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By Lindsey Yu '18
This past December, members of the GirlCode Club visited Google in New York City, marking a strong end to the "Hour of Code" and Computer Science Week at Pingry.
For the past couple years, I had been working with a relative of mine and current Google employee to set up a visit. As soon as we entered the workplace, we were amazed by the innovative and lively atmosphere, admiring the unique architecture, scooter stands, puppies, and a colorful mural dedicated to women in STEM. Our three guides introduced themselves: Avery and Michelle, Systems Engineers working as Project Managers, and Mimi, a lead in Global Strategy and Marketing. They described how they came to work at Google and shared their college engineering and business experiences. While leading us through the massive offices and hallways, they showed us some of the highlights: an arcade room, team cooking studio, and frequent snack bars, to name a few. It seemed that Google fully maximized the use they could get out of their space, turning every free nook and cranny into a spot for collaboration or relaxation.
After the tour, GirlCode was given a special look into the Creative Lab, courtesy of its founder, Mr. Berndt P '18, P '20, a current Pingry parent. He gave us a personal overview of the Lab and the amazing chance to speak with Amit, one of Google's creative coders. Amit introduced us to his profession, a job that blends the boundaries between the arts and programming and allows for expressive and dynamic creation. With his team, Amit has created apps, programs, and games that connect Google with its users and share some of the company's cutting-edge technology.
When describing one of his favorite projects, the famous "Quick, Draw!" game, Amit offered a powerful insight into the issue of diversity in STEM. The game uses a "neural network" to guess what users are drawing. Simulating the interconnected brain cells inside a human, the "neural network" uses collections of variables and inputs to recognize patterns and formulate conclusions. This allows for it to become "smarter" the more input it receives. In this case, the game draws on users' previous experiences, becoming more accurate as it receives more drawings. However, during its first stages, Amit noticed a problem: when analyzing a drawing of a "shoe," the game struggled to recognize a woman's sketch, as it tended to differ from a man's. Amit then realized that this was because the game's first test drawings had been designed by the members of his department, nearly all male. Without female input, the game lacked 50% of its knowledge of shoes. This example, Amit explained, showed the importance of diversity in STEM. In a world that is equal part female, it is vital that women have equal representation when developing the technology of our future. It was really interesting to see how we shouldn't just support women in STEM because it's right, but because society requires it.
With that said, Amit wanted to introduce us to one of his female co-workers (the best coder on his team, in his opinion), Jane Friedhoff, a game developer and creative coder. Jane had been working on exciting new projects in augmented reality (AR), utilizing her knowledge of computer visuals and design. Though similar to virtual reality, AR is not fully immersive, but rather embellishes the environment around you (think Snapchat filters). Some of her work can be found on the "Experiments with Google" page.
As our tour of Google and the Creative Lab came to an end, we were filled with inspiration, and excited to try out own creative experiments with new languages, platforms, and tools. We were encouraged by the confident and accomplished women we met that day and by Amit's thoughtful story. Thank you to Google and Mr. Berndt for the extraordinary opportunity!
A side note: GirlCode is a girls coding club founded two years ago by Daria Fradkin '16, Jessica Li '18, and myself. After noticing the huge gender imbalance in computer science enrollment at Pingry, we were determined to create this club to get more girls interested in STEM. This year, we had over 40 girls sign up and about 20 girls attended the Google trip.
Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org