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At Tech Day, hundreds of kids dive deep into STEM

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On April 13 and 14, Google’s Mountain View campus suddenly had a much younger population. That’s because 875 high school students stopped by for Google’s fourth annual Tech Day. Over 150 Google and Alphabet volunteers joined the kids in 129 interactive STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities to empower them with knowledge and inspire them to get started in disciplines like computer science.

But Tech Day isn’t just about fun and games. The event was designed for students who may not have regular access to technology classes at their schools. The students who attend Tech Day have very little experience in technology and computing, but they might leave the event inspired to pursue a new career path.

Software engineer Matthew Dierker started Tech Day in 2016, based on a similar event at his alma mater. He started his university’s program along with a friend at the University of Illinois, and decided to bring the idea to the Bay Area. “I thought it'd be a natural fit here, given the large number of passionate engineers in Silicon Valley, plus I like organizing stuff,” he says. “I gathered a few friends and that effort found a good home in Google's engEDU initiative.”

Students learn technology at Google's Tech Day event.

Photo by Tim Andres

Since then, Tech Day has expanded to a full weekend, with three times the students it had in 2016. And the list of activities has grown beyond just classes. Kids can now participate in games and breakout sessions that help them loosen up around technology. The event’s organizers say one of the biggest obstacles the kids face is not seeing all the career options they may have. “They might think they can’t work in any role in tech just because they struggle with math. This isn’t the case,” says Melaena Roberts, a software engineer and volunteer team lead.

User experience designer Bingying Xia says she volunteers at Tech Day because she’d like to let students know that there's more to tech than computer science. “The world also needs smart, creative designers to find user problems and come up with innovative design solutions,” she says.

Even if students aren’t interested in pursuing a career in the industry, one of Tech Day’s biggest goals is to make technology seem less intimidating. “Technological skills apply to any job, even outside of the technology industry. Tech isn't all sitting at a desk in front of a computer,” Matthew says. “If that inspires enough curiosity to keep someone learning, the skills they learn will almost certainly be useful regardless of what they wind up doing.”

Organizers and volunteers really invest themselves during Tech Day to give students as much knowledge as they can, but they learn a lot from the students, too. Melaena says student feedback has informed how Tech Day has changed over the years. Volunteer Volker Grabe, a software engineer at Waymo, says he notices kids speak their minds more as the day goes on and they realize the day isn’t as tough or competitive as they expected.

Their main takeaway from the students? They’re curious about tech and excited to learn outside the classroom. “I saw raw passion, curiosity, and excitement in the students,” says volunteer Hannah Huynh, a product design engineer. “I was impressed that these students were so dedicated to give up their weekend to learn about engineering.”

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