Q&A: Mentoring the Girls Who Code
Each summer, Goldman Sachs and Girls Who Code offer high school girls an immersive training program in computer science. Four members of the Goldman Sachs Women in Technology network reflect on their experiences mentoring the students.
Q: What do you do as a Goldman Sachs engineer? How did you get involved with Girls Who Code (GWC)?
Pan: I’m a project manager with the GS Bank Technology team. Right now, I’m supporting a number of business functions, including deposit services and the Urban Investment Group. My involvement with GWC started in 2013, first as a volunteer teaching at the GWC Club at the Urban Assembly School in New York City, then as a mentor in the Goldman Sachs summer program, and this year as a vice president (VP) champion.
Sangeetha: I’m a web developer with the Client Platforms Technology group, and I’ve been involved with various projects involving our public and internal sites. I was introduced to the program last year by a colleague and helped with the graduation event. Watching the young women present their projects with confidence and enthusiasm motivated me to become more involved this year, and the mentor program was a great way to get to know the girls.
Poonam: I’m a senior business analyst in Human Capital Management Technology, working on recruiting technology projects. I volunteered for GWC last year and mentored an amazing young woman, and enjoyed the experience so much that I came back this year as a VP champion, which meant I was part of two pods and allowed me to interact with four girls.
Neha: I’m a third-year associate working with the Interest Rates Products Technology team. I heard about Girls Who Code in 2012 through a colleague who had been a mentor, and I’ve been a mentor myself since 2013. I’ve had great mentors throughout my own life, who not only exposed me to opportunities I didn’t know existed, but helped me realize a small town girl in India could make it in the career of her choice. So I felt it was time to "pay it forward."
Q: What does mentoring mean to you?
Poonam: For me, mentoring is an informal relationship between two individuals who engage in mutual sharing, build support and work towards common goals and objectives.
Pan: It’s both a learning process and an opportunity to build relationships.
Sangeetha: It’s also very symbiotic. Mentors help mentees by offering unbiased outside opinions and suggestions, but they gain a lot in these interactions, too.
Neha: Mentor and mentee benefit equally from a strong mentorship experience. They not only inspire and encourage each other, but the relationship has the potential to transform one's perspective on life. For example, Kate was an exceptional student, and her enthusiasm and motivation inspired me to realize that learning never really has to stop. I’d always been interested in studying history and philosophy but that kept sliding down in my list of priorities. After meeting Kate, I've decided to find time to study these subjects.
Q: Describe your experience working with the students.
Sangeetha: What a great summer it’s been! We tried out “pod-style” mentoring, where two girls were paired with two mentors and one VP Champion. We met every Monday for an hour, talking about the professional aspirations of the mentees, sharing the success and failure stories of the mentors—translating passions into career paths.
Pan: We talked about the summer program and how things were progressing, but we also talked about school, SATs, college, sports, family. Kate was also very interested in our personal histories, what schools we went to, how we came to work at Goldman Sachs, what our jobs and our day-to-day lives are like.
Poonam: We really discussed anything they wanted to talk about.
Neha: Kate and I came from different cultural backgrounds, but it was striking how alike we were in our outlooks on life. Our personalities had been shaped by similar life experiences, which led to an instant connection from the day we met. We formed a strong bond of friendship, which was mutually gratifying and empowering.
Pan: For me, too, the connection with Kate was there from the beginning. As the summer went by, the relationship grew and we got to know each other better. Each week, I felt more proud of her and she felt more comfortable. At one point, she mentioned that coming into GWC knowing nothing about programming—and having very little time to learn—made her nervous about failing. I shared with her, as did Neha, that we all fail sometimes. It happens to everyone, but it’s important to learn from your failure and become better the next time.
Neha: When Kate mentioned her fear of failure, the motivation to make it big, the anxiety and averseness to taking risks, I immediately related to how she felt. That allowed me to help her, based on my own life experiences and the lessons I’ve learned.
Poonam: Mariama already knew she wanted to be a programmer. In fact, she’s taking a university level computer science class. But she said she felt pressured to decide about which colleges she should apply for, and whether to pursue front-end or back-end development. The advice I gave her was just to build a strong technical foundation, because that would allow her long-term flexibility in her career.
Sangeetha: We talked about her specific goals for the next few months, and helped Mariama break them down into smaller achievable targets. She displayed such an incredible clarity of thought and purpose in what she wanted to do – build a personal website, finish college applications, get an internship with a company. I was so impressed by the quality of the conversations we were having.
Poonam: As the weeks progressed, she became open to looking at universities outside New York, and realized she didn’t need to decide now about front-end versus back-end development. She could do both and be twice the developer!
Sangeetha: We also watched her grow in her confidence throughout the seven weeks. By the end, she had made great connections and planned to finish her project and release it on the App Store. That was incredible.