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Profile: Juliette Palacios, founder and executive director of Computing Minds

Women in Tech: “First steps are always the hardest, but it will pay off in the end”

Dominik Mohilo

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Juliette Palacios, founder and executive director of Computing Minds.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Three years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Juliette Palacios, founder and executive director of Computing Minds.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Juliette Palacios, founder and executive director of Computing Minds

Juliette Palacios is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit, Computing Minds. Computing Minds loves to teach and inspire girls and women about the basic fundamentals of coding at a young age and offers free coding classes to girls aged 9 to 12. Early on, Juliette recognized that there was a digital divide (based both on race and gender) in the world of computer programming, and decided to do something about it.

When did you become interested in technology?

When I was in fourth grade, someone came to my school after lunch one day to teach us a short lesson on the fundamentals of computer science. That day, I made a character move around on the screen and go through a type of obstacle course by placing coding blocks together. Experiencing a fun first time with computer science made me more open to learning more about it in the future.

How did you end up in your career path?

When I was 14, I took a beginners class on computer science called “The Joy of Computing.” I was open minded about taking the class because I remembered how coding was fun for me in fourth grade. “Joy of Computing” quickly became my favorite class; I loved being able to create so many fun projects on the computer. However, I soon realized that my class had a lot more boys than girls, and many of the girls who were in the class were uninterested in learning the course material. When I looked around at computer science on a professional level, I realized how vastly underrepresented women were. I knew that I could do something about it, so I started getting rides or taking the bus to local elementary schools in Oakland to teach girls from 9-12 the fundamentals of computer science. The more that I started to develop my organization, the more I realized what the benefits of turning it into a nonprofit would be. So, when I was 15, I worked on the paperwork to turn my organization, Computing Minds, into a nonprofit. There was a lot of paperwork, and it was challenging working with the IRS at times, but I bought a Nolo self-help book for starting a nonprofit that really helped me with the process.

Now, I am 16 and I am the founder and executive director of my nonprofit, Computing Minds (computingminds.org).

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

My computer teacher, Mr. Mattix, had a big impact on myself today. He was very supportive of all of my projects when I took my first coding class, and he would put most of them in his “Hall of Fame” project folder to show as examples to future classes. When I asked him to be on the board of my nonprofit, he gladly accepted and has continued to help and support me as a student who loves computer science and has a nonprofit.

When I looked around at computer science on a professional level, I realized how vastly underrepresented women were. I knew that I could do something about it, so I started getting rides or taking the bus to local elementary schools in Oakland to teach girls from 9-12 the fundamentals of computer science.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Nobody specifically has ever tried to stop me from learning computer science in my life, however it has been hard at times. Whenever I look around at what I hope to do in the future– work in business and computer science– sometimes I feel like it would be hard to succeed. I see so many men doing what I want to do, but I hardly see any females of color like myself. Seeing this type of underrepresentation can be discouraging sometimes, but I use it to grow from; it is very important to me that my nonprofit is able to be accessible to a diverse group of girls.

A day in Juliette’s life

Because of the pandemic, Computing Minds has switched over to using Zoom and Scratch (a visual, block-based coding language). At first, I was not sure how this would work out, but it has been great; before, I could only access students that were within driving distance, but now I have been able to teach more students who live farther away and expand Computing Minds’ reach. A typical day for me includes answering emails, organizing and teaching classes, and other work for general upkeep of the nonprofit.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the students I have impacted who love computer science now. There is a strong sense of community and togetherness that helps the girls realize that they can be supported if they wish to pursue computer science in the future.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

It is not seen as an option for them. Many girls are told that when they grow up, they can be a teacher or a secretary. Currently, it is not common enough in society for people to be telling young girls that they can pursue a field of computer science. My nonprofit works to make it known to these girls that they can do this in their future if they want to. It is also hard to get them to pursue this because the girls see so many men in the field, so can be hard to picture themselves there too.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

Weak sense of community and empowerment, men having different points of view and trying to override, women not seen as “capable” enough.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

The more women that get into computer science, the more it will become the norm to have a diverse group of people working together in science. Women can also have different points of view, so when they work on designing something, they can know what other women might want to see.

The more women that get into computer science, the more it will become the norm to have a diverse group of people working together in science.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

It is hard to give a specific time frame. History has treated men and women differently and given them different career stereotypes for so long, that it will be many, many years before everything is 100% equal.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

They should know that although it can feel difficult at times being one of the only females, they are paving the way for future generations. We have to start somewhere, and the first steps are always the hardest, but it will pay off in the end.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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