Women of color make up less than 10 percent of all Bachelor's degrees earned in computing in the U.S. Peta-Gay Clarke and Shameeka Emanuel are working to help change that. As program managers of Google’s Code Next program, they’re using their tech careers to give young women more access to computer science. Today, they’re announcing the sponsorship of a new Women of Color in Tech scholarship.
I recently had the chance to talk to Peta-Gay and Shameeka to learn about the women who’ve inspired them and how, in turn, they hope to inspire the next generation.
What interested you in a technology career?
Peta-Gay: My grandmother was a Jamaican immigrant and even though she didn’t know much about computers, she walked into Radio Shack in the 1990s and put a computer on layaway. A year later, she surprised my sister and me with it on Christmas. This gift both turned me into our family’s tech support and sparked my interest in technology. Later on, I transferred into a computer science program at my high school in Queens, which changed my life. I learned how to build and repair computers and was introduced to computer programming.
Shameeka: I grew up as a cheerleader and band nerd who was eligible for free lunch — I knew technology would be my key to moving to another economic class. I was also drawn to tech because math and science are objective subjects rooted in proof: you’re either right, wrong or innovating.
Women, particularly women of color, are underrepresented in tech. How have you seen women of color break into this work?
Peta-Gay: Breaking into the tech industry requires a great deal of persistence, resilience and support. Early exposure, access and opportunities also make a huge difference. I personally have had mentors and sponsors enter my life at critical points. But if we’re going to see major shifts in the number of women of color entering the tech sector, we need innovative public and private partnerships and new ways to access careers in tech.
Shameeka Emanuel, program manager of Google’s Code Next program
You’ve been working with Google’s Code Next students for six years. What still surprises you about working with them?
Peta-Gay: I’m still surprised how often our students are excluded and underestimated. There are still far too many schools that don’t offer computing courses, and even if they do, our students may not be eligible to take them. Many of our budding engineers join Code Next to get the exposure and access they need. They join as freshman in high school and stay through graduation. Our inaugural cohort have even stayed connected through the program, and they’re now sophomores in college!
Shameeka: The students continuously blow me away, there’s no limit to what they can achieve. Our senior leadership sees it too. I’ve even seen their eyes twinkle when they attend our student showcases! Being a part of this leadership team has also helped me raise my own children — I’ve learned that you have to remove boundaries and focus on the play part of education to truly inspire the next generation.
What do you hope the students who participate in Code Next learn beyond new technical skills?
Peta-Gay: I want our students to become lifelong learners. My hope is that they never stop exploring and tinkering, but more importantly they find joy in learning.
Shameeka: I want our students to use what they learn here to reach back and pull others forward. We want to inspire the next generation of makers and engineers to become disruptive leaders in tech with a growth mindset. I hope they keep growing and glowing!
What do you hope to achieve with the new Women of Color in Tech scholarship?
Peta-Gay : Together with Scholly, our team is excited to sponsor a new Women of Color in Tech scholarship that will award up to 20 Black, Latina and Native women with $10,000 towards computing degrees.
Shameeka: It was created to raise awareness of the gender gap in tech and the challenges women of color face trying to enter the industry. We also hope it eases some financial burden for the winners so they can focus on their studies.
Peta-Gay, lead of Google’s Code Next program, speaking at a Code Next Hackathon in New York City
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, can you tell us about any role models or mentors who’ve helped you grow?
Peta-Gay: My first role models were my mother and my grandmother. I’m a first-generation immigrant, so to know my parents came to the United States from Jamaica and had to start their lives all over is my greatest motivation.
Shameeka: I’ve been blessed to cross paths with amazing women in this industry who took time to counsel and mentor me over the years. But the next generation — our students — are now pushing to create a world where diversity and access are the norm and not the exception — and I’m excited to watch them create this change!
Head over to Code with Google to learn how other Google programs and partnerships are addressing equity gaps in tech, including more scholarships for students pursuing degrees in computer science education.