GirlCon encourages teen girls to explore tech careers and connections

The event will be virtual again this year, opening it up to girls around the world who want to learn more about their opportunities in technology.

GirlCon encourages teen girls to explore tech careers and make friends

TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Prachi Gyanmote of GirlCon about the GirlCon project and its mission. GirlCon is 3-7 p.m. June 27-30. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: GirlCon, which I'm going to have you explain all about it, but it is based out of Chicago, you're a part of the CORE team, you also head up PR and the design team for GirlCon. For people watching this, just kind of give us a little snapshot of, what is GirlCon?

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Prachi Gyanmote: GirlCon is an annual conference that takes place every year since 2018 when it was founded. And essentially, it's to just empower girls in STEM. Right now, there is a pretty big gender gap, and the inspiration behind it was kind of looking at what we see in our classrooms. When you walk into a computer science class, you see a room filled with boys, but it's hard to pick out the little number of girls that are actually there. And so stemming from that sort of gender gap, we wanted to create a conference around inspiring girls to attend these keynote sessions, breakout sessions that come with Tech + passions, and attend one-on-one networking sessions with professionals. They're able to become more inspired and see that there's so many opportunities that tech offers. It's not just CS or engineering, there's so much more that tech has to offer.

And this conference specifically is able to offer that through the multitude of different types of sessions we hold. Like I said before, we have breakout sessions with Tech + AI, or Tech + Law, or Tech + Health. It really doesn't have to be limited. And I think the great thing about our conference specifically is that we also get to hold a lot of one-on-one conversations, and especially now that we're virtual, we've had to figure out ways to engage our attendees more and more. But in the years past, obviously when it was in-person, things were a little different, but essentially, we're here to empower girls, high school girls that are just looking for more opportunities and ways to network with their peers and also professionals around the world.

Karen Roby: Excellent. And I will note that you are still in high school. You don't sound like it. You're just very knowledgeable and mature in your way of speaking, and I applaud you for that. I think that's so great, Prachi, because it's important to get the word out about this. I mean, we need to get more females interested and moving in this direction with STEM. You talked about walking into a classroom and seeing a male-dominated group there. How does that make you feel?

Prachi Gyanmote: Before, when I first took my CS class actually, it made me feel very different in a way and out of place. But when I joined GirlCon, I realized that there is a support system around us. There are so many girls out there who are just like me that are interested in the technology field and who want to take part in this journey. And I think that a lot of us, when we walk into that classroom, we feel alone. And I definitely did when I first took my first CS class freshman year, and my first engineering class then as well. I definitely think that initially, we do feel that sense of loneliness, and we don't know who we can look up to, but I think our conference specifically through GirlCon, we feature so many amazing women and professionals that come and speak at our conference.

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We have panels that we're going to be holding this year, a woman from IBM, the CME Group. We have amazing people all around us. And I think it's so important to remind ourselves that we're not alone in this. And we have a lot of people out there who are willing to mentor us. We have peers who are willing to be our friends, even if it's through just networking through social media, or LinkedIn, connecting, it has all to do with just building those relationships. And I think GirlCon is that first step that really shows you that there's a lot you can do with these relationships that you also build and form.

Karen Roby: Oh, absolutely. They're invaluable. And it's so important to learn that early on. Prachi, how do you think, or when do you think it's important to start imparting the importance of STEM on young people? Do you think it's something we need to be talking about more in elementary school, and as they're moving forward, or what do you think about that?

Prachi Gyanmote: Yeah. There's nothing wrong with starting early. I think the earlier you begin, the more you try to figure out things like, "Oh, maybe I like this sort of tech," and where you get to work with art, because this year we have so many different Tech + passions, like we have in the past, where we bring that variety. I think starting from a young age, you kind of get to see things like, "Oh, do I like when you use tech with law, or do I want to work more in the cybersecurity field?" Like, thinking of all of that beforehand and from a young age is perfect, because then you kind of start to pick out like, "Oh, but I don't like working with the hands-on things, but I love working on the computer, and just like, kind of doing the coding end of things."

I think that it's definitely more difficult when you aren't able to understand it, but in our conference specifically, it's more laid out in a general format. And that's why we're able to welcome so many different girls from different age groups. It's mostly for high school girls, but it's not like we limit it completely, because we know there are some young girls out there who are willing to come to our conference and want to genuinely just see what's there to offer. The passion and the kind of drive they have to come by itself is amazing.

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Karen Roby: And this is, you were telling me earlier, again, based out of Chicago, but now with COVID, you've gone all online, and you've been able to really open up, just so many more people and in different countries and everything.

Prachi Gyanmote: Yeah, exactly. Last year, we had to go virtual. It was definitely difficult, because leading up to it, we were ready to have it be in-person again. And like you said, it's based in Chicago, but once we had to go virtual, we started to realize that there're so many benefits that come with it. We actually had over 700 attendees from 32 different countries, which was so crazy to see, and we were so happy with the turnout. And we've expanded so much, just as an organization itself. And we're hoping that this year, we're able to bump those numbers up by a lot more, and just get the word out.

Karen Roby: Yeah, I hope so as well, Prachi, because it's so important. I mean, I'm just so happy that you and so many others are taking this on and moving forward with it. What is it that you hope to do in the tech realm? I mean, if you've kind of discovered what your niche will be, or what path you want to follow.

Prachi Gyanmote: Yeah. I think that definitely, I've thought about it a lot. I have a great interest for political science and everything that kind of realm has to offer. And I think it would be great if I was able to find a middle ground or a cross section with Tech + Cybersecurity, or just working on the law end of things in tech and CS. That's where my mind is headed right now, but honestly, not limited to that. I'm still figuring out what I want to do as well. GirlCon has taught me so much about what there is to offer. I'm excited to see what all these professionals have in store for us, especially this conference, too, with so many new sessions that we have.

Karen Roby: Yes, definitely. I have a feeling, whatever you do, you're going to be very successful, Prachi. Well, tell us the quick wrap-up details here, how people find you, what they need to know, all that good stuff.

Prachi Gyanmote: Definitely go follow us on our Instagram. That's where we do all our updates. It's @girlcon, and that's where you'll find our registration links. You'll be able to participate in our giveaways. We have many takeovers there as well. And then obviously, our website, girlcon.org. You can find out more information on registration, how to get involved, what kind of sessions we're holding, the keynote speakers that we're going to feature, and the different one-on-one coffee chats that we have planned as well that you can sign up for as well.

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