Emma Beanland of Catapult Sports demonstrating how technology is enhancing the world of sports.
From coding to career advice, Concord Academy’s first Women in Technology (CA WiT) conference, Taking CTRL 2019, engaged participants in thought-provoking discussion and hands-on experiences. Taking place throughout the day on Saturday, April 27, this first annual conference brought together female and nonbinary high school and middle school students through a shared interest in technology. WiT introduced younger students to concepts and skills and supported and empowered students already passionate about entering the field.
“If we’re not at the table to make the decisions for the future of technology and artificial intelligence, we will be on the sidelines being the recipients.”The day’s programming began with a sobering statistic from a keynote address by Alesia Tringale, a director of software engineering and a distinguished engineer at Dell-EMC, where she leads a high-performance global software team. “Less than 20 percent of women are in technology, yet we’re half of the workforce,” she said before detailing her journey through biases and barriers aided by what she called “blind ambition and sheer tenacity.” She gave advice for navigating obstacles in male-dominated workplaces as well as internalized obstacles such as imposter syndrome. Tringale also made clear the urgency of having more women in the room as technologies are being developed. “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another,” she said. “If we’re not at the table to make the decisions for the future of technology and artificial intelligence, we will be on the sidelines being the recipients.” She extended the call more broadly too: “We all must take control of technology,” Tringale said, “not just women but other folks who are also underrepresented in technology. A diverse team is more creative and innovative.”
– Alesia Tringale
Three workshop sessions followed before the conference concluded with a social and networking event. Small group sizes facilitated close and personal interactions between the speakers and attendees, and topics ranged from an introduction to sports science management to hands-on experiences with Deep Learning and the Internet of Things, with presenters from companies such as Raytheon, Mathworks, Draper, Dell EMC, Catapult Sports, and Salary.com. Kendall Tucker ’10 shared her experiences building her company Polis, whose data and software support door-to-door business outreach and political canvassing. Barbara Wixom P’20 ’22, a principle research scientist at MIT, moderated a panel of college women in technology. Ben Stumpf ’88, head of the CA Computer Science Department, organized a hackathon. And Shreya Patel ’21 gave an introductory course in blogging.
Rachel Hu ’21 says she was surprised by how readily the young participants in the Coding 101 workshop she ran with Haley Wixom ’20 grasped what they presented — material that had taken her much of CA’s Advanced Computer Science course to fully understand. “The moment they started on the first challenge, it was as if a spark had ignited in their eyes,” she says. “Despite the fact that they were working with people they had never met before, they worked extraordinarily well as a team, each contributing their own ideas to the table and collaborating on finding a compromise that everybody was satisfied with. Imagine if everybody in the world of technology could work like that.”
For Rachel, who had been greatly discouraged by the dismissive attitudes of an all-male robotics group when she was in fifth grade, seeing these young women engaged and cooperating without hesitation was momentous.
Similarly, conference organizer Patricia Plunkett ’22 took heart when a high school student asked a speaker for advice on joining the coding club at her school, which was made up of all boys. “To me, this moment truly encompassed my entire goal for the conference,” she says, “to provide an opportunity for girls and nonbinary people who may be too scared to join their schools’ tech clubs to get that kickstarter and to be able to explore a field that they may feel that they don’t belong in.”
Left: workshop participants. Right: Kendall Tucker ’10 presenting.
What emerged from the daylong conference was a strong sense of community — among the CA student organizers, attendees from other schools, and the professionals who spoke and led workshops. “People who had never met were chatting like they had known each other for ages,” Patricia says.
“Everyone was so friendly and truly bonded,” says Lucy Whitelam ’22, who helped to organize the conference. She says she is proud of the connections all of the girls and nonbinary students were able to make, and that she is continuing to work with some of the individuals she met on a coding project of her own.
The extensive process of organizing the conference was satisfying for the CA student leaders as well, who had met to plan it weekly since the fall and put in countless additional hours on their own. “Although I am proud of the commitment I put in as an individual,” Patricia says, “I am most proud of the commitment that we all put in as a team.”
CA students Elizabeth Chai ’21, Loki Fondeur ’21, Shelly Liu ’20, Melanie McLeod ’20, Ashley Mendia ’20, Katherine Stirling-Ellis ’20, Nirantheri Vithiananthan ’20, and Hannah Wixom ’22 also contributed to pull the conference together. With the support of partner organizations, the conference was open to all participants at no cost.
The CA WiT student leaders are already looking ahead to expanding the conference in future years and potentially adding weekend workshops. They are also considering a coed conference or event focusing on teaching everyone how to create a more welcoming environment for minorities in tech.
They are taking inspiration from the success of this first conference. “I finally know what it means to work in a team without a leader,” Rachel says, “feel what it is like to see so many women in technology in one space, and understand how to create social change.”