by Marlo Spieth
At Avvo, championing women in tech is inherent to our culture. Nowhere is this more prevalent than how and where our employees commit their time. Jerica Wilson, a seasoned mobile developer, has been teaching and presenting as a volunteer at App Camp for Girls, a non-profit committed to addressing the gender imbalance in technology professions. The program was founded by Jean Macdonald in Portland, and has since expanded to Seattle, Vancouver, Phoenix, and Orange County.
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women officially occupy 25% of the “computing workforce.” Looking around a tech company, however, that percentage can sometimes seem optimistic. App Camp for Girls seeks to help change that.
“We walk them through more than just developing the app,” said Kristina Sontag, a volunteer who helps organize the Seattle camps in addition to her day job at The Omni Group. “We also touch on how to refine app ideas, elements of app design, marketing and even how to present to investment panels. Many of our campers leave with an expanded sense of our industry and what types of roles interest them.”
The week-long camp is for middle school girls, who generally have no prior experience in coding. They are split into teams and tasked to build an app that includes a simple quiz that leads the user to different results, depending on their answers. At the end of the week, they pitch to a panel of judges. While a quick turnaround, the girls are in the capable hands of Lesley Baker, the lead developer at App Camp Seattle.
This summer, Jerica presented the “iOS application development life cycle,” covering conception, creation, design, testing, and of course, submitting to the AppStore. In the afternoons, Jerica served as a consultant, and was on-site to give direction as needed. And behind the scenes she helped manage some of the organization’s social media, updating Instagram and Facebook with pictures and posts of the girls in action.
Each team included four girls and two laptops. They took turns writing code while the others schemed the graphics, presentation, and next steps. They rotated and occasionally sought help from their consultants, whose fingers never touched the keyboard. App Camp is adamant that the girls drive the coding, so that they learn and remember the process for themselves.
App Camp for Girls also introduces the business of software. Enter Hwee Chong, Avvo’s mobile product manager. Serving as a pitching specialist, she coached the girls on how to sell an app. She notes that “presenting the product, framing it well, that’s half the battle,” as this is how companies get funding.
Hwee’s approach was to show the girls videos of iconic pitches: Elon Musk introducing Tesla, Steve Jobs launching Apple. Then she posed them questions. “How did this person communicate a problem?” “How did they frame their product as a means to solve this problem?”
Hwee anticipated the need to simplify the topic for an audience of tweens. In fact, she found that it wasn’t necessary at all, noting, “if we don’t keep up, in 10 years, we’ll all be out of jobs.”
“Having volunteers like Jerica and Hwee with different professional backgrounds and skills is vital to our success,” said Kristina, “as it provides real people for our campers to make a connection with and learn from. We really appreciate the time that both these outstanding women have spent with us this year, and hope to see them back again for next summer!”
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