It's International Women's Day on March 8th. As a software engineer at GoGuardian, I’ll give a glimpse into the challenging (and fun!) work that goes into building and maintaining the GoGuardian software and highlight reasons why it’s important to introduce females to engineering. Finally, I’ll suggest ways educators can promote STEM fields in the classroom.
What does the process behind supporting the GoGuardian software look like in practice? While each day is different and each product has unique needs, here are some typical scenarios:
It’s Monday afternoon. The team stands in a half circle around the whiteboard evaluating a diagram of arrows and boxes representing the relationships between databases and microservices. We’re vetting a new design proposal that will improve real-time communication on the teacher product. We consider the flow and structure of the data, potential points of failure and bottlenecks, and what technologies make sense to use. It’s looking like a new technology we haven’t used before may best suit the needs of the project. As engineers, adopting new technologies that serve our use cases is common.
It’s Wednesday morning. Customer support informs us that a certain group of users are not having their classroom sessions scheduled at the correct time. I get assigned the ticket and find out more information on when and how this issue is occurring. Reviewing the code, I reason through potential edge cases that may not have been accounted for - such as daylight savings or the region of the users - and if it could be a larger issue with how we convert time. Though I didn’t write the code, it’s typical as an engineer to have to jump into existing code and troubleshoot.
It’s Friday at 4am. An internal alarm for our admin product has gone off indicating one of our services is overloaded with requests. Within minutes, the engineer on call is reviewing metrics and logs for the service to investigate further. Sometimes, the issue is as simple as restarting a service or updating a version of an internal dependency for the software. This time, the issue seems to have affected several other services that communicate with it, and gets escalated to other members of the team who will work together. Though each of our engineers is assigned a home product team, it’s common for engineers to work across teams as needed.
These examples demonstrate some of the routine tasks the engineering team handles while building, maintaining, and scaling products that are used by our users. This experience contrasts with the stereotypical image of a solo hacker on his/her computer. I think many more girls would enter engineering if they knew of this other, real-life picture - a career that requires constant learning, creative problem solving and teamwork.
As a young girl, though I liked math and science, I never considered becoming an engineer. I wasn’t exposed to the diverse work engineers do, and didn’t know any engineers that had a similar background to mine. Without role models to look to or active encouragement, engineering can often be seen as only inclusive of and accessible to certain groups. I’m grateful for the mentors and opportunities I had later in life that allowed me to pursue a field that I love. However, there is much we can do to actively counter the barriers to entry in STEM going forward. Introducing girls to engineering is about being mindful of the challenges that exist and actively work to counter them as we expose all students to the rigor of careers in STEM.
Learning to code challenges students to think critically about problems, build and test potential solutions, and collaborate in teams. Here are several ways to introduce students to engineering in the classroom and empower them to learn more:
- Engage students in problem solving exercises. A lot of computer science fundamentals can be understood by elementary students. Solving algorithm challenges like calculating the Fibonacci sequence or counting in binary introduces students to core concepts of software engineering while presenting fun challenges.
- Invite an engineer to speak. All students can benefit from exposure to STEM careers. What better way to do this than to hear what the day-in-the-life of an engineer looks like? Students may not think about all the engineering behind the computer software and hardware they use every day.
- Highlight contributions to computer science made by diverse engineers. Have your class study role models that implicitly show students that they, too, can become an engineer. Computer science has a rich history which includes contributions by noteable females such as Ada Lovelace, who worked on the first general-purpose computer, and Margaret Hamilton, (https://www.wired.com/2015/10/margaret-hamilton-nasa-apollo/) a software engineer on Nasa’s Apollo mission who helped write the first portable computer.
- Share resources to learn to code. A computer is all that is needed to code and there are an increasing number of kid-friendly tools available free and online. Two highly recommended resources are Khan Academy’s Computer Programming Track (https://www.khanacademy.org) and Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/) which allows students to program their own game without prior knowledge of coding.
- Encourage parents to give educational tech gifts. Raspberry Pis are affordable mini-computers. Robotics kits, Legos and Jewelbots Friendship Bracelets (http://www.jewelbots.com/), are all programable toys that make for educational and fun gifts.
At GoGuardian, being an education technology company goes beyond our products being used in schools. It is embedded into our culture of learning and persevering through challenges as we build the GoGuardian products. Thank you for all you do as educators to create awareness and opportunities for students to explore STEM. I encourage you to reach out and show GoGuardian what engagement in STEM looks like in your classroom. Together, let’s support the next generation of engineers.