My Mentor Experience – Charlotte Foran

My Mentor Experience – Charlotte Foran

I ran into a high school classmate when I was back home. We got to chatting, and I realized the last time I had seen her had been at our graduation: seven and a half years ago. That three quarters of a decade seems simultaneously like a lifetime and like an instant. I know I’ve changed since then–I’m more confident, less self-focused, and have way better hair. But I’ve never felt essentially different from the way I did back in high school; never like I was a new person entirely.

But, I do know that high school Charlotte would never imagine doing the job I do today.

The plan for me, going into college, was to major in math or chemistry. Go on to get a Master’s or Ph.D. Maybe become a professor someday. It certainly wasn’t to get a degree in Computer Science and go into the industry immediately after graduation (though I haven’t ruled going back to get that extra degree). The CS part, however, was never on the radar.

I went to a public high school. Our “computer” course taught you how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and was universally regarded as a blowoff class. Computers as a science or software design as a potential career was never something presented to me. To be honest, I don’t know that I would have taken the offer up even if it had been. CS seemed like a boy thing or something I wouldn’t be good enough for. This was, funny enough, despite the fact that I’ve been thinking of and conceptualizing problems in terms of (what I would later learn were called) algorithms since I was a child. It just wasn’t something I’d ever even considered.

I was lucky enough to take an Intro Computer Science course at my college on a lark and to fall in love with and pursue it. But that’s all it was at its instantiation–a lark. I had, and continue sometimes to have, terrible imposter syndrome that tells me I’m not good enough to do the things I’m doing, or not smart enough, or because I don’t know something right now there’s no way I could ever learn it. This type of thinking can affect everyone, but it’s especially prominent in women/girls, people of color, and those whose backgrounds haven’t offered them an easy access path into STEM fields.

Back to re-meeting my high school classmate. Talking to her, I had a sudden powerful flash of memory of being a teenager, of being unsure and looking more narrowly at the options for my future than was warranted. I would have relished something like Technovation at that age–something that would have shown me that a career in software was not only possible, but a thing that I would prove to be talented at. That early step into computer science would have buoyed me along down a pathway that in the end I mostly stepped into through luck. It would have told me, and continue to tell me, that I can do it. That I am good enough.

I’m ten years older than the girls I mentor through Technovation. I see a lot of my high school self–that self I still feel mostly like–in them. They can be impetuous, impatient, and easily distracted. Snack time is usually their favorite part of the meetings, and things not working out hits them hard. However–and this is what constantly amazes me about these girls–they’re some of the most driven people I’ve ever met. They want to succeed at the problems they’re tackling, and they’ll keep worrying at them until they do. They’re endlessly creative and innovative, and look at problems the way us more experienced folks might never do. They’ll let Technovation eat into their precious little free time (they do something like forty five extracurricular activities each, plus school) because it fills a niche for them. And that niche–a supportive, goal-oriented, multidisciplinary challenge–is something that I, someone who never had it, know will be so, so valuable for them.

Girls are good at code. Girls are good at entrepreneurship. Girls are good at solving problems.

Technovation lets them see that.

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