Summer in the Sandbox: Mentoring Girls Who Code
With our annual Girls Who Code mentorship program kicking off last week at AppNexus, we’re thrilled to welcome this year’s group of rising leaders. We’d like to share one AppNexian's experience of what it’s like serving as a resource for academic, career, personal, and intellectual growth as this summer’s Girls Who Code class members begin their journey.
This post comes to us from Lucy Spain, a mentor for girls in the program. Lucy is a proud five year AppNexian, writer, professional actress, and amateur human being. She is constantly inspired by the diversity, spontaneity, and she sees every day at AppNexus.
The path that led me to become a woman working in tech was unconventional, to say the least. I am living proof that you don't have to come from a technology background to succeed in this field. You simply have to be curious, and lucky enough to stumble upon someone who sees your potential and is willing to nurture it. For me, that someone was AppNexus. But for a lucky group of teenage girls in New York every summer, it’s Girls Who Code. I spent last summer as a mentor in their immersion program, but before I tell you about that, let me give you some background on me, and why I believe this initiative is so important.
As a young woman, I based a large part of my identity and self-worth on the way I looked. Maybe it was growing up in the South, being a cheerleader, my ten years as a professional actress, or the fact that my physical accomplishments held more value than my mental ones. I was under the impression that as a woman, my future and career were going to be pre-determined and dictated by my appearance. Fortunately, I came upon AppNexus, where I found a plethora of strong female mentors, and a community that values knowledge above all else. The importance of intergenerational relationships is a long-held tenet of feminism – it’s crucial to see potential manifested in someone you can see yourself in. My career conversations and dozens of coffees with mentors at AppNexus are the driving force of my personal and professional growth each and every day.
This summer I had the opportunity to pass on this gift of mentorship during a time in another young woman’s life where I knew she would need it. High school is confusing, and I guarantee we all often reflect on some simple but imperative life lessons we wish we had known back then. For six weeks, I was a mentor to a rising high school senior girl through the remarkable non-profit, Girls Who Code, which introduces countless young women to the tech world each year. Each week, as I listened to an eager young woman talk about her experiences, I realized that, thanks in part to this program, she is growing up to know that she’s valued for her brain – not just for what she wears, her make-up, or how shiny her hair is. I left every session bursting with hope and joy for her future, so grateful to have the privilege to view the world through her eyes, with a perspective that took me many years after high school to find for myself.
During our weekly sessions, we discussed colleges, scholarship opportunities for women in STEM, resume building, the importance of networking, and what to bring to the first day of college classes. The weeks flew by faster than I would have liked, and before I knew it, these girls had blossomed into professional young women, walking proudly across the graduation stage armed with new skills and confidence. Knowing that we had an influence on the poise and self-assurance these young women exuded was the greatest honor I’ll receive all year.
Their final projects were astounding, and what stuck out to me was how nearly every single one was geared towards helping their peers and communities, with project titles like ‘Race to Racial Justice’ and ‘Anxiety Diary.' These girls were already using tech to make a positive difference in the world. These final projects were a beautiful affirmation that in the right hands, technology is a thing of enchantment, bridging gaps in communities, and fostering creative entrepreneurship.
At the end of the graduation ceremony, I watched the girls swell with pride as they presented their projects to parents, grandparents, and friends. I must admit I shed a few tears of joy when I heard these girls were going home with the computers they hammered away on all summer. While the Girls Who Code students fostered deep relationships with their computers (I would know, I’ve been in a serious relationship with my boyfriend Mac for years), I walked away knowing it was the interpersonal relationships they’d formed that would provide personal guidance and growth for years to come.
Reflecting on this process now, I think of mentoring as a cycle we all have the responsibility to perpetuate. I went back and spoke to the women at AppNexus I consider to be my greatest mentors, and there was one topic that came up in every conversation. They all said they attributed their success and leadership skills to at least one of their own mentors. Prior to this summer, I considered myself a mentee. I didn’t think I had enough wisdom or life experience to be a mentor. I now realize that you don’t have to have all the answers; you just have to be present. Allowing another person to see their strengths and areas for potential growth through your eyes is enough. If we can just be a bit more vulnerable, ask the hard questions, and listen more actively, we can all be mentors by simply making a human connection.