‘Everyone Does IT’ event kickoff helps people learn about computing

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By Sarah von Sternberg

The Los Alamos Nature Center hosted a kickoff event for Everyone Does IT on March 21. This event focused on helping students of all ages learn about computing and information technology.  
Tables filled with computers and props lined the building and created an interesting juxtaposition to the nature exhibits.
The Nature Center was also filled with children and adults alike, eager to interact with the electronics available.
Booth participants included VISIBLE VR Experience, Coder DOJO, Software is Everywhere, Dragon Dash! Photo Booth, Hacking Queen of the Hill, a Supercomputing Challenge, the Atomic Women and recruiting for Los Alamos National Laboratory.  
Scientist Ambassador Terri Roberts ran the “Software is Everywhere” booth, which was stocked with intriguing gadgets that demonstrated the process of coding. During her explanation of basic computing principles, she said the first programmer was, in fact, a woman, Ada Lovelace.
“Women need to be in this field!” Roberts said with a smile.  
Although the event was not focused solely on girls and women, the goal is to increase the pool of people that are pursuing IT.
Another participating booth advertised CoderDojo, a local club comprised of teens aged 13 and up, who are interested in coding, creating and exploring technology in a fun environment. The kids meet every Tuesday and work independently on programming any project of their interest with mentors around to give guidance if needed.
In addition to interactive booths for kids and teens, there were also volunteers representing Women in Los Alamos Computing, which is a team focused on supporting existing women in the computing field.
“Our goal is to build a community of women that support each other,” explained group member Carolyn Connor.  
They want to create a support group where women can share their experiences and bounce ideas off each other.
All kinds of questions can arise over the course of a career, especially for women. “Almost every female has a time in their career where they have to step back a little bit,” Connor said.
This could be for a multitude of reasons, but is oftentimes due to caregiver responsibilities, whether it be children or elder parents. When they want to come back, Connor said she hopes to help them brainstorm how to do that.  
Women in Los Alamos Computing is focused on keeping women in the field engaged and not get discouraged in their careers.
Although this unique group is small and functions on volunteers’ spare time, Connor said she hopes to expand the group’s numbers and outreach. They plan on going live with a website soon and are working with the Bradbury Science Museum in hopes to exhibit their History of Supercomputing Project.
Connor and her group want to reach out to the women in LANL in order to understand the importance of women in this town.
“We have some of the first women involved in computing in the nation. Women have been involved in computing from the beginning. There’s definitely a place for you,” She said.
Everyone Does IT was created with the idea to bring people from the laboratory and community together to show the impact they can make through technology.
“There are a lot of recruiting efforts going on at the laboratory, but with this we wanted to start the pipeline early. Someone as young as a second-grader could start coding,” said Kimberly Gotches, a member of the Business Innovation Directorate at LANL.
Gotches explained the catalyst for starting Everyone Does IT. One of the LANL Deputy Division leaders viewed the film, brought it to her director, Carolyn Zerkle, and said right away, “We have to bring this to a wider audience.”
What started with simply wanting to show the film to the community snowballed into setting up activities that kids could interact with and get excited about. There were two showings that evening of the film “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” and viewers came away with positive comments.  
After watching the film, an older gentleman said he’d never thought about the numbers, referencing the difference between men and women in the field.
“And one good thing is that computer science is a relatively new field, so events like this is where it’s going to change those numbers,” he said.
Gotches hopes the public will recognize the great opportunity to have the laboratory here and that “it really is a two-way conversation that we’d like to have.” Events like this allow them to find that person who may be interested in information technology and not yet know that passion. “The laboratory is always looking for people who are passionate about their field and this is the place to start.”
Gotches recalls hearing about people who have been positively impacted by mentors and gone into a field they would never have considered before. “We want people to feel empowered” and when they connect with information technology, there is nothing they can’t do.
Everyone Does IT is now connected with the TechHire Initiative, whose goal is to train 500 students of all ages in high demand fields before 2020. The program also now has a space on the initiative’s website under “NM Techworks.”
The program will have an ongoing resource through a website on LANL’s home page to help the community stay connected with upcoming activities. For now, Gotches’s email is everyonedoesit@lanl.gov where people can ask questions, give suggestions and learn how to get involved.