Afterschool Program

Team Pentechan wins 2015 Technovation World Pitch EventTechnovation is more than just an online curriculum to teach girls coding and app development, it’s a dedicated process. It requires massive amounts of patience, tenacity, ingenuity and creativity. To actually complete the 12-week curriculum with any type of finished product is an achievement of itself. For the Technovation contest, thousands of middle and high school girls from around the world form teams and submit their apps for a chance to compete and possibly win $10,000 at the World Pitch Event. This year, out of over 400 entries, two WeTech Afterschool Program teams made it to the top ten. On June 25, 2015, one of those teams was crowned 2015 Technovation Champions for the middle school division. Meet Team Pentechan and their app, Sellixo.

When we met Team Pentechan (Anupama, Sanjana, Navyasree, Swasthi and Mahima) on their first day in San Francisco for the Technovation Finals, it was hard to believe these girls had just flown 21 hours from their homes in Bangalore. When it came time to talk about their experience developing Sellixo, it was difficult to keep up. They designed Sellixo in reaction to India’s ongoing struggle with solid waste management.

India is set to be the world’s most populous country by 2028, and that means that its citizens will have to find creative solutions for waste management. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched a campaign challenging citizens to help improve India’s sanitation, which served as inspiration for the girls. The team saw this struggle as an opportunity for innovation.

Sellixo provides a platform for locals to buy and sell their dry waste (such as papers and plastics) to recycling agencies. Their tagline is: “Why trash it, when you can cash it?” The girls hope that by incentivizing dry waste producers like shopkeepers, roadside vendors and apartment associations to conveniently recycle their waste, they will be one step closer to solving India’s waste disposal problem.

The girls explained almost breathlessly how much work it was to conceptualize the app and how much more work it was to execute it. What was even more impressive than their already impressive technical know-how was their “big picture” thinking. This was even more evident the day of the competition. The team pitched their app to a panel of all female judges from Yahoo, Google, Yelp, Salesforce and Hackbright Academy with confidence and ease. They fielded the judges’ questions assertively and with an air of authority that made you feel that they were industry veterans rather than five 14-year-old girls who had just learned to code three months prior.

WeTech works globally in 35 different countries, so it was a rare opportunity to be able to spend so much time getting to know our program participants. The experience was all at once humbling and inspiring. After the awards ceremony, we asked what they planned to do next. They replied that they would continue working on their app to improve it. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Team Pentechan. They’ve recently garnered the attention of major media outlets as well as Prime Minister Modi himself. We don’t doubt that whatever the girls have planned, it will be impressive.

Hoping to learn more about WeTech's Afterschool Program? Be sure to read how WeTech is partnering with Qualcomm and Goldman Sachs to inspire young women in the field of STEM.

Think back to when you were fourteen. What was on your mind? School? Sports? Music? Making the world a better place may not have the top priority, but that is exactly what is on the minds of the young ladies that make up The X-Women.

The X-Women and their mentors

The X-Women is the chosen name for one of the WeTech Afterschool Program finalist teams in the 2015 Technovation challenge. Technovation is a 12-week curriculum that challenges girls all over the world to develop apps that address social problems within their communities. The teams are led and taught by mentors. With the support of their mentors from Goldman Sachs, The X-Women developed an app called cAppAble (pronounced capable) that helps connect persons with disabilities to job opportunities and makes it easier for potential employers to recruit them.

WeTech sat down with the team and their mentors shortly after they arrived in San Francisco to compete in the Technovation World Pitch Event on June 24, 2015.The girls flew 21 hours from their hometown of Bangalore to compete in the event. Despite the long flight, they were all smiles. They were very excited to be able to make the trip and represent not only their country and school, but their fellow female classmates as well. One team member, Shivalika, shared with a giggle, “The boys in class are so jealous, you can smell it!”

The girls were pre-selected by their teachers to take part in the Afterschool Program based on their aptitude and interest in the sciences. After just five minutes with them, there was no disputing their talent, but--as all the girls agreed--they "couldn’t have done it without our mentors.”

The X-Women’s mentors, Sai and Vivek, were also all smiles, albeit a bit more jet-lagged than the girls.

“As much as it was a learning experience for them, it was an equally important learning experience for us... there were times that I felt like I was talking to colleagues with the level of discussion and maturity they were showing. And, of course, there were times that I remembered, okay, yes they are kids,” Vivek shared.

The X-Women and mentor Vivek at AmazonThe playfulness was definitely evident as the group giggled and joked with each other. However, when it came time to start discussing the app, they were all business. When asked how they came up with the idea for cAppAble, team member Soumya explained, “It started with defining prominent social issues in our community and then looking towards solutions. As we narrowed down solutions, we came up with a structured idea as to what we wanted our app to do and what it was going to solve.”

The inspiration for cAppAble actually came when Soumya was out on a shopping trip. While shoe shopping, she was helped by a sales person with a disability. That gave them a better idea of what occupations persons with disabilities were working within their community. Shivalika added, “In general, you can see the lack of any [persons with disabilities] in any workforce, so our app should make a difference.” The team shared that it took many weeks to settle on the idea.

“At first we started with everyone sharing ideas. Then we got it down to two ideas, and we debated them for like three weeks. On the fourth week, we came up with a completely different idea, and we went with that,” explained team member Niyati. "Sai reminded us that the Afterschool Program is about more than just developing an app. It starts with developing the idea and working together, but apparently that was never an issue."

“We thought that [ego] would be an issue, and that we would have to remind them that your idea that comes in is just the idea, not who brought the idea . . . but they were able to discuss the idea purely on its merits,” said Vivek.

It was clearly difficult for the team and their mentors to suppress their pride in having achieved so much, and that delight was certainly infectious. It was thoroughly impressive meeting such talented young women. The WeTech Afterschool program is only in its second year, so we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to support them on their journey. We felt that Sai summed up our sentiments the best: “I have no doubt that they will continue to do well.”

Interested in how WeTech began in 2013? Learn more about WeTech as a Clinton Global Initiative, and the work WeTech and partners are doing to enhance women and girls skills for the field of technology.

Women make up 57% of the professional workforce in America1 but hold only 24% of jobs in the field of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics).2 WeTech believes that mentorship can help remedy the STEM gender gap. WeTech directly connects girls to industry mentors via our Afterschool Program, where middle school and high school girls are mentored in app invention for Technovation. WeTech spoke to two of our Qualcomm mentors that participated in the 2015 Afterschool Program to find out why they feel that mentoring matters.

Jayachitra "Chitra" Ramesh is a Senior Staff Engineer/Manager and manages five to six projects at a time. Chitra's team of engineers works with her to support hundreds of other Qualcomm engineers internally. She holds a Master's in Computer Applications and has over 20 years of industry experience. She has spent 18 years with Qualcomm and started her career as a programmer coding in C++.

Swapna Divya is a Software Engineer working with Qualcomm's Multimedia R&D Audio Team. She graduated with a Master's in Electrical and Computer Science Engineering and has been with Qualcomm for two years.

Afterschool program participants present their appsWeTech: What interested you in becoming a mentor?

Chitra: Computer Science was not taught in the high school where my daughter goes to (they now do), so I thought Technovation would be a good way to introduce her to CS. Since I was going to teach her myself, I thought I might as well coach other girls also, so I taught about 20 girls introduction to AppInventor and finally formed one team with five girls. The experience was very rewarding, so now I am continuing to teach them other CS topics.

Swapna: I wanted to help build the pipeline for the next generation to enter the STEM field. I want to see more women at my workplace.

WT: What are some of the things that you were able to support your mentees with?

C: I taught them the basics of programming, helped with finding resources and generally guided them with good practices (such as taking notes during meeting, maintaining action items, providing status, etc).

S: I helped them gain access to the resources they needed to succeed: arranged trips to work, get help from other mentors with specific skill sets like business development and UI design.

WT: Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?

C: My manager for the past 15 years has been a mentor to me. I learned a lot of things from him.

S: My mother was my mentor. She was a great proponent of education as a path to empowerment.

WT: Do you think having a mentor had an effect on your career development? If so, how?

C: Having a mentor helps to see the workplace from a different angle. Mentors understand your perspective, your strength and weakness and provide guidance without being critical.

WT: Have you faced any challenges as a woman working in a predominantly male dominated field?

C: No. I never had an issue.

S: I think the biggest challenge has been finding peers who are going through the same experiences as I. I don’t necessarily face any challenges, but would like to catch up with a female co-worker for a coffee break and just talk. Qualcomm has a very inclusive workspace, where I never felt that I was being treated differently.

Chitra Ramesh and her Afterschool Program mentees

WT: What was your proudest moment as a mentor?

C: When the girls said that they wanted to make their idea a real app (not just a prototype) and learn what it takes during the summer. I am starting summer classes tomorrow.

S: I feel proud of all their little achievements - from the first piece of code to the elaborate business plan they put together.

WT: What is your hope for the next generation of women in STEM careers?

C: I hope we see more women, not just engineers, but also the inventors and CEOs of startups.

S: I hope they stick with it even when things get tough. Lots of us have "been there and done that." So, they should try to take advantage of the path laid out for them by all the pioneering women. And, of course, pay it forward!

WT: We know you’ve done this many times with your mentees but what are a few pieces of advice that you would give any young woman interested in pursuing a career in STEM?

C: Try a variety of things (CS, Chemical engineering, Electrical engineering, Math, etc.) before deciding on which route you want to go. Take a class in each of the areas that interest you. Set a goal and do a project. Read technical blogs.

S: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s never too late to start something new.

WT: What advice would you give to a professional interested in becoming a mentor?

C: Teach the students to fish, and never give them a fish. Tell them what needs to be done, and they will always surpass your expectations when they do it. Even if you think you don’t have the time to mentor, helping them once or twice in a specific/focused area is a great help.

S: There is nothing more rewarding than paying it forward. Even a couple of hours every month can make a big difference.

1 US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, Occupational Category (15-0000)
2 US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, 2009, American Community Survey

Are you inspired to become involved in WeTech's programs? Reach out to WeTech to learn how you can support women and girls build skills in STEM.

Dhana Kodithi shares her experience as a WeTech mentor for afterschool STEM programs in India.The WeTech Afterschool Program in India connects industry professionals from Qualcomm and Goldman Sachs with teams of middle school and high school girls to mentor the girls through the 12-week Technovation curriculum. Through the curriculum and mentorships, the WeTech Afterschool Program equips girls with the technical and entrepreneurial skills needed to design their own app and launch a start-up.

Since the inception of the WeTech Afterschool program in 2013, Dhana Kodithi has been a mentor to girls living in the Bangalore area. WeTech is grateful for Dhana’s passion for mentoring girls in STEM and is excited to share with you her thoughts on being a WeTech Afterschool Program mentor.

Hello, my name is Dhana, and I am a Lead Engineer with Qualcomm India. In terms of my professional background, I have nine years testing experience in WLAN networks, and I have been working with Qualcomm for nearly five years on Access Point feature development testing.

I wanted to share a few words about my journey with the WeTech Afterschool Program. First and foremost, I have learned so much in this program, especially through exploring the many opportunities that are available in the tech world and by networking with many people sharing similar interests. This program also brought out one of my hidden talents: the ability to mentor those around me. Being able to mentor these young women also indirectly strengthened my career in many ways.

In terms of the Technovation curriculum that teaches how to develop and bring an app to market, the concept of mobile app development is extremely innovative as it provides a platform to think out of the box. It allows girls to increase their design and creative thinking while boosting their self-confidence. The timeline for the curriculum itself is very intense and makes for a packed schedule. At the same time, the WeTech Afterschool Program is an awesome learning experience for the girls.

Typically, an individual in the tech field will get a chance to know a particular part of product development. The WeTech Afterschool Program goes beyond just a particular niche of development; it teaches the full life cycle of a product, including pitching ideas, creating a business plan, developing and completing a product and marketing the final product. Through mentoring, girls realize their individual talents  and weaknesses, then work as a team to become more well-rounded. Growing these skill sets will, in turn, help them to build strong careers.

When I was the same age as my mentees, I grew up in an environment where girls typically were meant for marriage, to have children and look after the family. Through this mentoring program, I have the opportunity to change the mindset of girls, helping them build the pipeline to enter STEM fields and not be restricted only to the kitchen. Creating this sort of impact in girls’ lives and increasing the headcount of the future generation entrepreneurs and inventors is meaningful to me.

Are you interested in supporting the WeTech Afterschool Program or other WeTech programs? Reach out to WeTech by email at

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