Volunteer Spotlight: Barbara Preuninger

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Barbara Preuninger isn’t just interested in tech, she’s interested in the relationships that people have with technology and with each other.

Preuninger, a software developer for NextGen Healthcare, recently ran a TechGirlz workshop at the University of Pennsylvania, Information Systems and Computing department as part of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

“During the workshop that I ran, I mentioned how some of the challenges the kids were having (working out bugs, testing & being patient with yourself) were things I also dealt with in my work. It’s a way to build bridges between kids and grown-ups,” she said.

This passion for building bridges between people also surfaces in Preuninger’s own career, where she writes software that facilitates the relationship between doctors and patients.

During our interview, Preuninger noted the ways that much of our current technology sometimes creates an invisible barrier between people and the outside world, particularly in healthcare settings. “Many of us have had the experience of a doctor whose attention is divided between the patient and the software they need to use to record everything. It would definitely make for a better experience if the software were much simpler to use and required much less looking down or away from the screen. The software could be just as intuitive and natural as using the [self-service] ordering kiosk at Wawa – which I love, by the way!”

Preuninger’s interest in the human side of technology is also apparent in her teaching approach when partnering with TechGirlz. She favors student-centered methods that allow youth to problem-solve in more hands-on ways. “It’s better to give hints rather than hacking through it yourself while the students watch,” she remarked. “My favorite part of any workshop is seeing that ‘lightbulb moment,’ when I see the young person finally hone in on solving a tricky problem. It’s very similar to the joy of mastering a tough video game level, only this is more educational. I was surprised at the kids’ raw enthusiasm, and felt connected back to how FUN doing tech stuff can be.”

For Preuninger, TechGirlz means that girls can stay connected and contribute to technological growth. “It combats the stereotype that computers aren’t a ‘girl’ thing when they can see each other mastering the material and having fun,” she stated.

Preuninger has led a variety of workshops for the organization, including those focused on HTML/CSS, Bitzbox (an intro to mobile apps), and “You Can Code” which introduced students to coding using Blockly games. “My favorite was Bitzbox,” she observed, “because there was so much the girls could do creatively and they really got into it – they wouldn’t even stop for snack time!”

Preuninger hopes to help create a world where programmers and software developers interact more with the people they are trying to serve, and her involvement with TechGirlz is one of many ways she is working to accomplish these goals.

Written by volunteer Eva Lupold.