Camila Fernandez Achutti is a master’s student in Scientific and Technological Education at the University of São Paulo. As a technology evangelist, Camila has a passion for advancing the role of women in tech and strongly believes that women can change the world through innovation. She created Women in Computing, the largest Portuguese-language website focused on women in tech, to build a community of girls and women interested in technology. In addition to her studies and efforts with Women in Computing, Camila works as a national ambassador for the Technovation Challenge in Brazil, an all-female competition in which teams of students develop mobile apps to solve problems in their communities.
When did you first realize you wanted to go into the technology field and what is your favorite part about it so far?
Growing up, I would listen to my dad dictate COBOL code by phone. To most kids that would be crazy, but to me Dad was speaking an alien language to solve problems. It was amazing! From then on, programming for me was exactly that: a language to solve problems that only special people know. How can somebody not be part of this?
What inspired you to create Women in Computing?
During my first class at university, I joined IME-USP and realized I was the only girl in the room. It was the first time I encountered the gender gap. I grew up in a family where technology was for everybody. There was no distinction among my cousins and I when we would talk about computers. So when I went to class that first day, I was shocked.
I remember coming home, crying and thinking that maybe there was no space for me in this world. I was the only girl, and I had no idea what the teacher was talking about while all my other colleagues nodded their heads in agreement. Then I found a photo of the first computer science class of my institute from 1971. Seventy percent of them were women! I wanted to understand what happened in the last 40 years to completely change the gender balance. This motivated me to create the blog, as a place where I wrote everything that I discovered or learned about the issue. It became a way for all women to share information and connect with other amazing women and their work. The next step is to partner with companies in order to change the tech culture here in Brazil and show girls that they are capable of a career in technology. Along with the Technovation Challenge, we hope to give talks and workshops around Brazil to show the market the importance of diversity.
You are pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Sao Paulo. What is your research work about?
My research builds on my work with the blog. The blog provides role models for Brazilian girls. In my research, I examine how to build the most “efficient” curriculum with limited technical resources (poor Internet and simple computers for example) to teach about CS, technology, entrepreneurship and design. I’m building the curriculum in Portuguese to make it accessible to all the kids in my country.
With an amazing team at FIAP, I am also organizing a nationwide marathon to solve education problems with technology, where students will think about their own education problems and solutions for them. The hope is to help the next generation of change makers!
Can you tell us about your experience bringing the Technovation Challenge to Brazil?
It was amazing to see this opportunity arrive in my country on a larger scale! I definitely didn’t do this alone.
I first discovered the Technovation Challenge through my work with Mariana Rutigliano at Iridescent Learning. I saw the proposal and fell in love with the challenge. The first year, the main goal was to prove that the model could work in Brazil. Here in Brazil, we still ask WHY, so to make it successful, the first step was to explain that it was really necessary and not just a “sexist” challenge. It was difficult to make everyone understand the necessity of changing the Brazilian tech industry. But… it worked! This last year, participation in our event grew by more than five times from the previous year!
I began as a national director in 2013, and this year I am a national ambassador. I travel throughout the country to spread the underlying message of the challenge to young Brazilian girls: you can be whatever you want to be, and technology is a powerful tool that can make you dreams come true!
If you could meet anyone in the tech industry, who would it be?
I would love to meet people that came before me. They fought for this field and made what it is today. Women like Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, Anita Borg, Grace Hopper, the ENIAC programmers, Joan Clarke and Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley were amazing! And I definitely would love to talk with them!
Do you have any advice for other women interested in computer science and technology?
My advice for them is that it’s not easy to be brave and manage all this pressure, but the impact that we can have with technology is immeasurable. We can’t leave it in only half of the world’s hands. Women have the same rights on paper, but in the real world we are forgotten. We need to change the world one girl at a time.