After discovering that Stanford University’s She++ was hosting a high school technology advocacy competition called the #include initiative, I was naturally interested in applying for a chance to attend their Summit.
I had heard about the program from an NCWIT alumnus, who had participated previously and spoke about the program and summit with me afterwards. It seemed to me like a great way to meet other girls interested in technology and activism, and to expand my experiences in technology and engineering at the heart of Silicon Valley. Not to mention the program was run by current Stanford students, which would give me the perfect opportunity to learn more about studying computer science and the Stanford experience.
After hearing back from the organization in late February, I proceeded to meet with some of the other girls from the program. There was only one other initiative in NYC, which happened to come from another girl at my school, so I had a lot of new faces to meet.
In all honesty though, between exams and projects, I didn’t actually think much of the summit until the date slowly began to approach. When I applied for the program the year before, I was unable to make it to the Summit due to a conflict with a Technology Students Association conference I was organizing falling on the same week. This year, though, I was pretty excited to attend, albeit not quite able to keep track of the days before the flight out to San Francisco.
After touching down in SFO, I took an Uber over to The Domain Hotel, where I got to meet with the other girls before the orientation began. The organizers explained the following days’ agenda to us, as well as clarifying some misnomers (the name of the program was “pound” include after the C++ syntax, not “hashtag” include). Before dinner, we checked out the poolside and learned more about each others’ backgrounds, perhaps one of the most humbling and exciting moments of any social meetup, especially one involving tech and activism.
We met up with the organizers of the program, as well as the two directors - Cindy Wang and Shreya Shankar - before heading back to our rooms after grabbing In-and-Out from one of the lobby meeting rooms that had been booked for us.
The following day was pretty busy. It started off with a few iconic photos in Google HQ and a tech talk by the engineers before we moved on to a tour of Facebook’s campus.
One of the things I remember best from the Google panel was that one of the engineers - who had actually switched to a computer science major during her time at Yale - mentioned how despite not coming from a computer science powerhouse, she was still able to receive some incredible opportunities in the field. Even though Yale is far from an “average school”, I definitely found reassurance in her notion that hard work can take you where you want to go in tech, and that being part of an industry that’s primarily a meritocracy has its pros and cons.
The organizers made sure we received plenty of insightful advice about our careers in tech and some swag from nearly every company we visited.
We also got to hear about current progress on Instagram, Internet.org, and Diversity at the company, which was probably fitting for our program. It’s probably worth mentioning that Facebook’s campus seriously seemed like a miniature theme park, complete with a pastel store with every amenity you would find in a typical company, only laid out like a small town.
Afterwards, we toured Stanford’s campus and had dinner with their Women in CS and Girls Who Code clubs before visiting GoDaddy HQ. I was a little skeptical leading up to this visit due to GoDaddy’s reputation with computer science, but the presentations were nonetheless an interesting look into corporate culture, and how it differed across companies.
The next day, we started off touring Pinterest before moving on to Square. I actually woke up a bit late, but we luckily received breakfast at the company, along with a talk about the changing demographics in Silicon Valley. It’s actually been pretty interesting tracing the increase in percentages of women engineers at companies. While not all have been opting in to hire more women engineers, at least most of the major ones have, which is a pleasant mobility in the industry.
What I did like about the two companies - as well as the majority that we visited so far - was their commitment towards reaching to all ends of the pipeline. From the freshman programs to supporting women engineers throughout the process, it was definitely possible to see the importance that the companies placed on diversifying their work space. We were even able to take part in an activity with Maxime Williams, Global Head of Facebook Diversity, during our time at the company.
Square had a pretty minimalist space, although it was made quite cozy by the fact that so many of the She++ Ambassadors knew employees at the company from their time at Square Code Camp. I was honestly impressed by their business model, which I had only beforehand heard about from TechX a few years earlier and never really experienced.
We left the company, toured San Francisco for some time, left some room to take photos by the Golden Gate Bridge, and finally returned to the Domain Hotel to prepare for the night’s events. Once everyone was finished dressing up and taking photos, we headed over to the Computer Science Museum for our Gala and presentations.
Perhaps the most memorable speech of the night was by a student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who began college unsure of what she wanted to do, nearly dropped out of the physics department, re-applied to the computer science department, nearly dropped out again, and finally managed to succeed in graduating with a degree. Although I’d be absolutely horrendous at even capturing an ounce of her sentiment during her speech, I can say that it was one of the most moving recollections I’ve ever heard, and it really worked to set the tone for the night.
In between, we mingled among ourselves and bonded throughout the event. Even though I’ve been to a number of tech conferences, hackathons, and meetups before, the She++ #include Summit was really different in how much we were able to learn about each other in such a short period of time. Counting the time spent in each of the panels and workshops with companies that had been scheduled for us, we didn’t really have much time to learn about each others’ initiatives.
Nonetheless, whether it was through late night chats, conversations on bus rides, or even casual tidbits in between panels or in the halls of a company, learning about the trials and successes of the other girls brought me such a new perspective on my own perspective towards activism, as well as forcing me to re-evaluate how well I was playing a part in my community. What were some of the things I did well and some of the things I could improve on?
There was a pretty large selection of companies sponsoring the event, including Google, who gave away samples of their current hardware or demoed their products (Meraki, Samsung, and VMWare included). We also heard from Trae Vassallo of KPCB and Good Technology on startup trends and career paths in technology.
The number of students, professionals, and executives from the Bay Area who came to the summit was pretty astounding, and being able to meet up with so many people interested in expanding diversity was pretty exciting considering the current state of affairs. Even more than the talks I’d heard, chatting with engineers and hearing the stories of the other women at the conference - from junior developers to CTOs talking about their work in the field and how they’d felt arriving in Silicon Valley for the first time - was humbling.
The experience was definitely one I’ll never forget, and it has really inspired me to continue working towards change in the field, even if it’s one girl at a time.