Trip report: Tech + Women + Kazakhstan!

Greetings, SUMO Nation! At the moment, we are meeting in Berlin to talk about SUMO and our involvement in Mozilla’s mission. Therefore, we have no major news or updates to report this week (but there will be more of that soon, worry not!). Then again, we can’t leave you without something nice and inspiring to read, right?

As you can imagine, even if we spend a lot of time on SUMO-related activities, it’s not the only thing we do. Just like any Mozillian, our activities span many different fields. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I share with you our own Rachel’s trip report from her recent visit to Kazakhstan as a member of the Tech Women organization.

How would YOU inspire women & girls?

To promote STEM learning and diversity in the workplace, Tech Women organizes three delegation trips each year. The trip opens leadership opportunities to women on the international scene of professional employment. Over four weeks, women in STEM become emerging leaders and develop business plans, learning about one of the fields of knowledge in an in-depth manner.

I feel fortunate to mentor through Tech Women and get the opportunity to visit Kazakhstan on a delegation last month. In addition to sightseeing and experience the local culture, we gathered for Technovation events at hackerspaces, middle school and university campuses.

A postcard from the road

We visited the old and new capital of Kazakhstan, Astana and Almaty. Many of the building are still influenced by the Soviet style. Kazakhstan is also known for being the place of origin for apples, and the people’s love for their horses.

On the third day of our visit, while staying at the Doysk Hotel, we were greeted by three US Consulate representatives. One of them, who previously worked at NASA, and had an inspiring career in science (also studying Soviet sciences) was dressed in green and had hair dyed red for the festive March 17 holiday.

They answered our questions about the pollution in the area, as well as many cultural questions that occupied our minds after running around in the snow for a few days.

We visited the National University that day and had two panels talking about women in the workforce, interview processes, and ways of progressing careers in STEM fields. The university impressed some of us with over an acre of planned solar panel space. The mechanical engineers among us got to interact with an equally impressive robot that recognized sign language.

On the trip, our delegation group participated in projects related to application development, Technovation groups and spoke on several discussion panels.

The Technovation groups themes varied from design thinking and learning parts of computer hard drives to pitching Android apps. It was surprising that even in a place located quite remotely in the mountains, between two of the largest countries on the planet (in several respects), there is a lot of access and will to seize to the opportunity to learn and develop on an open web.

Digital literacy develops these women as users of the web, as well as makers just thanks to the basic web access they get in the hacker spaces and schools we visited. During our visit, we learned that development opportunities for young girls in schools were rather limited outside of those options.

Technovation workshop – identifying hard drive parts

The speaking panels addressed career development skills such as interviewing, networking at events, and resume building. However, some of the questions were more directed around Human Resource issues like maternity leave and securing funding for a business idea. In the United States, there is legal action that can be taken for many of the questions that the Kazakh women had, so there is definitely room for improvement there.

Conducting a mock interview with career developing skills for women interested in working in the US

For the next generation of people in Kazakhstan, particularly young women, open access to communication plays a key role. However, the challenge of funding and lack of guided direction towards STEM careers discourages women from fully optimizing the potential of digital growth.

Emerging leaders and women from Yahoo speaking about being a woman in the modern workplace. Talking to girls choosing where to go for university and what to study. Bottom right: Pitching an app idea for volunteers.

Sig Space motivational chalk board. The event invited 10 men from various professions and included technical industry women speaking about increasing the number of women active in that field. A National University representative looking to start a training program for girls focused on Data Center and Cisco certifications. He also wanted to learn more about Mozilla and our mission.

Thank you for your awesome report, Rachel! It’s great to see more women getting into tech every day, everywhere around the world :-).