The afternoon began with a Google hangout in which Sarah Hurwitz, speechwriter for the First Lady, and Brian Forde, senior advisor to the U.S. CTO, explained the purpose of the App Challenge. Inspired, our group and those in Philadelphia (kudos to TechGirlz) and Los Angeles (shout out to Digital LA) got to work.
To focus our efforts, we compiled a list of reasons why girls and women aren’t equally represented in leadership positions. All the usual suspects made the list: lack of role models, gender stereotypes and concerns about violating them, other interests and/or responsibilities, lack of resources and other support, etc. We brainstormed different kinds of apps that could help address one of these barriers. The girls had so many good ideas it was difficult to choose!
A theme that came up repeatedly among the girls was being able to find and work with people with complementary skill sets. One participant mentioned a business idea she has, but has not pursued because she doesn’t have one of the essential skills it entails. We ended up chatting about this point for a while, with several of our technologists encouraging all the girls to take ownership of their ideas by learning the necessary skills, rather than depending on partnering with someone who has them already. Obviously it’s impossible to be an expert at everything, but learning the basics that are related to your primary field will be time well-spent.
There was a great moment when a designer pointed out to one of the girls that she had “been doing a lot of talking, but not getting anywhere” and that she needed to “write something down and go with it!” This kind of talking/thinking in circles happens frequently in the development process, so it was good for the girls to become aware of the importance of writing/sketching.
Ultimately, we settled on an app that would help users identify goals and outline the steps needed to achieve them. One of the ideas mentioned early in the brainstorming process, that of a greenhouse, emerged as the central design theme—goal-tracking was represented as a growing plant, emphasizing the need to continually work on one’s goals.
We owe a big thanks to the talented designers and developers who participated in the event (all women!). From them, the girls who participated learned some key concepts related to app development, such as the importance of focusing on the MVP (minimum viable product). As fun as it is to come up with a ton of cool features, the first step is producing a basic version that you can get out into the world. As people use the app—sometimes in ways you never imagined—it’ll become more apparent which features should be developed next.
And last, but certainly not least, our thanks to Keya Dannenbaum from ElectNext who invited us to participate in the App Challenge. Everyone involved (including moms and dads) learned a lot, whether it was about apps, women’s issues, and/or civic engagement—lookout world. =)