Silicon Valley is overflowing with tech companies and for young Bay Area girls, it seems like working for one of those companies means you have to learn to code. But the Sunnyvale nonprofit girls+data wants to change all that.
“What we’re doing is we are teaching middle school age girls about careers in data, data analytics, data science,” said girls+data Founder Kira Wetzel. “We fill a niche that consists of a really large population of girls who are really interested in technology, very interested in math but they’re not interested in coding. Or they’re interested in tech and art but not good at coding. Or they’re not good at math and so they think they can’t be in tech. We like to describe what we do as the intersection of art, math and technology.”
Wetzel knows first-hand what it’s like to be one of those young girls. A Facebook employee by day, Wetzel is proud to say she now has a job that she loves, but it didn’t start out that way. Wetzel’s father was a software engineer and while Wetzel loved math, she didn’t want to do what he did.
“I didn’t want to do software engineering or application development in that way. That didn’t excite me,” said Wetzel.
So, she went to school and pursued her love of math in a different way, she became a teacher.
“I really liked teaching, but I wasn’t super passionate about it and I realized after a few years that this wasn’t something I could see myself doing for 40 years of my life,” said Wetzel.
Wetzel went back to school and finally found her passion, information systems.
“I realized at some point that had I known about my career now, when I was going to school, I likely would not have pursued a master’s degree in education and then had to go back for a master’s degree in information systems. I would have gone right into information systems. I just had no idea that there was an entire domain dedicated to data,” said Wetzel.
Her story is why girls+data exists.
“Through hands on workshops we’re teaching them about data analytics…What is data? How are they using it? What are different careers in data?” said Wetzel. “We teach about actual real-world applications… [It could] be people that are analyzing operational data to help make business decisions. It could be people who are going to help design databases to store customer transactional data. [It could] be people that are designing data visualizations that will illustrate who is looking at what types of content on Netflix.”
The data seems to prove the kids like it.
“A lot of them will say, our parents made us come, or we weren’t sure; we came because we like tech but we’re sick of coding. We get that a lot,” said Wetzel. “At the end we ask them on a scale of one to 10, how much fun did you have? We’re averaging nine right now.”
Wetzel works full-time and dedicates her free time to girls+data. She says her dedicated team is what keeps the nonprofit running.
“girls+data is 100 percent volunteer run. We’re a non-profit 501(c)(3). Everyone’s a volunteer. The team of volunteers that we have, they’re very, very dedicated. I’m really lucky to have people that are so committed to this cause,” said Wetzel.
While girls+data has events across the nation, a good portion of them are run here in the Bay Area at local tech companies. There will be a Data Camp at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park on March 28 and another Data Camp at Netflix Headquarters in Los Gatos on May 16.
To find out more details about girls+data, visit www.girlsplusdata.org.