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CompTIA TechGirlz Summer Workshops Target Budding Female IT Pros

CompTIA Spark is offering TechGirlz workshops and camps to middle school girls to give them the opportunity to build skills in a number of tech fields.

CompTIA Spark, the nonprofit social impact arm of CompTIA, is offering middle school girls the chance to explore the world of information technology and build skills for a potential future career in multiple tech fields through a series of TechGirlz workshops and camps.

The workshops are open to girls in the 5th through 8th grades and are free, while the camps are open to girls in 6ththrough 9th grades and may charge a fee.

Among the workshops being offered this summer are an introduction to encryption that teaches how information is protected online, an introduction to the programming language JavaScript, and a video communications program called "Lights, Camera Action: Storytelling and Video Production."

Other options include a course on how to use software to create personal podcasts and an engineering-focused course that teaches them how to design a custom roller coaster.

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The summer camps offer opportunities to create business plans and prototypes as an entrepreneur or build a robot using a microcontroller at the IDEAShop Arduino Programming Camp.

The organization has also teamed up with Comcast on the virtual two-day event "Cool Down Cyber Camp!," where girls can learn video game creation and design.

Another offering is the five-day Camp Inspire & STEM: Gaming and Virtual Reality, where girls can code their own virtual spaces and explore them through Oculus VR headsets.

Bridging the Gender Gap in Technology

Alicia Park, senior manager, partner outreach, at CompTIA Spark, said the driving force behind the TechGirlz program and the summer workshop series stems from the realization that, despite numerous opportunities, a significant gender gap exists in the tech workforce.

Women make up approximately 49% of the U.S. workforce but only 26% of tech occupations, according to CompTIA's State of the Tech Workforce report, she pointed out.

"The anticipated growth rate for tech jobs over the next decade is nearly double the national jobs rate, and the median tech occupation wage is 103% higher than the median national wage in the US," she explains. "However, research indicates that girls' interest in technology and computer science classes declines dramatically as they progress from elementary to middle school and high school."

From Park's perspective, offering programs like these to young women is crucial because it helps bridge the gender gap in the technology industry.

"Gender stereotypes about interests start early and cause gender disparities in fields like computer science and engineering," she said. "By exposing girls to technology at an early age, we can help them develop an interest and confidence in pursuing careers in technology."

This not only benefits the girls themselves by providing them with valuable skills, increased career opportunities, and the potential for higher earnings, but also contributes to a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which has been shown to drive innovation and improve business performance.

"Empowering girls to pursue technology-related fields can also boost their self-esteem and encourage them to become leaders and role models for future generations, Park said.

Breaking the Cybersecurity Stereotypes

Rita Gurevich, CEO and founder at cybersecurity company SPHERE, agrees it's critical to offer programs like this to young women to break the stereotype that cybersecurity is only for men and establish a healthy pipeline of creative, smart professionals ready to break into the industry.

"The more programs like these that touch different age groups and different regions, the better equipped we'll be as an industry to face the increasingly complex cyber threats of tomorrow," she said. "I am a big proponent of programs like these that offer both technical skill-building and entrepreneurial workshops."

Gurevich added that as a first-generation immigrant and woman starting her own career in cybersecurity, she knows first-hand how difficult it can be to pave your own way in an often gatekept industry.

"It also starts internally at each organization," she said. "Does your workplace culture celebrate differences among employees? Are you actively promoting and encouraging diversity at all levels of the business? These are important questions every IT leader should be asking if they seek to invest in the next generation of women in tech."

Melissa Bischoping, director of endpoint security research at cybersecurity and systems management company Tanium, said getting more women — of any age — involved in cyber competitions and mentored by women leaders in the industry helps build a professional network and proof of skill that she can personally say had a direct impact on her own career.

"The training programs are great, but the professional networking opportunities and collaborative spirit of team cyber events are something no training can replace," she said.

Bischoping added that creating paths for nontraditional entrances into tech will help close the skills gap and staff the millions of unfilled cybersecurity positions today.

"I would love to see more programs tailored toward parents, career changers, and adult learners — which I was when I entered the industry, too," she noted.

About the author

Nathan Eddy headshotNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.
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