Giving Girls Their 10,000 Tech Hours

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In two of my favorite books - The Tipping Point and Outliers - author Malcolm Gladwell puts forth the theory that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Instead, he posits that people, ideas and products that seem to find success quickly, are actually the result of a series of events that have allowed them to “tip” into a larger market. He explains that people in particular require 10,000 of hours of practice to become accomplished at any skill or career.

That idea has remained with me since I read those books, and I’ve thought a lot about it in relation to our work at TechGirlz and the need to engage more girls in technology. As a society, we make sure our girls have access and support as they practice musical instruments, lacrosse, soccer, dance, and so many other activities. Why do we not do the same for technology?

I would argue that technology proficiency (even familiarity) is a more practical and marketable skill for most girls. Marketplace dynamics would seem to back that up - more than one million tech jobs are forecast to remain unfilled by 2020, and nearly every aspect of our modern lives involves some understanding of technology.

So it follows that we must find more and better ways to connect girls with technology in a place and manner that works for them. Studies show, and our experience with girls validates, that supportive parents and home environments go a long way towards fostering an interest and dedication to technology. But how to maintain this in the face of competition for their time by other well-known and potentially more accepted alternatives? Here are some suggestions for how you as an adult or parent can help ensure girls with an interest in technology stay on the Path to their 10,000 hour journey.

1. Reinforce the role of women in tech. It’s important that parents and mentors encourage discussion amongst girls and be upfront about the need for diversity in tech despite recent headlines to the contrary. Show them female leaders like CEOs at GM, IBM, and Pepsi that can serve as role models.

2. Find local resources. Local resources can help resolve girls’ needs for a physical space to gather, mentorship, and hands-on opportunities to experiment both inside and outside school. Guidance counselors and local libraries are good starting point to find these opportunities. Apple stores offer tech courses. Check out Facebook and other social media for ideas, too. And don’t forget, volunteers can offer TechShopz anywhere.

3. Online programming. If there are no local workshops or your schedule is already too busy, look online. Scratch and Alice both offer great options for girls interested in learning more. Google and Microsoft also offer some online resources.

4. Video games. While many parents are concerned about screen time, studies do show that girls that play video games have a stronger interest in math and tech. Responsible and monitored use of video games like Minecraft could be an alternative to more official tech resources and workshops.

5. Family projects. Feed your girl’s interest in tech by making it a family endeavor. Building a website about a school project, a sport, or a family vacation using free tools or basic programming language is a fun way to subtly introduce tech. Robot kits or even deconstructing old family electronics can also be an enjoyable way to learn together.

Remember that these 10,000 hours don’t have to be hardcore programming and coding schools. Our lives are increasingly tech-enabled, meaning that there are many non-technical ways to be involved in the technology fields. Girls’ minds are being tested and expanded when doing things like reading about tech, playing a video game, and helping with projects around the house.

Be creative, be positive, and be present.