Amazing Kids! Magazine

Interview with Genevieve L’Esperance, Technology Trailblazer and Educator

Amazing Kid! Spotlight Interview with Genevieve L’Esperance, age 16, Amazing Young Information Technology Trailblazer and Educator

By Amazing Kids Staff

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AK: Your website describes you as a “Tech Diva.”  What does that mean?

GL:  NOTE: The web site is undergoing a revamp because 90% of the work has been directed at my blog, my YouTube channel and the Facebook Page GenINC so the web site will be reflected to remove some references to Tech Diva and focus on “IT” Girl, but not in the traditional sense.

“Tech Diva” is almost like a re-vamp of the “IT Girl”. Divas and the IT Girls are typically defined as the superficial, stereotypical, and popular young females of a culture who receive plenty of media attention disproportional to their personal achievements. But rather than “IT” in that sense, the IT I use actually stands for  “Information Technology”.  A play on the acronym.  But in playing on that acronym we still have to ask ourselves, “Why can’t the popular girl be brilliant too?”, “ Why can’t she study technology?”, “Why couldn’t she be the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg?”, “Why can’t she excel in any STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) for that matter?”.  The answer is YES. But until someone who is all those things makes it “cool”, girls will still shy away from it. Until girls see the amazing women out there and have role models that will shock them into seeing that the tech industry has every woman imaginable in it, including those that went from sleeping on dirt floors in India to become some of the most powerful and richest women via the internet, then you lose half the world’s population that could not only become successful but use that success to do good as well.

AK: What inspires you about the IT world and how did you get started in IT?  Did you have a mentor or mentors?  If so, tell us about your mentor(s) and how they have helped you become a “Tech Diva.”

GL:  I refer to myself as a Techonomist: I believe the world’s toughest problems can and will be solved through the use of technology. As many critics of technology have made reasonable cases, I stand with the supporters who include the argument that we would not be aware of problems in other regions of the world without information technology. One of the most convincing techonomists I know and have been privileged to have as a mentor is Elisabeth Vanderveldt, the co-founder of Conamex International and my mother. For many years I heard vague stories about the IT company my parents owned and its purpose. It wasn’t until I heard a particular story concerning young Bengali girls that I began to pay attention. A Microsoft Partner in Bangladesh shared with my mother her vision of starting a community tech school for young women so they have an opportunity to change their life and the lives of future generations, as mothers are so capable of doing. I knew that I wanted to have a part in this project. So I asked my mentor what I needed to study, to become a teacher at the school, as well as a key developer in the project. Within 5 weeks I was Microsoft certified and a year later Microsoft MCTS certified. But it was her work in bringing me to the attention of Microsoft that has really spiraled. I have learned a great deal about having my own “personal brand” that people come to know by watching her be named one of the top 20 women in the IT channel and attending events that she made possible. This really set me on my own path. At Microsoft’s worldwide partner conference she basically acted as a “cameraman” and liaison to top people in the industry. But, as she put it, “You don’t need me to shadow you anymore, you have shown people you are not only extremely well informed, but you have formed thoughts and opinions people are taking notice of and you are ready to run with this. So go for it and above all else have fun!”

AK: What is Gen Inc. and how and why did you start it?

GL: Gen INC was started for philanthropic reasons. I think girls with so much talent and so much to give are not aware of the potential they have to change the world.  I hate to think that we could miss this and so I am out to show them what tech is really all about, that it is cool and allow them to realize the extent it can not only change them personally and open up opportunities they might not otherwise ever experience, but allow them to change other’s lives today and for future generations.

AK: When and why do you think it’s important for girls to be exposed to technology and learn about career opportunities in the technology field?

GL: Actually the earlier the better. It’s the “genderfication” (teaching them early on that boys play with Tonkas and girls play Barbie) of girls and boys that has really hurt the perception of technology as a career option. Because of this, and it is very much the parents who also “accidentally” fuel this, we need to change the educational approach first and for those that are already affected, expose them to programs like Teaching Kids Programming. I saw firsthand how the girls could not believe what they could do in a matter of two hours. And they LOVED it.

Girls also think differently than boys as girls have a natural affinity for understanding how to engage others in a nurturing way. In the age of social media it is even more important for girls to understand they actually have an advantage in this industry. Many social sites are developed and maintained by women. I even interviewed Louise Guay founder of My Virtual Model who showed she understood the internet and its benefits for women and other industries like clothing and makeup, long before anyone else did.

Suzy Amis Cameron reminded us all that children are like little sponges and the sooner you give them access to tools, the sooner they can “discover” and then make informed choices because they can decide what really excites them.

AK: How do you think providing kids from underprivileged backgrounds with access to technology can help them launch their dreams for a successful future?

GL: We have a huge issue with children not having resources in countries where technology could do so much to completely change their lives and that of future generations.  This issue is even more strongly associated with girls and in my research and reading about organizations like the Greame bank and the explosion of sites that let people globally give micro loans to women (that would not ever exist without technology), we are already impacting poor families right now.

But well before that, it starts with technology helping government agencies to better structure programs, using web sites and databases that help track who, what and where specific medical, food and tools need to be delivered. From there the next step is usually getting children who can then focus (because they are no longer hungry) on getting an education.

Empowering children who are underprivileged often creates a stronger desire on their part to make sure they give back.

AK: Your biography (under the section “Who’s That Geek Girl” on your website) describes you as an “explorer and creative personality.” In what ways are you using your creativity to explore the world around you?

GL: I think the web site, the blog, the YouTube channel and the Facebook sites are my blackboard where I let my crazy and serious sides share with my audience my adventures from attending shows like CES to doing crazy and unexpected interviews with people from as young as 8 to as famous as James Cameron and then teach girls the fun that is programming.  Of course I did things like hockey and karate (where I competed with boys in sparring and beat them because, of course, I didn’t know any better). I got to try modeling, acting and music. I take those skills and use them in the production of Gen INC all the time.

In fact, the “explorer” side of me was what allowed me to become a Small Basic instructor when I wasn’t sure I could do it. But it seemed like fun and of course I’m not one to turn down a challenge either.

AK: What is TKP and how did you start teaching programming classes to girls?

GL: Teaching Kids Programming was created and started by Microsoft’s Lynn Langit. This program is  targeted at getting kids to experience programming early on in a more simplistic way. Since there is such a low percentage of women in technology I decided that this needed to be targeted at girls as a way of showing them and tech companies the true effect a program like this could have (i.e. girls really get excited about programming!)  In order to change the tide of girls avoiding technology careers, it was also very important that someone close to their own age and someone who had a choice chose to pursue tech and could share with them on a personal level the doors it was opening for me.

AK: What do you like most about teaching programming to girls?

GL: That’s really very simple. We all get excited as a group and we feed off each other’s enthusiasm. There is nothing more thrilling for me than watching a large group of girls walk up and ask me when they can start teaching this as well.  The program is designed to be fun and allow them to experiment so I get the pleasure of pushing them to try and not worry about the results, because you are never wrong.  It was a thrill to watch them squeal when they saw what they could produce all on their own.

AK: Describe some of your other interests and activities you participate in.

GL: I am an avid reader. I think it’s very important to understand the world around us, from many perspectives and to allow the adventures and ideas of others to be shared.  A lot of what I have learned I have actually used in the programming class.

I have really started to participate in more events that give me an amazing opportunity to meet and speak one on one with some of the most incredibly socially responsible and thoughtful people. My most shocking interview had to be James Cameron. He knew so much about the lack of innovation in America and the issue of girls not taking STEM as a serious path for their future. Along with his wife, who also shared her incredible experiences, I came back with a stronger determination to make Gen INC a platform for change.

Watch GenINC teach kids programming below – with featured commentary by James Cameron!

I also forget to talk about music which I think has had a positive effect on my learning. I play piano, bass and drums. And the drums actually landed me a part in an upcoming film release this December in Canada.

I still pursue acting and sports as I always have since I was 3 when I started in martial arts. Of course I continue to strive for top marks in school while hopefully playing a bigger role in bringing what Gen INC represents to girls and boys right here in North America.

I hope to share more of all these experiences with your audience in the coming year.

AK: What do you envision for the future of technology in kids lives?  Do you see it changing and improving in any way, and if so, how?

GL: My hope is that technology can help us right now to start reversing and correcting the mistakes that have resulted from decades of misuse of our natural and manmade resources. My bigger wish is that we promote more programs like the Imagine Cup to focus my generation on using technology to ensure the UN does reach its goals. That will be a huge part of setting us all on a better path for the future of everyone who inhabits the earth.

We are often so busy with our own personal desires we forget what is going on around us, even with technology, which means there is nowhere we can’t go even if it is virtually. But as more of my peers make it our responsibility to teach our peers the challenges, we have to step up so others will follow suit.

AK:  What are your future goals?

GL: I am still learning so much about the possibilities that I am not yet decided which direction I am going in. I am looking forward to shadowing and increasing my base of mentors so that I can really explore how technology might impact my personal choice.

As James Cameron mentioned in his Imagine Cup speech I am delighted that the VP of worldwide education at Microsoft is keeping his seat warm for me because I still am excited about the opportunity to not only work in that division but launch programs as he has that are creating such amazing opportunities for kids around the world.  To date that has been how I see one potential “future” for myself.

One important goal is to still fulfill the dream of opening a technology training center for girls in Bangladesh. That will also be an opportunity to thank my parents for all their encouragement of my many endeavors from karate to hockey to acting and riding horses. There was nothing they ever said I could not do.

In the coming months I hope that the opportunities to teach programming, meet and share the exciting accomplishments of others, as well as ensure more young people can participate in and learn how to use and create new technologies increases. That’s not as easy as it looks.  It’s many, many hours just to deliver a few minutes of what has to be entertaining web tv. So while it looks like all fun, I can tell you it takes a lot of hard work and focus to deliver not only a blog or video but to prepare for and teach. I can say I truly appreciate what teachers have to go through. The only difference is the many additional hours before, during, and after events such as TKP that no one sees. But it is definitely all worth it.

AK:  What advice do you have for kids who might want to learn more about technology or possibly pursue a career in technology?

GL: Simple. If you dream it you can learn it, experience it and then make sure you share that with as many of your friends as possible. I have many links to share with your audience of resources that can get them started on many possibilities from simple programming to game and web site development and events like the Imagine Cup.  Just watching the excitement of the participants I interviewed at the US Imagine Cup finals in April should make it very clear that there is so much we young people can do to change the world and have fun while doing it. What a wonderful feeling to know you can help a child get clean drinking water, something we always take for granted, by building a web site that only asks your friends to click to give.  Technology is the only medium that has the potential to reach and enrich the lives of other children anywhere and you don’t even have to leave your home to do it.

AK:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

GL: I want to thank so many people who have been so gracious with their time, their words of wisdom, their support and for sharing their vision.  I have seen so much in the last few years and I am privileged to have been asked to participate in so many events and thankful for all the new friends I have made because of it. I will not waste these gifts, but instead I will keep sharing them with my audience and hope they come with me on this journey.

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