Another key part of the Seattle-area IGNITE experience is the class field trip to work locations. A few weeks ago, I got to participate in a panel for an IGNITE class here on a field trip. Around here, Microsoft is the most frequent destination of choice – we can pull out all the stops with things like the Home of The Future tour, an interactive installation designed to mock up – shockingly – the uses of technology in homes 5-10 years out. Typically by invitation only, but a great way to spark an imagination. (But I don’t want that to discourage anyone who wants to help by hosting their own class tours… remember that ALL of this is new for these girls. How often did you get to see a workplace without your parents?)

This most recent panel, a Microsoft on-campus field trip panel for Marysville High School, was actually surprising for me because there were quite a few boys in attendance. Nothing wrong with that, but always a surprise since IGNITE is focused on encouraging girls to pursue careers in technology. I have to admit, my first reaction was trepidation – my memory of high school boys is not a forgiving one, and I was worried they’d be disruptive or disrespectful. I was delighted to find that not only were the guys in attendance polite, but very attentive and they asked some very good questions during Q&A. While I still believe our primary methods (girls-only activities) are useful and valid because they create a safe place where girls can explore and have a voice without being drowned out, it’s a nice surprise to be able to share with both genders for a change.

Usually, after getting a tour of the campus, the girls attend a lunch presentation (with the requisite free pizza, of course) where several Microsofties come to share our experiences on a panel for the girls and answer questions. Typically, we have 90 minutes and 4-5 presenters, which allows for about 10 minutes of talk per panel member plus questions and some time for background info about IGNITE. So for those thinking of doing something similar but worried about speaking – 10 minutes is nothing at all! You’d be surprised at how fast 10 minutes flies by.

There’s so much to talk about, but there are a few helpful tips for speaking on these panels:

  • Give them a sense of what you were like at their age. What you liked to do, hobbies, favorite classes… it helps them identify with you and realize you were once in the same place they were.
  • Spend a little bit of time talking about your college choice, choice of major, and early jobs – this is a big focus for high school students.
  • If you have past job experience that you know is of wide interest, share it even if it’s not what you do at the moment. That’s the approach I take with my video game and theme park experience.
  • Choose one or two messages you want to convey, and pick stories that support those messages.

There are lots of messages that are likely to resonate with the girls… for example:

  • “Technology lets you do what you love.”
  • “My job gives me the flexibility to have a family.”
  • “STEM jobs can help you be financially independent and earn a ton of money.”
  • “I get to work with lots of cool toys and technologies.”
  • “I can be myself at work – funky hair colors, clothing choices, etc.”

Over time, I’ve developed a short Powerpoint deck to use for my presentation. I like having the option since it’s nice to have some visual stimuli for the girls – especially when presenting on panels at schools when they haven’t just been through the fabulous Home of the Future. It also keeps me from going off on a tangent! But most speakers do just fine without visual aids… and when I’m visiting schools to do panels, they are not always set up to handle projection.

For me, another great bonus I get from sitting on these panels is hearing the stories of other women in technology. There were some awesome, very experienced women at this last panel – senior, principal, and even GM level – and it’s fascinating to hear their stories of success, and about some of the bumps along the way. Should you decide to embark on a similar journey in your own area, I think you’ll find just as many benefits from the ensuing networking as you do positive feelings about the message you’re sharing.

As a closing thought, here are some of the verbatim comments we received from the participating students after the event:

  • “I want to take their advice and do what I want in life instead of doing something I’m not happy with”
  • “I thought of the future differently with the use of new technology ..was really cool moment”
  • “I thought of all the future uses of technology was super cool”
  • “I will use the inspiration from this field trip and I feel the need to better my life”
  • “I think everyone should attend college to get a degree”
  • “I will follow my dream and maybe try to get an internship at Microsoft for the summer”

The feedback we get is always energizing and inspiring – you can sort through the IGNITE blog for reports from earlier trips to get more. (The site is undergoing a redesign and will hopefully be re-launched in the near future.) As always, if you’d like more information on the possibility of launching your own local IGNITE chapter, feel free to get in touch. It doesn’t take much to make a difference!