While the tech industry is the pace car leading all other industries in many ways, we lag behind when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Part of the solution is reaching girls early enough to help show them what they can already do – and someday do for a living.
Back in April I was approached about Technovation – an organization comprised of entrepreneurs, mentors and educators who work to teach girls the skills needed to thrive in tech, starting with girls as young as 10 years old. The Minneapolis chapter of Technovation had been working with hundreds of girls around the state for a challenge that would put their skills to the test in a global contest. The competition, Appapalooza, required girls to spend 12 weeks developing and producing an app that would solve an actual problem in their community.
Our good friend Stephanie Hammes-Betti (SVP of Innovation Design at U.S. Bank) put out a call for judges to volunteer for this year’s event, and I jumped at the opportunity. I’m excited to share some thoughts about my experience as a first-time judge for this hugely inspiring event!
Each judge was assigned five 1-5 person teams (with the option to review additional teams if desired). The majority of judging took place remotely; with each volunteer working to evaluate app ideation, technical efficiency and pitch strength. The process was rather in-depth and I was immediately blown away by the wealth of material each team provided.
Not only were the girls expected to submit source code, but their pitch and demo accompaniments were expertly-assembled videos, each paired with a narrative to help demonstrate app-user scenarios. This is a college semester (or more) worth of work, but fully executed in under three-months by girls ages 10 to 14. Impressed yet? The next step was for the girls to pitch their ideas live to a room full of family, teachers and a panel of analytical (but loving) judges.
Saturday, May 11 was the big day for Appapalooza 2019. The Minneapolis Convention Center played host to 348 eager entrants, 87 teams, 86 judges and a slew of Technovation event facilitators. This wasn’t just a big day for Minneapolis, as there were also 18 other Technovation events taking place simultaneously in other cities. Out of all of the teams participating, twelve would advance to the global stage for finals – six teams from the junior division, and six teams from the senior division.
Before the girls gave their presentations, our room’s emcee provided more background on Technovation, and explained how women earn only 18% of computer science degrees. I had no idea! It was later explained that the girls were to imagine that we (the judges) were a panel of venture capitalists. That being said, this wasn’t going to be Shark Tank. The judges, and everyone involved, were encouraging, supportive, positive and genuinely kind.
Each app presentation was seriously mind-blowing. The concepts were diverse, ranging from waste reduction to productivity assistance for area-based charities. Each presentation segment was eight minutes; four minutes for the presentation, and four minutes for judges to ask clarifying questions or offer suggestions.
I was extremely impressed by how each team had refined or prepared entirely new decks that differed from what we had judged remotely weeks prior. Again, the amount of work these girls put into their apps cannot be understated. Even more impressive was how articulate each and every speaker was. All of our questions were answered with confidence, demonstrating a clear understanding of the problem they were trying to solve and the technology used to do it.
In the end, each girl who participated received recognition and thunderous applause for their spectacular achievements. All of these girls are winners regardless of whether or not they advance to the global finals, so to see them each receive a medal was a joy. What was also exciting was to hear how many of the girls expressed an interest in returning for the competition next year.
Technovation are preparing for an even larger pool of entrants next year and I’d love to see the Minneapolis chapter continue receiving support from local volunteers! These girls can be our future colleagues – they can become our future tech leaders. Let’s help inspire them to want to be.