Q&A with Catherine Solazzo, Vice President, Developer Engagement, IBM Digital Business Group and Diana De Los Santos, Associate Director of Education, Girls Who Code
With rapid advancements in technology, the US Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be four million computer specialist job openings. Yet, there are far too few youth following a STEM path, to fill the need for these new collar jobs. Only one in four schools in the United States teach computer science. When you factor in gender, there’s an alarming disparity. While women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, just 18 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to them.
The trends for women in STEM will only continue to decline if we do not make an industry effort to provide more exposure to our youth. To tackle this problem head on, IBM is not only partnering with educational systems to bring Watson into classrooms, but we are partnering with organizations such as Girls Who Code to bring new cloud-based learning opportunities to students. From summer immersion workshops, to hiring three Girls Who Code alumni as summer interns, to the recent launch of new, hands-on tools to expand learning options for Girls Who Code clubs and partners. IBM is proud to partner with such a worthwhile organization.
Today, we’re excited to take this partnership one step further with the launch of our first Hero Journey module, Chatbots for Good: Introduction to empathetic chatbots. This is being piloted by Girls Who Code clubs across the country this month (and available to all via ibm.biz/chatbotsforgood). The future of technology will depend on how we program computers to interact with humans. That’s why we’re starting our Hero Journeys with chatbots. Consider this: Gartner projects that by 2020, 85 percent of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent. What better way to show how cognitive computing can make conversations with computers meaningful, then by detecting user emotions?This cloud-based learning experience will introduce learners to the art of conversation and how human-computer interactions can become more impactful. By using Watson Conversation and Tone analyzer services, learners can design, test, and build a chatbot that can help their club become a champion for compassion in their school or community, all while growing their individual skill sets.
To talk more about the first Hero Journey course, Chatbots for Good, along with the importance of transformational, digital based learning opportunities, I sat down with Diana De Los Santos, Associate Director of Education at Girls Who Code.
Catherine: Hi Diana, it’s great to catch up! IBM and Girls Who Code have been partners for a few years now; why is this partnership important to your organization?
Diana: A core belief at Girls Who Code is that all girls can be computer scientists. One role we play is to get girls excited about the opportunities that studying computer science can hold, and we couldn’t do that without our partners like IBM. By opening up their doors and resources to our girls, IBM helps us provide them with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in the tech-industry long term. Additionally, IBM gives our students a peek inside of a dynamic technology company and elevates role models for them to look up to. This helps girls see a future for themselves in tech.
Catherine: Let’s talk about Chatbots for Good. Why did Girls Who Code decide to pilot IBM’s first hero journey?
Diana: Girls Who Code has set a goal to grow our Clubs programs, and we see this vast expansion of our program as an opportunity to bring access to exciting and unique technologies to communities nationwide. IBM’s goals in building this curriculum are similar – to reach and empower young people with technology. Furthermore, when we learned about how Chatbots for Good ties technology to empathy and impact – two concepts that we also emphasize – the partnership simply made sense.
Catherine: What types of skills do you hope Girls Who Code students will walk away with after taking this course?
Diana: We hope that girls will learn some concrete techniques that appeal to the needs of target users while designing. We also want them to leave inspired and empowered to learn more about the functionality of Watson, so that they use the technology to improve the communication of their selected impact project, and create new projects they dream up. And we’re excited that anyone can open an IBM Cloud account, and both the girls and the club leaders have free access to Watson services as they develop their impact project.
Catherine: Why is empathy an important part of technology?
Diana: In going through the Chatbots for Good curriculum, I learned that by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent. Automation is expanding rapidly, and we feel strongly that growing empathetic designers who think about their users first is key to creating a world that is accommodating for all people.
Catherine: How do you think learning these skills will benefit society as a whole?
Diana: As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, it is important that there are diverse people at the table as it is created. By empowering the young women we reach with these new collar skills and design mindsets at an early age, we hope they will take jobs in tech. Even if they go on to other fields they will understand technology from IBM is a key enabler for how they play a role in defining a world that is more inclusive and accessible than would otherwise be possible.
Catherine: Can you tell me more about what’s next for Girls Who Code?
Diana: In the immediate future, one focus will be on the expansion of Girls Who Code Clubs. This program will help us serve tens of thousands more girls nationwide and bring them access to incredible technology, like what is featured in Chatbots for Good. To learn more about our Clubs program or to start a Club in your community, please check out girlswhocode.com/Clubs! Special shout-out to Janine Gerber, an IBMer who will be running her own Girls Who Code Club in North Carolina this year and joining us in our mission to close the gender gap in tech!
Catherine: Clearly, there are exciting initiatives ahead of us, Diana – and we’re looking forward to continuing our work together to provide access to technology for young women who want to improve the way the world functions.
In addition to being distributed to over 50,000 Girls Who Code members around the country, the Chatbots for Good Hero Journey will be accessible through ibm.biz/chatbotsforgood. The next set of Hero Journeys from IBM will continue to introduce digital natives to the new Watson, Internet of Things and mobile services to help grow their technological skill sets, understand the importance technology has in shaping their future, and contribute to building a new collar workforce.