Join Peggy Fisher for an in-depth discussion in this video Women in STEM - Film, part of Women in STEM.
[Peggy Fisher]: I think a lot of students, especially girls, when they hear "programming," they think intensive math, or they think a cubicle with no windows, and I sit at my desk all day by myself. That stereotype is no longer what we have today. [Jess Stratton]: Something that stays the same is not for me, and that's probably why Stem fields are so exciting. Because they're turbulent. They're always changing and we have to keep up with them. [Sheeri Cabral]: There's plenty of opportunities for you to get out there, pursue your dream, and if you don't have a dream, then pursue your interests. Do what you love. Do what you love and your strengths will really shine through. My name is Sheeri Cabral, and I'm a senior database administrator. I work at Mozilla. - My name is Jess Stratton. I am a staff author at lynda.com and I also own Solace Learning. - My name is Peggy Fisher. Currently I am working at Penn State University. I teach computer science to basically freshmen and I love it. When I started teaching, I taught in an economically depressed area. People in this area really have a very low income threshold, and I felt like they were really missing out on opportunities because of that. So through a lot of work and grants, and finding even business partners in the area, I could offer camps or even a club after school where I could start to expose some of these kids that maybe don't have computers at home, or maybe would never have a chance to use robotics. I teach a hands-on approach. When I was able to use the Lego Mindstorms and Tetrix metal in a classroom, and have the kids use that to program. At one point, I even got Microsoft controllers donated from Microsoft, and we learned XNA programming. And they made their own games using the controller. And I saw how they devoured the content. At that point I knew that hands-on action items, relating it to what they enjoy, which is game programming or problem solving, was the way to get to these students. - I used to go onsite to fix people's computers, and they would sit there and watch me fix them. And I would chat to them about what I was doing, and a lot of them, I noticed, would take an interest in it. And they would want to know what I was doing, as they say, "so next time I can fix it myself." And that's when I thought, you know what? Instead of fixing computers for people, if I teach them how to fix it, they can do it themselves. So I started Solace Learning, and I got notepads that said "Keep this pad by your computer." "When it's full of your questions," "call me and we'll take care of it." And that's when it hit me that I really liked teaching people how to do stuff. Working from home and having a daughter has been bliss for me. Growing up, work for my parents was something that they loved. They were doing what they loved, what their passion was. And it's very important for me that she sees that also, that she gets involved in the excitement in it. Working from home gives me opportunities to change. At any given time, I could be in my home office, I could be typing in my computer on my deck, I could be sitting on my couch, in my front yard, I can be in the coffee shop down the street. We're in a great age where we have so many mobile devices and cloud software that we use, we don't have to be tied to one place anymore. - Looking back on it, I can see that from an early age I was well suited to be a database administrator. When I was younger, I had a penny collection. And I would spend a couple of hours sorting, you know, five hundred pennies. It's only five dollars in pennies, but it was my collection. And I'd sort it in date order, and then I'd sort it by whether it was the Denver mint or the Philadelphia mint, whether it had a P or a D on it. And then I would finish. I'd have them all sorted, and then I would still want to sort them again, so I would mess them all up and then sort them in order of shininess. It was about the middle of then where I gave up on that. But all of that organizing really speaks to database administration. I really love helping people. That's what I want to do in my job, in my life. I've been volunteering since I was fourteen. So I moved all that volunteerism into my career. I started blogging, and I wanted to start the Boston MYSQL User Group, so I did that to get speakers to come in because I was meeting all these speakers through the writing. They would comment on my blog posts. Another way that I've been able to reach out to many people is a podcast. It's called OurSQL, the MYSQL database community podcast. It's a lot of work and a lot of effort, but I get a lot out of it, and I can really reach a lot of people that way. - Over the years, many times people open doors with surprise that there was a young lady standing in front of them ready to fix their computers and teach them how to use it. I did get used to it, and as time went on I grew more confident with it, and now yes, this is me and I'm very good at what I do. I'm able to say that now. - Right now I think there is a stereotype that boys do better in math and science. But it's actually been proven that girls do just as well at an early age in those fields, but maybe because of the stereotype they're not pursuing those, or they're not taking advantage of the fact that, yeah I do like math, and it's OK to say that. It's OK to be the one that says, "Hey," "I have the answer to that question." - As for the general state of women in Stem, I can only speak to women in tech. I hope that in a few years' time we'll really see the error of kind of having this "bro culture" that exists. I hope that booth babes will be a thing of the past, and something that we look at and say I can't believe that ever happened. Kind of like smoking in hospitals. Why was that ever even allowed? Why are booth babes even ever allowed? - Don't let your gender or anything else define you. Do what you have a passion for. I had done my eighteen years in industry. I loved it, I did great. But I knew that I wanted a different quality of life, so I went into teaching. Teaching opened all new doors for me, and it's been a wonderful experience. For example, when I was teaching I was able to obtain grants as I mentioned earlier, to be able to offer some of the summer programs. Through a teaching conference, I met a representative from Microsoft. That relationship, just by the fact that I was open, introduced myself, said "Hey, how ya doing?", talked with her about what I do, she said, "Hey do you want to be part" "of a pilot program that we're doing?" And that's how I was able to get free software for my high school. After that it went so well that I started to do speaking for Microsoft. I would go to the conferences, and I would actually present to other teachers. The biggest thing was, it took a long time to get there, but was having self-confidence in myself and being willing to say "Hey, I'm interested in coming" "to talk to you about what I'm doing at the high school" "to see if maybe you want to help." You'd be surprised at how many people you can meet and how many doors that can open. - I find inspiration from all of my friends that I have gone to technical conferences with. As you go to more and more of them, you learn that it is a very small community. Over the years, we have had a wonderful support system. About who writes this paper and who writes this piece of software and who has a various skill set. So if you need help, you have somebody to come to. And the great thing about all these people is they're all the movers and shakers. So when a really neat app or when a really neat idea or something cool comes along, they know about it, and they love to share and talk about it. And there's a fantastic group of women there. We call ourselves the Nerd Girls. We get together and we pool ideas, like what can we do as a big session at this next conference, and what can we do if we want to sponsor this? They're just wonderful, they're a great source of support in the field and off the field. You can't do it at all without a support system. - I have a great support network, and when I'm having my moments of doubt, they help me. The key to any career is people. Early on when I was writing my blog posts, I will say that I made a big mistake in front of the entire community of my blog posts, and it's still there, and people commented. And then the next post I had, it was very early on, it was like post 13 or 14, the next post I made, I said "Hey, thanks for letting me know. You're absolutely right." and retracted it. The good news is that I was able to make this mistake and still people listened to me and looked at what I was blogging about, and came to respect me as a good technical writer and a person who is knowledgeable about these databases. So it's not flawless, it's not completely without error. But even making that mistake helped me realize that yeah, I could fall down and the community wasn't just going to leave me behind, they were going to come with me. If you have a particular barrier you're trying to overcome, find someone who's overcome those barriers and emulate them, because a mentor does not have to specifically mentor you. You don't have to call them up and they talk to you. You can just look at someone and see how they behave, and emulate that. - If you want advice about overcoming barriers, you just have to identify what that barrier is, and acknowledge that it's not going to go away. Right, so you're going to step out of your comfort zone. It's just going to happen. You're going to have to be confident, or at least show confidence when you don't really feel confident. And that's a problem with the technology field too. It takes a while to master software, and when that software changes you have to relearn it again. But you have to trust yourself that you know it. - I am a huge supporter of life-long learning. I started in 1980. At that time, I had the role model of my parents and my father. And when you got a job, you stayed in that job for 40 years, and then you retired. Well the challenge now, or the challenge at the time for me was that that was not the case. You stayed at a job for maybe five to seven years but then you move on. So in order to do that, you have to be constantly learning. - One of the greatest things that ever happened was when I was in computer science and I learned object oriented programming. That was the best thing that could have ever happened, because having that foundation gave me the skills to learn anything new in a finger snap. So if new software comes out that you need to develop for, it's really easy to learn something new as long as you have the basic concepts of how it works. - When I first got out of college, I knew COBOL and CICS. They're two mainframe programming languages that are still used today, but you don't hear a lot about them. If you learn one language, you can take that skill set and apply it to learning another language. Let's say you're taking a C++ class now. You take the time to learn that, you could take those skills and you can learn Java, you can learn C Sharp, so you just have to be constantly willing to take on those challenges. - Try to be adventurous if you can. If somebody is offering you something, they think you're good enough, so take it. If you're good at writing, you don't have to be a journalist or a newspaper reporter. You could be a technical writer. You could be an editor for a science magazine. Go with your strength and see how you can make that into a Stem career. - There's so many places that rely on science, technology, engineering, mathematics, that's all around us. And it's just a matter of following your passions and seeing where it goes.
Here Sheeri, Jess, and Peggy talk about the key factors to their success (confidence, community, and curiosity), and the ways they're cncouraging more students to enter STEM. Watch and find out if there's a future in these fields for you.