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Mentoring Gen Z girls in technology

Over the last five months, my teenage daughter and her friends developed a mobile app for the Technovation contest, and I volunteered to be their coach and mentor.

My daughter’s motivations to participate in the contest were:

  • To become a “cool girl” who can build mobile apps.
  • To hang out with friends every Sunday afternoon.

What motivated me to be a mentor?

  • Chance to spend time with my daughter and get to know her friends
  • Give them a feel of real world product development

In January, team FrostBytes was formed, consisting of three smart, talented, and enthusiastic middle school girls. We tackled the challenge of “excessive sugar consumption” by writing a simple app that allowed the user to keep a daily food log with consumed sugar amount. The team met every Sunday for four hours and worked diligently through the curriculum to develop our product – SugarSnap mobile app, and we had lots of fun along the way. In addition to getting to know my daughter’s friends and introducing them to tech development, this project presented a unique opportunity for me to peek into Gen Z’s working style. Here is what I learnt.

     1. Gen Z are true digital netizens

The girls arrived for the sessions fully equipped with their laptops, mobile phone, headphones, and Kindles. They expected that the Wi-Fi and any other hardware / software resources they need to do their task, will be available: always and free. They helped each other get online first and ready to work. There were no pens and notepads, printed documents or any other traditional tools on the table. They were champions in using online tools for collaboration.

2. They value technology differently

If technology was available at a push of a button, exactly when they needed it, they liked it. If it required complicated setup, they immediately searched for alternatives. Just technology alone did not motivate them, unless they saw how it would benefit them.

        3. Collaboration and transparency are important

If they got stuck, they reached out to their friends on Google Hangouts. During our discussions, even if all of us were sitting in the same room face to face, they exchanged comments in written form using Google docs, which instantly showed who commented what and on which section. They did not proceed till everyone’s comments were addressed and decisions were made.

        4. Done is better than perfect

For every session, the girls asked about the end goals. They finished the tasks and achieved the goals and called it a day.

        5. Instant feedback and appreciation

Since the collaboration tools they used facilitated instant feedback, it was very easy to seek feedback from the team before moving on. They actively sought feedback and expected words of appreciation for tasks they finished. That really motivated them.

        6. Time & stress management

Gen Z girls live a very busy life. Their weekends are busier than weekdays, packed with studies, extracurricular activities, social events, and managing their digital lives. Maybe that’s the reason they have better than expected time and stress management skills, but a short attention span. They are natural at multitasking and capable of consuming lots of data from different sources, but get the feeling of being burnt out fast and need more frequent breaks.

         7. Expressive, open, inclusive

They are vocal about their viewpoints, social beliefs and like/dislikes. They were not camera shy and love taking pictures, recording videos and selfies. They also love bright, colorful, open, well designed work spaces with perks like free snacks, access to fresh air, game consoles, bikes, green features On a campus tour of SAP Palo Alto Labs, they were impressed by the natural surroundings, healthy snacks and lunch, green features in our buildings, and open workspaces.

The day is not too far when Gen Z will be working at SAP, maybe in my team. I am hoping to use these insights to help them engage with the world of technology, settle into work life, and enjoy working with different generations.

Archana Karnik is a seasoned security architect with more than 15 years of experience in Application security, Infrastructure security, Networking security, Cloud and IoT security, Threat modeling, Security risks identification and management, Data protection and privacy. She currently works as an application security architect in Palo Alto, for the Customer Innovation and Service (CI & S) – Security group.

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  • Archana, what a delightful post. I have two teenaged girls, and while we have not developed apps together, I share your optimism about this next generation. My younger (16) has a group who study together frequently via Google Hangout – they are very open and collaborative and work together incredibly well. My older (18) started a robotics club at her school. I knew she had picked a great boyfriend when we saw them working together at a robotics competition. They made a beautiful team – wonderfully collaborative and a true partnership. It’s great to see this generation of girls coming up, fully supported in STEM fields and with the tools and mentors available to utilize and fully leverage their natural curiosity and openness. Keep up the good work!

  •   4. Done is better than perfect

    This is a lesson I keep needing to re-teach myself.

    Excellent observations, Archana, about what works and doesn’t work for this next generation. Colorful, open, well-designed work spaces with free snacks, access to fresh air, game consoles, green features… who wouldn’t enjoy that? 🙂

  • Archana,

    Great post. Likewise my daughter also participated in the same Technovation event , but here in bangalore and can only say most of the attributes of Gen Z girls looks across globe to be same, though the tools they used are bit different eg. whatsapp vs google .

    Here their pitch video : Femistry by ZaZena – Technovation 2015 – YouTube , they attempted a sensitive topic but with great confidence



    • Hello Muthu, congratulations to your daughter and her friends to tackle this sensitive topic. I am happy to see girls all over the world participating in technology events like this one. I agree with your observation that today, Gen Z girls look very similar across the globe. World is becoming globally connected and shrinking day by day. 🙂  Thanks for sharing !!