Role models in tech

Library hosts panel of female tech leaders

Not only does this year usher in a new decade, but 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. There’s no better time than the present to pay homage to women everywhere.

Silicon Valley Reads, a program instituted in 2003, encourages reading and book discussions on provocative themes relevant to the community. This year SVR selected “Women Making It Happen” as an homage to women and their vast array of accomplishments.

“The type of event offered through our SVR program promotes reading, literacy and the appreciation of good literature among all members of the community, including non-traditional readers and those with limited literacy skills,” said county Library Services Manager Gail Mason. “It allows community members to explore issues and themes relevant to our region, and to build community among residents as they engage in dialogue about the ideas presented.”

This year’s theme certainly resonated with Lisa Duff, adult services librarian at the Gilroy Library, who came up with the idea of organizing a Women in Tech Panel to present at the library. The panel, which features four women with established careers in prominent South Bay tech companies, takes place on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 2pm. 

Mason feels the event truly embodies SVR’s theme.

“The panel has experience in an industry that is thriving and provides employment to many residents of the Bay Area yet is underrepresented in terms of women,” Mason said. “We hope that teens will attend the session and be able to see a path towards a career in tech for themselves. By hearing the stories of women working in the local tech industry we hope to inform the community about the opportunities in this field, and how to enter and succeed in the tech industry.”   

To make the event a reality, Duff needed help. She reached out to Gilroy resident, wife and mother of two, Veronica De Leon, who has had a prosperous and successful career in the tech industry since graduating in 2000 with an engineering degree.

De Leon also has a successful history with the local library. In 2018 she proposed establishing a chapter of the Girls Who Code club for teenage girls, a class she has facilitated for the past two years.

“It’s been very impactful for the girls and teens who have taken part in the program,” Duff said, adding that she saw proof of that impact at last year’s final project day. “You could just see that they felt like they really accomplished something and were proud. I think they could see themselves doing something in this as a career, or as a hobby, where maybe before they hadn’t.”

De Leon was eager to help Duff get the program off the ground as she believes it’s beneficial to young people to have this type of event in their own community.  

“This is a very broad field and there are a lot of opportunities, and it would be a shame if they didn’t have this information,” De Leon said. “When they see ladies that look like them they identify and they say, ‘Hey, if she can do it, so can I.’”

Duff also enlisted Teen Services librarian and Hollister resident, Kelly McKean, in the role of moderator for the event.

McKean said she’s eager to take part in an event with a focus on such an important topic.

“I think we’ve seen here that STEM education and STEAM education and computing and coding is really an important growth area for this community,” she said. “It’s where the future of jobs are.

“We also know that women in this field are really underrepresented, so we’re trying to help. Our community needs to move towards thinking this is an employment opportunity and a place where youth can be in the future. I think girls in particular need to see themselves in this industry. Just showing that women do have a place in the tech industry and having that representation and that voice is great and I think for us to promote that to our community is really important.”

McKean sees the event as a way to inspire girls but she also encourages boys and men to attend as well.

“They also will learn and see that equity in the workplace and industry is important,” McKean said. “I’m happy to see a focus on women being able to do anything, so it’s a timely topic I think, it’s been a timely topic for decades. We’re in a brand-new decade here and hopefully this decade will be the last time that we’re saying there needs to be equality and equity. That would be fantastic.”

The panel, which includes Veronica De Leon (Quality Assurance Engineer),  Alla Shashkina (Sr. Engineering Manager NLP Platform and Internationalization–Siri International), Leticia Ambriz (Manager, Materials Program Management Product Operations, New Technology Organization), Sue Swindlehurst (Principal, MTS Engineer Advanced Materials Engineering/New Products Introduction), will address a number of questions posed by McKean and then will be open for questions from the audience. Attendance is encouraged and there is no need to register for the event as it’s open to the public.

“We’re really just celebrating women and women’s achievements in the community,” Duff said. “I think it’s important for young people to see role models in the community and know that you have this access if they have questions. If they’re looking for mentors, all those are crucial.”

For information about the event, visit tinyurl.com/wzjz45e. For information on Silicon Valley Reads, visit siliconvalleyreads.org/home/Pages/default.aspx.

Kimberly Ewertz

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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.