A Special Opportunity: On Stage with Melinda Gates

For most of us, the question “Would you like to interview Melinda Gates?” would evoke a nervous laugh. So, when Minds Matter Seattle Sophomore Michelle D. was asked this very question, her initial response was just that. But her Computer Science (CS) teacher wasn’t joking; as a top student in her Advanced Placement CS class, Michelle was a natural choice to interview Melinda Gates to kick off code.org’s CS Education (CSEd) Week

Michelle at CSEd Week

Michelle backstage at CSEd Week 2018.

Code.org is a nonprofit dedicated to broadening access to CS in schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Their important work includes teacher training and curriculum for K-12 CS classes in the largest school districts in the United States, including Highline, where Michelle goes to school. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among many large organizations that contribute to code.org’s work. 

CSEd week is code.org’s annual event that promotes CS to K-12 students, and Michelle and Melinda’s interview opened the 2018 event. Day-of, Michelle got to meet many CS professionals, including the Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, the CEO of code.org, CS professors from around the country, and of course, Melinda Gates herself. Backstage, the two connected over how they each had inspiring female high school teachers who inspired them to study CS. 

Melinda Gates speaks about increasing opportunities for women in technology and computer science.

During the interview, Michelle and Melinda shared their experiences starting out in CS, and Melinda spoke to the challenge of getting more girls involved, saying “When I think about technology and how pervasive it is in our lives…women have a lot of creativity and things to contribute, so we have to work on this problem”. She cited more welcoming K-12 CS classes, smoother college transitions, and female role models as proven ways to encourage more women to enter the field. 

“[The experience] is something I will remember and take with me wherever I go,” Michelle said. She had worked hard to learn CS and prove herself in a class of mostly boys, so this opportunity proved that taking risks pays off, and she can do anything she sets her mind to. Now in her Junior year, with support from Minds Matter Seattle, Michelle is considering Computer Science summer programs to continue exploring CS as a college major and future career (along with her ongoing curiosities in the medical field).