Women of color make up less than 10% of all bachelor’s degrees earned in computing in the United States. Peta-Gay Clarke and Shameeka Emanual are working to help change that. What Code Next program managers, are using their tech careers to give young women more access to computer science. Today they announce the Google sponsorship of a new scholarship for Women of Color in Technology.
Google recently had the opportunity to speak with Peta-Gay and Shameeka to learn about the women who have inspired them and how they, in turn, hope to inspire the next generation.
What got you interested in a tech career?
Peta-Gay: My grandmother was a Jamaican immigrant, and even though she didn’t know much about computers, she walked into Radio Shack in the 1990s and put a computer on hold. A year later, she surprised my sister and me for Christmas. This gift made me our family’s tech support and sparked my interest in technology. Then, I transferred to a computer science program at my high school in Queens, which changed my life. I learned to build and repair computers and that’s where I got to know computer programming.
Shameka: I grew up a cheerleader and band nerd who was eligible for free lunch. I knew that technology would be my key to moving to another economy class. As well I was attracted to technology because math and science are objective subjects rooted in proof: you are right, you are wrong, or you are innovating.
Women, particularly women of color, are underrepresented in tech. How have you seen women of color enter this field?
Peta-Gay: Entering the technology industry requires a lot of persistence, resilience and support. Early exposure, access and opportunities also make a big difference. Personally, I have had mentors and sponsors who have come into my life at critical moments. But if we are going to see major changes in the number of women of color entering the tech sector, we need innovative public-private partnerships and new ways to access careers in technology.
You’ve been working with Google’s Code Next students for six years. What keeps surprising you about working with them?
Peta-Gay: It still amazes me how often our students are left out and undervalued. There are still too many schools that don’t offer computer courses, and even if they do, our students may not be eligible to take them. Many of our up-and-coming engineers join Code Next to get the exposure and access they need. They join as high school freshmen and stay until graduation. Our inaugural class has even stayed connected outside of the show, and are now college sophomores!
Shameka: The students continually amaze me, there is no limit to what they can achieve. Our senior leadership sees it too. I have even seen their eyes sparkle when they attend our student showcases! Being part of this leadership team has also helped me raise my own children: I learned that you have to remove the limits and focus on the creative and fun part of education to truly inspire the next generation.
What do you hope students who participate in Code Next will learn beyond new technical skills?
Peta-Gay: I want our students to become lifelong learners. My hope is that they never stop exploring and playing, but more importantly that they find joy in learning.
Shameka: I want our students to use what they learn here to gain strength and push others forward. We want to inspire the next generation of creators and engineers to become disruptive technology leaders with a growth mindset. I hope they continue to grow and shine!
What do you hope to accomplish with the new Women of Color in Tech scholarship?
Peta-Gay: Together with Scholly, our team is pleased to sponsor a new scholarship for women of color in technology that will award up to 20 African American, Latina, and Native American women with $10,000 toward computer science degrees.
Shameka: It was created to raise awareness of the gender gap in technology and the challenges women of color face when trying to break into the industry. We also hope it will ease the financial burden on the winners so they can focus on their studies.
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, can you tell us about a role model or mentor who has helped you grow?
Peta-Gay: My first role models were my mother and grandmother. I am a first generation immigrant, so knowing that my parents came to the United States from Jamaica and had to start their lives all over again is my biggest motivation.
Shameka: I have been fortunate to come across some amazing women in this industry who have taken the time to advise and guide me over the years. But the next generation, our students, are now pushing to create a world where diversity and access are the norm, not the exceptionand I’m excited to see them create this change!