J. Kelly Hoey

Empowering Girls In Tech: Community Outreach Manager @TechGirlzorg Sarah Johnson

Name: Sarah Johnson Title: Community Outreach Manager at TechGirlz Twitter: @TechGirlzorg @johnsons531

In this Innovator Insights, meet Sarah Johnson, Community Outreach Manager at TechGirlz. Sarah started her IT career as a receptionist — and by asking “why the company used pen and paper instead of a web application” she ended up as the Manager of Technology. Sarah learned web programming on the job with support from community tech user groups, eventually giving back to the same community by teaching with organizations like Girl Develop It and TechGirlz. After volunteering with TechGirlz as a teacher, committee member, and TechShopz Coach, Sarah was hired as TechGirlz Community Outreach Manager, working to engage the community in and beyond Philadelphia to inspire girls to learn about technology. TechGirlz is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations. TechGirlz develops fun and educational hands-on workshops, called TechShopz, and an annual Entrepreneur Summer Camp.

Me: Why are you an entrepreneur?

Sarah: My parents were entrepreneurs in the form of retail store owners. They ran a mom and pop shop, literally, that sold custom and ready-made picture frames. I did not intend to be an entrepreneur, but have entered the startup world with my role at TechGirlz, a nonprofit that runs lean and even teaches lean methodology to middle school girls at our Entrepreneur Summer Camp.

Me: What problem would you like solved?

Sarah: I would like to see the gender imbalance and lack of diversity in technology and STEM professions solved. I would also like to see everyone reach a higher level of digital literacy. Digital media is our current form of communication and we are silencing communities by excluding them through lack of access and exposure to technology.

Me: Advice you’d wished you’d had or had followed?

Sarah: I wish someone recognized that I would enjoy computer technology when I was in high school or college. In my 20s, a friend told me that HTML is a language and I was hooked — I love learning languages! Additionally, I’ve always enjoyed puzzles and problem solving. If I made those connections earlier I may have been a software engineer instead of an IT generalist who studied French and Sociology and started in tech as a receptionist.

Me: What does success look like for you?

Sarah: Success is sharing knowledge and preparing the next generation. We share successes and failures as a community and owe it to each other to collaborate and achieve greatness. For me, whether I am answering one person’s question or encouraging a whole generation of girls to engage with technology, I want to do what I can to support our collective progress.

Me: Who are your heroes?

Sarah: My heroes are those people who challenge themselves and try something new. In particular, I am inspired by the high school girls I meet through TechGirlz who are new to technology and enjoy it so much that they want to share it with everyone. These teenagers are leading workshops, teaching both their peers and adults, creating their own curricula, and receiving grants to run coding camps. They are already breaking gender stereotypes and not stopping there but becoming leaders in their communities and encouraging their peers to join them. These are accomplishments that are challenging even for adults. I can’t wait to see what these girls try next!

Me: What is your best discovery?

Sarah: My favorite discovery was learning how to install Linux on a computer. With that knowledge I have been able to resurrect old computers, maintain a cheap backup computer, and create web servers in the cloud. It is a great foundational skill that puts ownership of technology in my hands and one that is often overlooked when learning web development.

Me: What would the title of your biography be?

Sarah: Can I Try? A history of challenging standards by asking questions.

Me: What is your biggest regret?

Sarah: My biggest regret is that there is not enough time in the day to do all the things I enjoy. I have an insatiable curiosity and love trying new things but cannot maintain them all as hobbies. When I pick up a new interest I have to let one go and that is the saddest part of trying so many fun new activities. Things I want to make more time for: kayaking, embroidery, working with open data, yoga, cooking, speaking French and Spanish, learning to drive a car, music, testing Linux flavors…

Me: Anything else we should know about (product launch, crowdfunding or marketing campaign, recent interview, job openings..)?

Sarah: TechGirlz provides free workshop plans for over 30 topics to engage girls hands-on with technology. Anyone can run a workshop in their community to introduce girls to the possibilities that technology offers. We are here to support you and inspire the next generation of women in technology.

What we’ve been seeing this year is younger ladies stepping up and sharing their new knowledge with their peers. From instructors to teaching assistants to conference organizers, college and high school students are asking us how they can help get more girls interested in technology. It’s thrilling to see and support these girls as they take a leadership role in their community and bring their friends with them into the world of entrepreneurship and technology. I hope the ladies in Philadelphia who are taking these chances inspire girls around the world to do the same!

This post originally appeared on Kelly Hoey’s website. Keep up to date with Kelly’s latest Insights by signing up for her Innovator Insights newsletter.


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