A Conversation with TechGirlz and Creating IT Futures Foundation
March 5, 2019
By Sarah Johnson, Volunteer and former TechGirlz Teen Advisory Board Member
My name is Sarah Johnson, and I am a former TechGirlz student volunteer and the recipient of a Creating IT Futures Foundation grant.
Like many of you, I was thrilled by the news that Creating IT Futures was acquiring TechGirlz and excited to see what the two organizations could achieve together. But I was blown away when TechGirlz founder and CEO Tracey Welson-Rossman suggested that I interview her and Creating IT Futures CEO Charles Eaton about their plans for the future.
I originally learned about TechGirlz and its mission to inspire middle school girls to pursue careers in tech in 2016. Having been the only girl in many tech camps and programs before, I was inspired by their important work and resolved to help.
Since that time, I have volunteered at a local library workshop, helped create VR games at the 2017 Women in Tech Summit in Philadelphia, spent two summers as the technical lead for their Adruino summer camp, and explained what was inside a computer at the 2017 Philadelphia Science Festival.
It has been an absolute joy for me, and I am constantly re-energized by these girls’ excitement for technology and the smiles on their faces when they figure out how to properly type code or re-wire a robot. That is why I was so honored when Tracey asked me to speak with her and Charles. What follows are selected questions and answers from our conversation.
What are the terms of the acquisition?
Tracey: The acquisition itself is pretty straightforward. The focus is on our shared mission and the vision for how to achieve it.
TechGirlz will remain TechGirlz (as a brand) and continue to operate out of Philadelphia. But we will now be part of the Creating IT Futures family, with all of our staff – including the Women in Tech Summit team – becoming Creating IT Futures staff. Creating IT Futures will also take over fundraising operations on behalf of TechGirlz. Combining operations and teams in this way will help us scale more quickly and efficiently.
In return, Creating IT Futures will receive all assets of TechGirlz, including our trademark and funds. They are also excited to apply some of our core learnings and insights around designing a curriculum for middle schoolers to their other programs and partners.
People have also asked whether I am going away. How could I? This is my passion. I will join the Creating IT Futures Board of Directors, but continue to work with the TechGirlz team and speak on behalf of the organization.
Why is an acquisition necessary since you’ve been working together for a while?
Tracey: Our longstanding partnership has been a great way to get know each other. But as much as we share the same mission, the groups were still living and working separately.
By joining Creating IT Futures and TechGirlz together under “one roof” we believe that we can better understand each other’s areas of expertise and create even more powerful workforce solutions.
Charles: This is not about Creating IT Futures agreeing to support TechGirlz monetarily. This is about a deeply shared commitment that will launch new strategies with the potential to engage even more companies and volunteers in service to tens of thousands more girls around the country.
Tracey: We have always worked very well together. But our recent strategy sessions have already proven more creative and bigger picture. I am confident in our ability to create groundbreaking solutions that will inspire and prepare even more girls, women and other underserved group to participate in America’s growing tech workforce.
How does Creating IT Futures view TechGirlz as part of its overall mission?
Charles: The Creating IT Futures mission has always been about creating on-ramps for more people to prepare for, secure and succeed in IT careers. We especially focus on encouraging an IT path for populations that traditionally have been under-represented in the information technology workforce, such as women.
While we focused much of our work in the last seven years on out-of-work adults or those struggling in low-wage non-IT professions, we’ve always known we need to do more at the beginning of the talent pipeline to encourage young people to consider the possibilities of a career in tech. I love what TechGirlz has done to spark that interest in middle school, which is the most critical time to engage girls in their future STEM options.
What is something new we can expect from TechGirlz as a result of this arrangement?
Tracey: We have already begun work on creating an improved, repeatable process for launching and scaling programs in new regions and cities. We are also planning creating ways to reach more girls with information about how to participate in TechGirlz workshops and camps. And together with Creating IT Futures we are outlining new fundraising strategies to deliver on these ideas.
Will girls still get to use the same great TechGirlz name and logo?
Charles: Absolutely. The biggest mistake we could make would be to mess with what’s been working, and the name and logo are an important part of the community that’s been built around TechGirlz. I’ve looked at the TechGirlz sticker on my desktop multiple times a day, every day for the last four years. I love everything about the TechGirlz brand, and we just want more girls, parents and tech industry volunteers to experience what TechGirlz can do so they can share in that appreciation.
Are there other programs that Creating IT Futures would like to launch or partner with in the future?
Charles: We’re constantly innovating, and as we push to build programs that impact all stages of a person’s tech journey from middle school until they retire, we’ll be turning to the lessons we’re learning from TechGirlz to inform our other programs. Ideas such as how to best engage volunteers, how to build stickiness with a brand, how to inspire young people, and more. Our dream is to have some of our own programs but also to be tightly woven with great partners such as the Technology Student Association or Wounded Warrior Project, and together we are delivering solutions that help drive people forward in their pursuit of a career in tech.
Why should current and future girls (and their parents) participating in TechGirlz be excited about this news?
Tracey: We hope our girls understand that this news is really all about them. Providing more resources, coming up with new ideas, engaging more partners and volunteers – all of the elements that will help them better learn about new technology and unlock new possibilities. And I’m confident that even more opportunities will unfold than we can imagine today. I hope that parents and girls will sense this enthusiasm and be as eager as we are for what lies ahead.
For my part, I am excited to watch as these two aligned organizations continue closing the gap between males and females in technology. Today, there are only five girls in my class of 18 engineering students – the highest ratio ever in my professor’s class. But with the hard work and dedication of committed advocates like Tracey and Charles, that ratio will surely change as the number of women in tech continues to rise.