Last Saturday, January 25, I was privileged to be involved in a Hack Day kicking off another year of encouraging the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. Iridescent’s Technovation Challenge is a program designed to challenge young women to be makers, help develop their ideas, and guide them in turning those ideas into apps. The program is a 12-week adventure that brings together teachers (coaches), technology professionals (mentors), and students (makers/entrepreneurs) to develop a mobile app that helps solve a problem in their community.
During the course of the 12 weeks, students use MIT’s AppInventor to help develop their mobile app. AppInventor is a a cloud-based programming tool that provides visual programming building blocks designed to jump-start Android application development. Beyond implementing a technical solution to the community problem they’re trying to solve, the young women learn about other concerns of app development including incorporating market research, including focusing on user-centered design, developing a business plan, and pitching their app.
Saturday’s Hack Day was one of several being hosted by Bay Area technology companies. It is a chance for students to familiarize themselves with AppInventor so they can prepare themselves for the upcoming challenge. During the day they go through a series of hacks that expose a lot of the features AppInventor has that may be useful in building their mobile app. As a second-year mentor in the program, I was thrilled to work with our community team at New Relic to host a group of students from the Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) and Rooftop schools, two schools located in the Mission and Twin Peaks neighborhoods of San Francisco respectively.
This year was the first year that Technovation Challenge has invited middle school participants to the program. As a former middle school student who used her Basic programming skills to move a duck across a screen in 7th grade, I’m a strong believer that as early as you can get girls engaged in programming and becoming producers of technology, the less obstacles they’ll encounter as they get older. For that reason, I was geeked to see Rooftop students show up to Hack Day. Rooftop is a K-8 Alternative Public School that believes making the arts a core part of a child’s curriculum helps to grow effective problem solvers that are both academically engaged and socially conscious. It was so exciting to see how jazzed the girls were when they discovered that the app they had just created (a mobile drawing app that erased the drawing when they shook it) could be installed on their phone in the same way “normal” apps were.
I’ll be spending the next 3 months working closely with students at ICA. As a mentor with ICA last year, I knew as soon as we had completed Technovation Challenge 2013 last year that I would be back again to help out this year. ICA is a unique school in that it provides private college-preparatory school education to low income households through an innovative work-study program. ICA does not provide any Computer Science classes at the moment and the Technovation Challenge is great way to supplement their current curriculum. I learned a lot working with the girls on my team last year (contributing to my growth as an engineering manager), as well as with the hardworking, dedicated teacher-coaches that spent a significant amount of their free time providing this awesome opportunity for their students.
What is remarkable about the Technovation Challenge is that you’ll see a diverse mix of students and schools with differing accessibility to resources and opportunities, but with one underlying thing in common: caring individuals dedicated to encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers and become makers and doers. It’s a great program and great way to get involved in the community. There is still time to get involved.