Candace Sweigarts talent for technology almost went untapped: She didnt discover her inner techie until several years after high school.
The 35-year-old Boise software engineer and entrepreneur is now working to support other women in technology, a sector where men typically outnumber women 10 to 1. She is helping females learn more about career possibilities.
The perception is if youre tech, youre hard-core, and youre working with servers, Sweigart says. There are so many fields that touch technology.
Despite widespread efforts to promote computer science and engineering to girls in the U.S. over the past quarter-century, national education statistics show that women earned just 18 percent of bachelors degrees in computer science in 2010, down from 37 percent in 1985. The percentage of women graduating with engineering degrees fell in 2009 to 17.8 percent, a 15-year low.
Baffled by those numbers, educators have identified several new strategies for attracting girls, according to an Oct. 29 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. They include:
Developing programming activities that appeal to females.
Revamping introductory courses (college or high school) to provide a broad overview of real-world applications of computer science.
Exposure to research projects in the first year of college.
Providing opportunities for college students to interact with women working in technology.
BRINGING WOMEN IN TECH TOGETHER
When Sweigart attended meetings of Boise-area tech groups, she was one of only a few women. In early 2009, she started the Boise chapter of the international group Girls in Tech.
I wanted to find other women in tech and hear their experiences, she says.
The chapter has evolved. The group today has about 125 local members. They previously held luncheon talks on specific tech topics, and theyve done mentoring at Meridian Technical Charter High School. This year, theyre doing happy hour-style gatherings in the afternoons and early evenings. Typical turnout is 10 to 15 people. The groups next meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Solid, 405 S. 8th St., in Boises BoDo.
COME ONE, COME ALL
Girls in Tech is open to anyone interested in technology. You dont have to work in the field, and you dont have to be a woman.
People think, I cant go to that group because, oh, Im not a software programmer. I dont write code. Im not an engineer, or whatever, Krissa Wrigley says. Im not a techie.
Wrigley, who is 42, holds a masters in economics and a Ph.D. in sociology and teaches for the University of Phoenix. She has had an eclectic career in economic development in the public and private sectors.
Wrigley, who calls herself a connector, says shes specialized in tech development lately because, thats where all the roads cross.
Kelly Madison is a health insurance benefits broker for businesses. Im just a huge fan of tech. I just love hearing about it, Madison says.
Madison joined the group in 2010 and is now on the advisory board. She had a lively conversation about apps with new member Elizabeth Rodgers, co-founder of Audiobook Pop!
Denise Korman, a senior integration analyst for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, joined four years ago. You meet people in different organizations that you wouldnt ordinarily connect with, she says.
Some have asked Sweigart why there isnt a Men in Tech group. Her response: Just go to work its primarily men.
Sweigart, a Boise native, tested better in language arts than math in high school, and career tests indicated her strengths were writing and people skills.
She went to work at a call center after high school and advanced in management. It wasnt until her husband, Craig, began working on a degree in computer science at Boise State University that she realized she had an interest and natural aptitude for technology.
He would bring projects home, and Id look over his shoulder, she says. Id say, hey, can I help you? Can we work together?
It didnt take long for me to realize that technology was something I was good at, she says. I kind of fell into it, and Im so glad that I did. After her husband graduated with his degree, she decided to go through the same program.
At 24, she was making $35,000 a year as a call-center supervisor. She walked away from that job to pursue a degree in computer science at Boise State. She took 21 credits a semester and graduated in 2.5 years.
Sweigart worked at a tech startup firm as a software engineer for almost three years, then landed a job as a technical-solution architect at Wirestone, a digital marketing agency.
She worked for Wirestone for six years, then decided to leave the company in January while on maternity leave with her first child.
Soon after, she opened her own business: Agilefront, which provides technical, marketing and consulting services solutions to small, fast-growing businesses. Her business office is 404 S. 8th, Suite 202.
ERTTER: LEADER IN WEB ANALYTICS
Wendy Ertter, a 37-year-old Boisean, has worked in technology since graduating from the College of Idaho in 1997.
Im used to being one of the only girls in the room, says Ertter, another member of Girls in Tech.
She grew up in McCall, enthralled by mathematics partly because one of her teachers was Barbara Morgan, the NASA astronaut and first teacher in space.
To have a woman in your life thats an astronaut definitely opens your minds to other possibilities, Ertter says. The fact that she was working in a small town and was able to make that jump, and it made me realize nothing was impossible.
She says her family was a strong influence, too. Her father presented her and her siblings with logic problems and taught them to program by age 9.
It made technology seem really approachable later in life, she says.
Ertter recalls almost passing out from excitement when she learned fractal geometry in high school.
This is the language of the universe, she says.
She hoped for a career in mathematics, though she wasnt quite sure who would employ her. NASA was one of the places she identified, but she wasnt convinced she would be among the elite hired.
Ertter studied math and computer science at the College of Idaho. The question she was asked most often: Are you going to be a teacher?
I think they were trying to figure out how to advise me on my career, and they werent sure what to do, she says.
She found a mentor at the college and decided to double-major in computer science because she figured she could explain the math to the computer scientists.
Her first job out of college was providing tech support at an Internet service provider. She worked her way into programming and project management for software development.
Her next job was at a marketing agency, where she was senior project manager for online marketing. Her job was to report and analyze. There was a lot of data available to measure the performance, but nobody knew what to do with it, she says.
In 2007, she was hired as a Web analyst by Wirestone. Now shes the director of Web analytics, overseeing a staff of five (two positions are open now).
Ertter isnt sure why more women arent pursuing computer science and engineering degrees.
I think its a cultural issue more than anything, she says. Theyre told they dont have to be good with [math and science], and thats OK. And they wont use it later in life.
She finds it curious when things are presented as heres a video for girls.
As if all other video games arent for girls, she says. The ones for girls arent as challenging and tend to be more fashion-oriented.
She believes that reflects the so-called shrink it and pink it mentality of converting things for boys into things for girls.
We dont need some dumbed-down version of it, she says. We need to talk to them about what interests them.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413