White House Safety Datapalooza
Less than a month after I joined the NCWIT Facebook group, the last thing I expected was an invitation to the White House. But surely enough, there it was: “Who wants to go to the White House Safety Datapalooza??” One comment and a few emails later, I questioned reality when Malia confirmed that I was on the list.
Fast-forward a week and a half, a five-hour flight, and an insane security line outside the fifth wing of the USDA (where the event was moved due to sheer numbers of attendees), the NCWIT attendees gathered in a small nook in the Jefferson Auditorium before the event began. It was a pleasure to finally meet so many other Aspiration Award recipients – girls from many different schools, cultural backgrounds, and areas of technological expertise, all with whom I shared an interest in technology. A few of them were somewhat familiar – like Courtney, who emailed me a couple weeks before, congratulating me on my National Runner-Up status and prompting me to excitedly fish the NCWIT’s congratulatory email out of my spam folder, and Roya, with whom I’d hurriedly swapped emails about possible roommate arrangements the day before. I introduced myself to the rest of our group – a small handful of high school and college students, studying things ranging from computer science to aerospace engineering.
The Datapalooza was dense with, well, data! From Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden’s welcoming remarks to Chief Technology Officer Todd Park’s closing keynote, we were bombarded with information about applications like GeoQ and LaborSight.com, varying in origin as well as purpose. While Presidential Innovation Fellow Jackie Kazil developed GeoQ for FEMA, Katherine Champagne, web developer of LaborSight.com, never dreamed of working alongside the federal government. At a “coding boot camp” in Chicago, she and two friends created LaborSight.com to submit to a challenge presented by the US government, and a project to reinforce their programming skills. To their astonishment, they won. Before leaving the podium, she said, almost as if addressing the NCWIT girls sitting in the second row, “You don’t need to be the most experienced developer in the world to make a change in policy or government.”
After lunch, a few other NCWIT girls and I headed to Whitten Patio 3 for a datajam on “Creative Solutions in Disaster Space,” while everyone else dispersed to several other datajams throughout the USDA building. After a short conversation led by a FEMA employee and Jackie Kazil, we broke up into smaller, more focused groups. My group, led by Ms. Kazil, concerned the analyzing and gathering data to handle disasters like Hurricane Sandy more efficiently, and prepare for others in advance. While my group waited for the other group to conclude, I was able to talk to Ms. Kazil about her career, and how she landed a software engineering job in FEMA with a major in Journalism.
Her story – along with the stories of many others, like unlikely web developer Katherine Champagne – made me realize the extent of options for technologically focused, creative, and passionate women. Dinner – a fancy, Mexican selection at a table full of just these types of women, NCWIT Aspirations Award recipients, their families, and their supporters – affirmed my realization.