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Microsoft fights technology stereotypes with DigiGirlz camp

Photo: During Microsoft’s annual DigiGirlz Technology camp, a group of high school girls learn about writing code, robotics and new technologies in response to negative stereotypes about women in the technology field. /Courtesy Photo

Over time, the percentage of female professionals in technology industries has declined at an alarming rate due in large part because of misinformation. In order to combat this decline, Microsoft began DigiGirlz High Tech Camps.

“It is a technology camp where we try to teach girls who are not interested in technology, because the numbers are so low for females in technology fields,” Microsoft senior support engineer Kimberly Powell said. “We’re trying to show them and say technology is really cool. If you like math and science already, great. A lot of jobs, pretty much anything you can think of, will involve technology.”

The camp, hosted at the Microsoft Las Colinas and Microsoft Technology Center Aug. 11-12, offered high school girls the opportunity to attend a series of technology-focused workshops for free.

“We had four different workshops,” Powell said. “We had one on Windows 10. We had cooking with Chef, which is really learning code. We had presenting 101 because you know, you’ll always need that skill no matter where you go, and then we also had a robotics class.”

A major purpose of the camp is to help dispel misconceptions surrounding the technology field, and introduce the younger girls to successful women who enjoy working in tech.

The woman who runs the camp, Jazzy Doakes, a premiere field engineer at Microsoft, is one of these women.

“The girls come for a hands-on camp where we expose them to technology and the different jobs they can obtain in the technology industry,” Doakes said. “We’re trying to dispel stereotypes of women in technology that are keeping a lot of women from going into those roles.

“Most girls think that if they go into a job in technology, they’re sitting at a desk typing code all day, but we want them to understand that’s not the only thing you can do when you go into such a field. Whether it’s dentistry or grocery stores, everyone is in technology, so it’s going to benefit you wherever you go.”

Microsoft partnered with Nissan to give the girls a closer look at new technology with Nissan’s Leaf, a fully electric compact car.

“They brought out the Leaf yesterday to show the girls the technology in the car. They got to go out, sit in it, and see how it charges. They had tons of questions about the Leaf. They got to actually touch it, rather than someone just telling them about it and saying believe me, so it’s wonderful,” she said.

In addition to the workshops, participants heard several women share their own experiences in professional fields.

“We have a leadership panel, so we’ll have women from different positions here at Microsoft, from support to management to executive level, speak. We also have a man coming, he’s a manger here, to give his perspective as well,” Doakes said.

This year, DigiGirlz also invited Mayor Beth Van Duyne and Commissioner Elba Garcia to speak with the girls and share experiences outside of the technology field.

“They were talking about how we have a lot of women on our city council here. That was not something we knew or realized, because you’re so used to seeing men on TV and you never realize there are several women in those same positions,” Doakes said. “The mayor gave us great information as far as numbers. We are really a minority when it comes to the technology industry, so they really drove that point home and I really appreciated that.

“Commissioner Garcia is also a dentist, so she helped the girls understand how you can balance two jobs, along with a family and all the other things, because these are things that they’re going to have deal with as well,” she said.

The DigiGirlz camp has made such an impact on Sara Rene Garner, 16, and her friend that they have attended camp more than once.

“I came to this camp my freshman year and really enjoyed it, but wasn’t able to make it last year. I came back this year with my friend Margaret, and I’m so glad we did,” Garner said.

Garner will graduate from Ursuline Academy in Dallas and is hoping to study technology or medicine in college.

“I’m really into the STEM fields, but I’m still undecided between technology and medicine, so I don’t know which one I’ll actually go into,” she said.

“The first day we went to a workshop that specialized in teaching us what Chef is. It’s basically infrastructure codes, and that was really interesting and really cool to learn about. Then we also did a presentation workshop, and the instructor was very hands on and lively, which I really appreciated. I learned a lot.

“We talked to the robot guys. They were so cool. We were able to program the robot to tell it when to turn around. Then we used this thing called ultrasonic sensor, and we placed a block in front of it. It would sense the block through a distance, and it would turn around and avoid it, so that was really cool.

“Thank you to all the people who put on DigiGirlz. It was a great camp, and I’m sad to leave,” Garner said.