Girls In Tech: Articles

Interview with Deborah Jackson

Deborah Jackson is the founder CEO of Plum Alley. Deborah has been listed as one of the 60 Women Heroes of 2012 by Fast Company, one of the Women Changing the World by Forbes, and one of the 40 Women of 40 to Watch. You can follow her on Twitter @dbdj1007 and you can visit Plum Alley’s site by clicking here.


What does Plum Alley do?


We help women that are founding companies and we help women build and use technology because technology is so powerful.


When you were growing up, did you have a mentor that you looked up to?


When I grew up I really didn’t have a specific mentor that inspired me. I think I actually looked around at people, both men and women, and saw things that I didn’t want to replicate. The way I evolved in my life was by looking at situations and people and thinking, “Well, actually, I don’t want to be like that so I’m going to go do something different.” I’m a little bit older so I grew up in a time when women didn’t have as many career options as they have today so for me it was really finding my own way and looking around and saying, “I don’t want to be home doing laundry with kids, I want to have kids, but I also want to have something outside of the home and create something and build something that will have an impact in the world and give back.”

I didn’t have a mentor or a role model but now that’s part of the reason that I try to be a role model and mentor for other women because I feel like if you see it you can be it.


How is technology important to you?


I have my own daughters and I think its really important to do things and be out there and contribute to the world and try the make the world better and help other women advance and get ahead and use technology. It is so important. I think it is one of the most exciting fields out there. I have participated in hack-a-thons where girls and women have come together and built things. I’ve seen when groups of women and girls get together- they come up with things they care about and they try to make the world better. A lot of people think that technology is something that you do by yourself or you go by your computer… and technology is not built that way. It is built with interactions of people and coding is really a language, therefore I always think it’s similar to learning English to write an essay, you learn code so that you can write and build technology. It’s a universal language and so much can happen when you realize technology is your friend. A lot of people are intimidated and are unfamiliar…but it is actually a very fun and collaborative activity because you actually see something at the end. You can create a robot, an interactive game, a website, or you can create a new tech that’s good for medicine.


What do you think is important for young girls to know today?


I think for any young girl today if you learn about technology and think of it as a tool you can use to do good things than you’re going to have great opportunities professionally, you’re going to be able to earn money in your jobs, and most importantly, you’re going to be able to give back and contribute to the world in a big way.


What would your advice for girls today be?


My advise to younger women is to think all the time about investing in yourself. Get and education, learn as much as you can learn, try new things because when you try something new, you are investing in yourself because you are learning what you like to do or are good at doing and you’re making an investment in your future. Experiment with coding and building things, even as you get older and are in college and trying to pick a major or your profession going forward, definitely think about what is a profession or a field that’s going to open doors for you. Even if you want to be home with your children, still keep learning and experimenting with tech and keep your finger in learning and creating.


Why did you start Plum Alley?


I founded a company that founded a company that really helps women start companies and helps women build technology. I did this because I worked in traditional corporate American for many years and I found that there were very many talented and amazing women but they weren’t able to build things and achieve the highest levels of the company. I decided that it was a lot more fun to be out of that environment and to be in a place where I was working with these young, talented, and creative women who were building new companies and creating new technology. I have to say, my favorite part is that the younger women I work with through Plum Alley always inspire me. The sky is the limit. They’re not held back in a traditional corporate environment that isn’t flexible. They’re excited about what they’re doing and it’s contagious and becomes inspiration for me. It is what gets me up every day-I love it!


What do you think about FIRST Robotics?


I think what’s happening at FIRST is so important for the individuals, the women, and the supporters of what FIRST does, but also it is the future. It’s a tremendous organization and I think great things are going to come out of it. There are very few things that are actually making a difference and what is happening at FIRST is very exciting, inspirational, a lot of fun, and good things are going to happen. I’m sure you’re going to conquer the world!




Interview with Dr. Diana Burley

Dr. Burley is an Associate Professor at George Washington University. She specializes in cyber-security and education.

Have you even hear of FIRST Robotics? If so, what do you like about it?

Yes, my son’s elementary school had a club. He did not participate (he already had a full activity schedule) but I liked the team-based approach that included both kids and parent coaches.


Was there a teacher, mentor or circumstance that inspired you to become part of the male-dominated science and technology world? If so, is there a piece of advice that they gave you that you would pass on to other young girls?

Yes, but not until graduate school. The advice – Technology is created by people – from their minds and imaginations and experiences. If only one type of people are involved in creating technology, then it will never reflect the full spectrum of possibilities.


How long have you been involved with Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) club and what are your favorite attributes of the program?

I was involved with GEMS through my daughter’s elementary school where I participated as the parent liaison. GEMS provided hands-on experiences that made science fun and excited the girls. Anytime you hear “science” and “cool” in the same sentence, you are winning. The presence of female scientists was important too. Girls need to be able to envision themselves in the role.


What most interests you about cyber-security? How can young woman get involved in the industry today?

Cybersecurity is an exciting and dynamic environment. The landscape is constantly evolving; which means you have to be agile. It is exciting to address new challenges (or new components to standing challenges) every day and to be at the forefront of the discussion that has direct implications for securing our nation.


Are there any particular games that promote a child’s mind to think outside the box like an inventor? Clue? Chess?

Those are good but I like to go even more low-tech. Take a walk and spin a story about what you see along the way. Play “what if” games that are not limited by the possibilities that currently exist. Push the boundaries of what is ‘real’ today because tomorrow comes faster than you think.


What would you say to young women who want to get involved in a technology and science driven field?

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Learn everything you can. Read. Ask questions. Speak up. Your voice (your ideas, your perspective) is unique, that’s what makes you so valuable.




Interview with Dr. Rachelle Heller

Dr. Rachelle Heller received her Bachelors of Science degree from The State of New York University, Stony Brook and continued her studies at the University of Maryland where she received her Masters and Ph. D. She has over 40 years in the computer science industry and currently teaches at George Washington University.


Was there a teacher, mentor or circumstance that inspired you to become part of the male-dominated science and technology world? If so, is there a piece of advice that they gave you that you would pass on to other young girls?

It was a circumstance – not a person though I had a very supportive Dad.  What follows is a long, but telling, story. I was a chemistry major as an undergraduate, and I worked in my university’s computer center. Like many young women of my time, I got married right after graduation. We moved to Washington, D.C., so that my husband could pursue a Ph.D. at Georgetown, and, of course, I had to go to work. I searched for a job in chemistry and applied to the FBI. After my tour with the personnel department, I was asked where I thought I might like to work. When I said the forensics lab, they responded, “We don’t hire women as chemists, we hire women as secretaries.”

I went home and cried but still had to find a job. I applied with a head-hunter employment agency. They asked what besides chemistry I could do, and I said I knew about computers. The agency found a job for me that afternoon with the Planning Research Corporation as a computer programmer. Once I was working in the field, I returned to school for a master’s degree and then a Ph.D.


What most interests you about computer science? How can young woman get involved in the industry today?

What interests me is that the field is dynamic and there is a place for almost everyone in it – theoreticians, tinkerers, [and] builders. It is often like a major mind-puzzle to solve a problem and there are almost always a few ways to solve a problem, not just the ‘right’ way. Some ways might be more efficient, some more tricky, but they all have merit. There is an opportunity to a variety of problem solvers to work in this field. What I like most, sometimes! When I need a boost, is that people are impressed when you say you are a computer scientist.

Young women can get involved by getting involved – learn to use computers, learn to control them (program them) find a k-12 outreach program, just try! Find a mentor, someone who is doing what you think you might like to do. Don’t be afraid that you will break something (you hardly can). Just try it


Are there any particular games that promote a child’s mind to think outside the box like an inventor?

I like games of almost any kind, especially making up your own rules for games. Games that have no right answer but allow you to experiment with strategies. I like it when kids take a game of cards and change the rule to have to beat a card by adding cards – something like that. I like kids to be encouraged to act like a scientist – take a page from a calendar and track the moon each night fro a month to observe and take data. I like to get kids into making stuff from trash – cardboard boats and even ‘egg-drops.’ As you can see, I like getting into it and mucking around. Of course, I like opportunities for kids to see how things work.


What would you say to young women who want to get involved in a technology and science driven field?

I’d say it is a great opportunity to work on many problems that are important to society from everyday life (like a new pen or toaster) to medical advances (like helping the person who has gone blind to see) to areas where we have not gone before (like outer space or inner space). Its a chance to work together to address these problems from almost any aspect of science – from science that is only theory and can be just thought about to science in a laboratory to science in the field to educating others (i.e. journalists) about science.




Kite and Rocket Research

Kite and Rocket Research is an invention and product-development company based in New York City.  Through its educational outreach Kite and Rocket Academy, separate classes have been developed for boys and girls from the ages of 9 – 11 years. Unlike most engineering and design classes, Kite and Rocket extends its teachings not only to STEM, but to Nerf gun battles and painting as well, with an entire room set aside for gallery space and an ever-changing mural on the wall of their lab.

Sketch by Robert Victor

Sketch by Robert Victor

When asking Robert Victor, the creator of Kite and Rocket, why he believes in this approach, here is what he had to say:

“My theory is that if you give a kid an elaborate radio controlled toy AND a screw driver, they’ll rip that thing apart right down to the bare components in about 10 minutes.  They probably won’t need any direction or encouragement either.  At that point, they’ll have learned more about design than they would in one week with a robot kit.  That’s how we’re going to start – by showing how to break stuff.  This means using tools.  It took me a couple decades to learn how to use tools the right way.  I want to teach them the basics in a weekend.

Kite and Rocket Research has created an invention class specifically for young girls called Girl Inventor (grades 4 – 6) that takes an entirely different approach to invention and engineering.  Rather than focusing on the constructive assembly of readymade components and predetermined outcomes, Kite and Rocket emphasizes a “destructive” approach based on a child’s natural curiosity to take things apart to see how they work.  Students are guided through the process of harvesting components and materials from various toys and consumer products, and are then encouraged to combine these parts with common household supplies to create inventions of their own design.  Safe and effective tool use is emphasized.

Instead of sending a child to a camp that teaches them to ‘how to become’ and engineer or a scientist, Kite and Rocket will teach them how to unlock their inner inventor mind. It will break down the barriers and confinements of ‘how-to’ directions by allowing the students to use their own curiosity to drive them. Each student will be given a carefully chosen too kit that they get to keep (all hand tools) and an item that they will be taking apart.

As of now, this is a summer program but Kite and Rocket has the full intention of becoming a year-round program. For more information please contact [email protected].





Huffington Post partnered with Cisco for a project that focuses on the importance of STEM research and the women behind the innovation. The project features 11 women across the world who are working in STEM technologies. Readers are also able to share their own stories about being a women in a male-dominated field or the story of someone they know. See the article below:

STEM Stories: The Faces Of Women In Technology (SHARE YOURS)



Though there are less women in the top circles of technology and engineering companies, they are catching up. More and more women are rising to the top of their fields. Take a look at these inspiring articles on women in technology: