This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Genevieve L'Esperance.
She learned to code at a young age and quickly recognized that she was a minority in the male-dominated field. Her goal is to break down the perception barrier so that girls look at the computer science profession more objectively as a career choice. She went on to get Microsoft certifications in various technologies and skills, became a Windows 8 Ambassador for her college campus, and has devoted countless hours to teaching programming to girls. She hopes to show them the doors that computer science has opened for her, and that it's a field not just for boys.
|Q:|| ||Genevieve you have so many outstanding contributions in technology and beyond. Thank you for sharing your considerable success history, deep accumulated insights, and wisdom with our audience.
A: "Really excited to be speaking with you again after so many years! Thank you for the opportunity."
|Q:|| ||What are you accomplishing at YouthSpark Live in Vancouver?
A: "YouthSpark Live is an event that brings young people together to plan their futures and to see opportunities in entrepreneurship and careers in technology. The agenda includes sessions that are intended to help young people identify the skills they need to reach their goals. I will be co-leading a Coding Unplugged session and a Touch Develop session."
|Q:|| ||Why did you choose a joint major of Computer Science and Molecular Biology at McGill University?
A: "Being exposed to technology and seeing the incredible projects that came out of Microsoft's Imagine Cup was enough to know that I wanted to study Computer Science. Choosing the double major felt like a no-brainer. I used to buy books about epidemiology. Clearly, I was a very cool kid growing up."
|Q:|| ||Post graduation, what contributions will you make through your joint major?
A: "There is a real intersection between technology and health sciences. Understanding both will be very important to developing new tools that can be useful in the health sector. Last semester, I compared results of protein function prediction algorithms for known BRCA2 mutations and used those standards to evaluate variants of unknown clinical significance. It was very interesting! I had the opportunity to work with a cancer geneticist and a bioinformatics professor."
|Q:|| ||We have many seasoned developers in the audience; please provide your top software engineering and developer tips?
A: "I don't have tips! I'm still developing my programming techniques and looking to learn from real seasoned professionals. I did, however, learn to program first outside of school and was lucky enough to be taught Test-Driven Development by an Agile Developer that I found very helpful."
|Q:|| ||You have many interests. Can you talk further about them?
A: "I have actually refined my number of interests over the past few years and instead gone into great depths on those few interests. I love running and last August at 21YO, I ran my first 50km Trail Ultramarathon with my mom (the world-travelling Karate champion). She is pretty much my inspiration in every facet of my life. Also, I recently turned a decade-long obsession with the Charmed television series into an App that has been well received (thankfully) by other fans of the show. There were no trivia quizzes or games and I saw an opportunity! More importantly, being able to program an app about Charmed while watching Charmed has made for some really fun Saturday nights!"
|Q:|| ||From your extensive speaking, travels, and work, please share some stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).
A: "The two most memorable instances from traveling that come to mind are speaking with James Cameron and being photographed tweeting while speaking at the United Nations. The latter is self-explanatory and a clear moment of my generation's difficulty with separating from our phones. The first was a truly amazing moment at the Microsoft Imagine Cup in Seattle a few years ago when I had the opportunity to speak with James Cameron and his wife on the current state of female presence in technology. It was Mr. Cameron who volunteered information on the percentage of women in Astrophysics and enthusiastically shared his concern with the lack of women in sciences and not just technology. It was empowering to know that such a great man with a history of incredible work including Titanic and Avatar, made the time to be involved in a critical challenge in our society: convincing girls that a career in STEM can be rewarding and delightful!"
|Q:|| ||What are added key messages you wish to share with youth?
A: "Recently, I attended a talk by a very famous engineer who also taught computer science courses to kids. In a classroom full of children, there are often a few students who answer all the teacher's questions correctly and often do more than required on assignments. The students around them wonder why they weren't interested in doing more than was necessary on the homework. Often, they conclude that they're just not smart enough or "nerdy" enough to do that. According to him, teachers can pick out those students who will not invest more than the minimum for the rest of their academic career.
Similarly people not in IT sometimes think it's an incredibly challenging field for only the geeks or "gifted" students. That thinking is terribly misinformed.
I was not a "gifted" student. I was a student who did the bare minimum. I didn't enjoy answering the same exercises and handing in the same projects as 29 other students. Instead, I invested my time in running and acting, until eventually I discovered programming and technology as medium for helping others at Microsoft's Imagine Cup.
Once I picked up programming, I started to feel like I could uniquely and intellectually challenge myself on a regular basis. Over Christmas break, after seeing a close friend do incredible things with iOS programming, I taught myself and made Charmed Trials. And in January when I started a databases class, I thought it would be interesting to concurrently learn SQL. So, like my favorite television shows, I rotate different programming languages, IDEs, and projects based on my mood and deadlines!
The message here is simple: it really doesn't matter if you weren't an exceptional student. It's about the desire to learn and the willingness to put in the effort. It is definitely not too late and the opportunity is there. Even if you give programming a chance and find you don't want to rush home from parties on Friday night (I do this every single weekend), you might find something that sparks another interest. You could be a business architect, data scientist, UI designer, a lab technician, or a hundred other jobs!"
|Q:|| ||How can young people take action?
A: "Ultimately, they have to make the choice. There are unlimited resources available online to learn to program. Some youth may need motivation like competitions, wherein I have seen a lot of successful companies and projects come out of even if they were not the winners."
|Q:|| ||How can governments at all levels get involved?
A: "Governments at all levels can support organizations and initiatives that create new computer science courseware and opportunities for students to be exposed to technology. I think government officials should work more closely with leading technology specialists and computer science teachers to determine the best way to bring computer science education into schools with as much force as they do for languages, history, and mathematics. Technology is indeed the future and whether students choose to pursue a tech-specific career, having an understanding of computer science will make them more competitive in the workforce. This is the goal of YouthSpark: introduce youth to the resources available to learn important technical skills. This year I believe there are a few government representatives in attendance as well!"
|Q:|| ||Why should executives care and how can they contribute?
A: "The hesitation on behalf of governments and executives is probably due to what feels like a long-term investment and perhaps minor immediate pay off. Investing their resources and time into supporting and educating youth in technology requires some vision. They have to see that the events or courses they sponsor are for students who could eventually become employees. In order to contribute, they could sponsor competitions for high school and university students and computer science courses in summer camps for younger students."
|Q:|| ||Do you have items remaining on your bucket list of goals you want to achieve and how will you accomplish this?
A: "I actually have yet to physically create a bucket list!"
|Q:|| ||Who do you admire and why?
A: "George RR Martin because: Game of Thrones. On a somewhat more serious note, Lynn Langit is a force of nature and someone I have admired for years. She is a Cloud and Big Data Architect. She co-founded Teaching Kids Programming, she's a Microsoft MVP, an AWS Community Hero for cloud technologies and a Google Developer Expert. And those are just awards for her side projects. I admire someone that is incredibly passionate about their work and their goals, but does not see the path to success as a fight. She elevates and empowers those around her. I am grateful for all of the time I have spent learning from her intellectually and personally. She is the reason I believe it's possible to be a strong, compassionate woman in computer science and seize all that life has to offer! (George RR Martin also makes me believe it's possible to be a strong woman thanks to characters like Arya and Dany, obviously.)"
|Q:|| ||Genevieve, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.