Girls Have Skill(z) Too

Historically, the field of computer science has been a bit of a "boys club." But women are gaining ground thanks to programs like IBM's Master the Mainframe contest. Here, a participant shares her experiences and encourages girls to explore careers in technology.

According to Women Who Tech, of all the B.S. degrees awarded in computer science, only 28% are earned by women. As a female who is working toward a major in computer science and a minor in mathematics at the University of Central Florida, I am hoping to see that number double—even triple—in the next five years. Women can have a strong voice in the technology community, and I’d like to see more of us speak up and take advantage of the growing number of high-paying opportunities currently available.

When I entered my freshman year at Lake Brantley High School in Orlando, Florida, I was convinced (thanks to the glamour of CSI) that I wanted to pursue a career in criminal justice, yet another industry traditionally filled with more men than women. However, during my junior year, my career aspirations did a 180 when I met my physics and AP computer science teacher, Mr. Seth Reichelson. That year, Mr. Reichelson asked the class to take part in an IBM-sponsored contest called Master the Mainframe. The contest, which is currently in its ninth year, requires no prior knowledge or training with mainframes (large, complex, high-speed computers) and is open to students 13 years of age and older who are taking at least three credits.

Initially, the thought of competing in such a complex contest was daunting, but once we started, it was actually fun! Through the contest, we learned how to log onto the mainframe, navigate screen shots, develop code, and problem solve. The contest included training in Rexx, Java, Linux on System z, and several other skill areas. IBM made it fun and interesting throughout with jokes, fun facts, and prizes for reaching each level.

As I developed my skills on the mainframe, I fell in love with what I could do and create. I found it fascinating (and still do) that a few hundred lines of code that look like a jumble of numbers and letters to most people are actually what power your favorite game or the calculator you use to balance your checkbook. This idea of creating code for the mainframe, one of the most powerful machines on the planet, inspired me to change my career focus and never look back—and for that I have to thank Mr. Reichelson.

The goal of IBM’s Master the Mainframe contest is to provide first-hand experience to students who have never worked on a mainframe. The contest also enables more qualified students who proceed through the first two levels to gain the skills necessary to find jobs. I can confidently say the experience has worked. Just last week, after a handful of attractive offers, I accepted a co-op internship with IBM as a programmer. I am proud to represent the new face of technology, both as a computer science enthusiast and as a woman.

Finally, for all the women out there looking to pursue a career in technology, no matter your age or stage in life, I leave you with three tips that I hope will convince you to join our growing ranks:

  • Get involved. Ask your teachers, professors, advisors, friends, or school about opportunities to join clubs, contests, classes—anything to get your foot in the door and expose you to technology. Even watching YouTube tutorials with friends can lead to new ideas and experiences.
  • Find a balance. It’s a common misconception that people who work in or love technology are holed up in a basement somewhere on a computer. Technology has an impact on nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Do what you love and you’ll see a link to technology!
  • Speak up. Don’t be afraid to raise a hand or share an idea. Everyone, no matter what their gender, age, or background, has the ability to contribute to the conversation. You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your future, and with technology, it’s sure to be one wild ride!

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computer science IBM technology

About Jovanna Marquez

Jovanna Marquez is a sophomore at the University of Central Florida. She is currently studying computer science and hopes to become a software engineer. She has participated in IBM's Master the Mainframe contest four times and was one of the Master the Mainframe winners in 2012. Jovanna has attended IBM conferences for the past two summers, and at a 2012 conference, she was interviewed on stage in front of a large crowd of industry insiders. She is an active member of several organizations, including IEEE, JACKUCF, Robotics, and Undergrad Research. Jovanna enjoys traveling and creating Android and web server applications.


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