning of something even better.
She began speaking again and explained how in the days following her loss, she thought back to something that had caught her eye on the campaign trail. When visiting schools and connecting with educational committees, she saw time and time again that the science and technology classes were highly focused on male students. There was a tremendous disparity between the genders and Reshma wondered… where were the girls?
“Tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, yet girls are being left behind. While interest in computer science ebbs over time, the biggest drop off happens between the ages of 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
It was impossible not to have goosebumps as she described how something ignited inside of her and her new life ambition emerged so unexpectedly. Despite not having a background in science, not knowing much about technology, and certainly no experience with coding, Reshma recognized a real need to change the perception that the technology world is off-limits to women… so, she decided to start that messaging with the girls and founded “Girls Who Code.” She bought the domain name for $1.99 from GoDaddy and the rest is history.
“90% of Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program participants said they were planning to major or minor in CS or a closely-related field.” -Girls Who Code
Reshma’s program is lined up to provide the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States, currently serving over 40,000 young girls interested in science and technology. It’s happening and it’s exciting! And I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to hear her speak about how she “made herself.”
Honestly, it made me think immediately of The Open Bench Project and how makers are cultivated within the community. It’s not just about creating a material project – it’s about furthering yourself, challenging yourself, testing your limits, exploring ideas, learning new skills, collaborating with others, and understanding that failure can be the beginning of something even better. I’m more than inspired to now go and “make” something myself. How about you?
And then some,
Jenny Green, OBP Social Media Coordinator
**You can see a snippet of Reshma’s presentation here.