Best of Times, Worst of Times

Cathy Zhang, Girls Innovate! Teen Committee
Technovation (Part 1)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens

As we define the makeup of our team, with potential members coming in and out, the Technovation team of which I am Team Captain has been unstable. Problems arise: location issues, mentor issues. So what really sticks us together? It seems to be our passion for technology– our desire to want to do this challenge.

Being girls in our pre-teen and early-teen years, we are different from many who have historically participated in a tech challenge, and also different from the gender stereotypes. We are outliers, as the famous psychologist Malcolm Gladwell says.

Just recently, four girls met at a Girls Innovate! Technovation info session in Palo Alto, CA. We live in the Los Altos/Mountain View/Cupertino area; we are in 6th-8th grades; and we are all girls inspired by the possibilities of STEM.

Technovation is a global technology competition (originated in Mountain View) for girls, working in teams with support from advisors and women mentors in the tech industry, to solve problems in their local communities. We develop mobile apps using MIT’s App Inventor. The program culminates in a World Pitch event in June, where regional finalists compete to win $10,000 in funding for their app.

I decided to write this post – and to continue it as a column during my journey as a Technovation team captain – not only to show girls what leading and participating in Technovation is like, but to inspire them to do the same – to lead and participate and challenge themselves.

As the only Girls Innovate! Technovation teen team captain, I think it is extremely vital that all girls know that they can lead, despite any obstacles and/or discouragement they may face. I am 13, and I myself have undergone difficult transitions.

I think other young girls like me may believe that they cannot lead, either because they think they have no experience or because they are afraid. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book Lean In, sometimes women shy away from pursuing leadership and then are overshadowed by the “powerful men.”

In the 21st century, our communities are growing into high-tech environments even for citizens this young of an age; more importantly, even for girls! With this supportive and encouraging “backbone,” girls must fully take advantage of these resources.

I completely believe in the idea that everyone can succeed, that everyone can flourish, and that everyone can be a leader– it just takes the right support and the right community. Girls Innovate! and Technovation are the perfect match to make any girl the best she can be, both by pursuing technology-endeavors and leadership roles in general.

I look forward to sharing with you more of my journey in the next several months! Please share with me any feedback and advice. Thank you.