Last night, AppNexus hosted the 2015 Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program graduation ceremony in our New York office. At the event, 20 talented young women from diverse backgrounds graduated from the seven-week program, making them the fourth class to graduate since Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012. AppNexus’ Chief Data Scientist, Catherine Williams, addressed the graduates, along with student speaker Stephanie Yoon. After showcasing their final projects onstage, they walked across the stage and became 20 of 1,200 2015 GWC graduates spanning 57 programs across the United States.
In a year where women in both principal American political parties have a real chance of becoming President, the current nationwide percentage of female computer science graduates stands at only 18%, a decline from where it stood in 1984 (at 37%). Additionally, even while 20% of AP Computer Science test-takers are women, an astoundingly low percentile (0.4%) of these same test-takers express any real interest in pursuing Computer Science as a major in college. Something is clearly not right.
Girls Who Code has been fearless in its desire to bring women to the forefront of tech-focused industries. Their goal is to provide “computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020.” AppNexus is committed to supporting that vision and has partnered with Girls Who Code since its inception in 2012, hosting Reshma and her team in our office year-round and partnering on various initiatives designed to increase the number of women in tech jobs. Over the past four years, we’ve hosted over 70 rising junior and senior high school students for seven weeks of intensive computer science curriculum, focusing on topics such as HTML CSS, robotics, and mobile development.
One of the highlights of the program was last Friday’s field-trip within our New York office. The purpose of the day was to give the students a taste of what it’s like to work inside a technology company, and provide insights and skills to help the students build successful careers in technology.
To kick off the day, Nithya Das, SVP and General Counsel at AppNexus, delivered a powerful talk about her journey to AppNexus and the challenges she faced along the way. Not only did Nithya dare the women to be ambitious in their aspirations (“Go wherever you want to go, just work hard at it”), she challenged the myth that “ambition” was somehow a “bad thing” for young women to aspire to, quoting from Mindy Kaling’s Guide To Killer Confidence: “Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something.” The girls, it seemed, were already well on their way to learning that lesson by heart.
Following an Introduction to Online Advertising workshop, Veronique Valcu, Senior Manager of Content Marketing and Corporate Assets, gave the students an introduction on how to cultivate consistent and powerful personal brands. By identifying the difference between how students felt they were perceived and how they would ideally want to be perceived – by a college admissions board, potential employer, or even a student class body – GWC students would be in a better position to attain their goals.
Refreshed and refueled after joining our weekly AppNexus Family Lunch, the girls entered our 300-seat Razzle Dazzle Space, where Nitya Shekar, Learning and Development Consultant and President of SpeakNexus, gave the young women hands-on exercises that tested their presentation, leadership, and speaking skills. She asked the girls to give impromptu talks on a full range of topics—some serious, others rather more random. One example of the latter kind: “Imagine you’re a can of orange soda. Now, tell us about your immediate experience of what’s happening around you.” While the teaching methods were fun and whimsical, the lessons learned were real. As Nitya put it, “It’s all about providing people the opportunity to step up and lead; people who wouldn’t otherwise possess the confidence and empowerment that comes with opportunity.”
To close out the day, we hosted a networking reception and career panel featuring AppNexian women from across the business, discussing their path to technology and sharing insights from their own careers. Ashley Hemingway, UX Director of AppNexus, emphasized the need for women to study subjects that would help them land post-collegiate jobs. “Not only will you graduate with a better understanding for how your major applies to a real-world career, but you’ll have an impressive resume and the confidence of knowing the kind of place where you’ll thrive.”
As a company, we understand and embrace the notion that ideas grow stronger through the creative tension that arises when employees address challenges and opportunities from differing perspectives. This type of dialogue is only possible with a truly diverse and equal workforce. With more equitable numbers of women and men working alongside one another in tech, even the toughest challenges become easier to solve.
At AppNexus, our mission is to create a better Internet for the world—and not just for certain segments of it. And if technology is truly a great leveler and equalizer, then we’re more than happy to play our part in leveling that playing field.
Congratulations to the Girls Who Code graduates! We look forward to hearing about the impressive work you’ll surely be doing in years to come.