By Jennifer A. Brown, July 2000
Working in Information Technology (IT), the term ‘networking’ usually refers to computers communicating with each other. It also refers to talking with other people, to share experiences, get or give advice, learn about opportunities, and to socialize. For the girls attending allgirlplanet.com’s computer camp, they’re learning both. American Computer Experience (ACE) has been offering the camps for seven years, and this year, thanks to the Garnett Foundation, there are girls only camps all over the country during June and July.
The girls, ages 13-17, spend a week learning about computers, from basic computer skills, to creating web pages by ‘hard-coding’ HTML, as well as taking classes in kickboxing.
At the University of Texas at Austin, there were two weeks of girls' sessions, both full at 25 girls. Women working in IT were invited to attend evening sessions to meet the girls, and answer questions about working in high tech fields. At one Networking session seven women from area companies attended, including those from Lotus, Dell, and Unisys. The diversity of the visiting women was reflected in the campers, emphasizing the opportunities the girls can expect if they decide to pursue a high tech field. The jobs held were diverse as well, from software support, to game design, and other roles in IT.
During a question and answer session, the girls were able to ask the women about their jobs, education, and how they got started in the computer industry. While all women had at least a Bachelor’s degree, only two had degrees in computer related studies. All agreed that good grades are important, and that the girls should take every opportunity they can to get computer training and experience, and a college degree.
While getting a bachelor’s degree isn’t essential to work in IT, it is a filtering tool used when companies are hiring or promoting. Not having one may prevent an application from being considered, and prevent promotion. One woman, a nationally recognized game designer, took ten years to get her degree; she mentioned that one reason she is participating in allgirlplanet is to prevent girls from learning from her experience and not doing it the hard way.
The women also stressed that certain skills were important. The ability to communicate was emphasized, whether talking to peers, or people with less experience or knowledge, being able to explain something is a key skill. Other things stressed were the ability to learn, and that working with computers is creative, whether programming them, or using them.
After exchanging business cards with the women, the girls showed off some of their new skills. Each girl had a web page in progress, which they were building by hand, using HMTL coding. Each woman talked individually to the girls, and seeing what they’d accomplished. The game designer showed them how to add a graphic stating "made with notepad" to show that they did the work by hand, and not relying on software to create the page for them. Some of the pages were simple, but all had graphics and creative formatting. One girl had three pages, and was teaching other girls some HTML tricks.
As one of the women attending the evening sessions, I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having participated in a mentoring session before. All the girls were very polite, and eager to share what they learned, and to learn more about working in IT. Seeing how much they’d done with a day’s experience with HTML reminded me to keep learning new skills myself.
I enjoyed hearing from the camp director how much the girls had blossomed, from being reluctant to use the computer in some cases, to being forced off the computers to go to meals. Having attended an all-women’s college, I appreciate the value of an all-female learning environment. After two evenings at allgirlplanet.com’s computer camp, it’s evident the campers do, too.
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