Daniela Raijman and Michal Segalov both grew up loving puzzles and riddles — an integral aspect of math and science —but they had little knowledge of what computer science was. In high school, they were introduced to programming and were both instantly drawn to the profession.
Daniela and Michal didn’t actually meet until 2000, when they served together in a technology unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. Their paths crossed several times after that, and they eventually found themselves as the first two female software engineers at Google’s research and development center in Israel. That’s where they discovered even more common ground as they discussed the ongoing gender gap in technology.
“The lack of representation in the field of CS [was] something we have encountered in all stages of our career,” write Daniela and Michal.
As Googlers, Daniela and Michal had the opportunity to use 20 percent of their time to devote to a passion project. They chose to tackle the gender gap issue by launching Mind the Gap, an initiative aimed at introducing female high school students to careers in computer science.
Yossi Matias, who leads Google’s engineering site in Israel, strongly supported the initiative, with just one request – that the project would scale beyond this one office.
“Keeping that in mind, it was very important for us to build a program that would allow girls to meet and interact with real role models working in the tech industry,” say Daniela and Michal. “We were both exposed to computer science after high school, and wished we had someone tell us how cool this field is earlier in our lives. We decided to be that someone for the girls who would participate in our program.”
The Mind the Gap program started out in 2008 by hosting groups of high school students in Google’s Tel Aviv office for about 2 hours, in which the students learned about Google’s search engine, heard from a panel of female engineers and took a tour of the office.
After analyzing the results of these early office visits, Daniela and Michal found that even a short trip to a high tech company has the potential to change students’ perception of what computer science is and increase their interest in the field and their desire to study it.
In 2009, Daniela and Michal expanded the initiative to address a larger number of students at a pivotal point in their education – in ninth grade. In Israel, that’s when students choose their major in high school. Daniela and Michal hosted an annual conference for three years in cooperation with a different leading university to host 500 girls.
“The results were very encouraging,” they say. “In one case we learned of a class of 20 girls, none of whom was planning to take CS as a major. After participating in the conference, all 20 of them decided to take CS as a major.”
Over the years, more than 10,000 girls have participated in Mind the Gap, and 40 percent who have attended the annual conference select computer science as their high school major. Mind the Gap has expanded to many global Google offices, including Japan, Poland, Brazil and North America.
Today, Daniela and Michal are focused on sending Mind the Gap to even more countries and scaling the initiative by adding Student ambassadors to the program. The two are training 11th and 12th grade female students to become ambassadors for Mind the Gap.
Through Mind the Gap, Daniela and Michal have become visible role models to thousands of female students, helping to develop a new generation of female technologists who will inspire even younger students in the future.