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Kara Sprague reflects on F5 and Girls Who Code program

Kara Sprague reflects on F5 and Girls Who Code program

 October 15, 2019

Kara Sprague is an important leader at F5 as Executive Vice President and General Manager, Application Services. She is also a strong advocate for gender diversity and inclusion and increasing STEM opportunities for women and girls.

To mark International Day of the Girl, Kara shared highlights from F5's partnership between Girls Who Code and their Global Good Program.

A strong culture of giving back 

Since the company’s inception, F5 has always had a strong culture of giving back and community service, but this strong cultural foundation was formalized through F5’s Global Good Program and the formation of the F5 Foundation. The Global Good Program has three areas of philanthropic focus: Community, STEM Education, and Tech for Good. F5 proudly offers employee matching, volunteer time rewards, and paid volunteer time off (VTO). In addition, it is also launching its new grants program for STEM Education grants, Tech for Good grants, and Community grants.

The Girls Who Code partnership

For Kara, The Girls Who Code partnership is an important pillar of F5’s STEM-focused giving.

"F5 was a proud sponsor of a Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program (SIP). For seven weeks in July and August, F5 hosted 20 high school junior and senior girls in our new downtown Seattle headquarters with two goals: teach them coding skills and prepare them for a potential career in technology," she explains.

"In addition, in 2019 F5 sponsored several initiatives aligned with STEM education. This past year alone, F5 has made STEM grants to Technology Access Foundation in Washington, the Thope Foundation in South Africa, Udayan Care in India, Washington FIRST Robotics, and Coding Girls Singapore. F5 is also a founding member of the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition which is pooling resources of the largest tech companies to double the number of women of color with STEM degrees in the United States by 2030," she adds.

"The 2019 F5 SIP attendees were mainly from Seattle, with one visiting from Colorado and another from Utah. 30+ F5 employees supported the program, helping to manage everything from logistics and student transportation to course instruction on web development and guidance on careers in technology."

Some highlights from the program

Kara shares some exciting highlights from each week.

In week one, students enjoyed orientation activities and were introduced to topics related to pair programming, algorithms, and game design with the use of Scratch.

"Attendees were able to use the tools provided to create animations to introduce themselves, organize a dance competition on Scratch, and learn about how programming languages handle “If Statements” through a light-hearted exercise with a fortune teller theme," she explains.

Girls Who Code Program

Python was a key focus of week two, with attendees refining their troubleshooting skills using a more advanced programming language.

"Specifically, students learned how to use lists, variables, loops, conditionals, libraries, and functions. Projects for the week included efforts structured around Chatbot interactions and Choose Your Own Adventure progressions," Kara adds.

"To provide career support for the girls, Konrad Palubicki and Drew Milam from F5’s social media team led a hands-on LinkedIn workshop to teach platform best practices and help build out profiles for the students. The workshop covered personal branding, online networking, and how to showcase skills in the best way possible for recruiters and hiring managers."

The agenda for this week three included two guest speakers, with Amanda Song, a Microsoft Program Manager II, giving her perspective on the interplay between computer science fundamentals, language processing, and data science, and Kat Jungck, F5’s Deputy Chief Information Security Officer, focusing on cybersecurity considerations that may help inform programming habits as well as future career aspirations. Projects for the week included a password hacking exercise, as well as one centered on how survey information can be captured.

"Students also participated in a mentorship panel led by eight female F5 employees of varying titles where they explored each panelist’s career trajectory and how that led them to their current role. Guest speaker Mel Carson, CEO of Delightful Communications, also introduced to students what personal branding is and how it contributes to one’s professional reputation," continues Kara.

Mentoring F5 Girls Who Code

"As the program crossed its halfway point, the group focused on more advanced topics. Website creation was front and center, with an emphasis on the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) and JavaScript functionality. Following the construction of their own sites, the girls also had an opportunity to act as developers by creating a website for a “client” (i.e., a fellow student)," she says.

"Jamila Conley, F5’s VP of M&A and Integration, led the students in a discussion on career choices and how to build a personal brand. The week also included a development workshop from F5’s Swetha Narayanaswamy, Director, Product Development, and Gayathri Nandakumar, Software Engineer III."

Week five was the week of robotics, with attendees learning about Arduino circuits and completing an exercise based around illuminating LED lights. Starting with basic commands, the girls closed the loop between the digital and physical realms.

"They examined the logic, language, and syntax that robotic components use for basic positioning and more advanced movements (including dabbling in some light robot choreography!)," she adds.

François Locoh-Donou, F5’s CEO, also hosted a lunch session where the students celebrated and shared their cultural backgrounds. François also led a discussion on how students can learn to identify their personal values and passions from early on and how to exercise those values and passions in academic and career pursuits.

Executive speech writer, Jennifer Woodbery led a workshop on “How Leaders Tell Stories” in which the students learned public speaking skills, strategies for how to keep an audience engaged, and a structure for storytelling.

Students also attended a field trip to West Monroe Partners where they collaborated with additional GWC SIP students from other Seattle classrooms and learned how to apply Agile, Scrum, and Kanban methodologies in prep for their final projects.

Girls Who Code F5 Networks

Week six saw the students bringing many of the previously covered topics together into more comprehensive exercises and dedicated work on their final projects. In particular, the girls were given the opportunity to apply their coding skills to address broader concerns, with examples including:

  • A day-in-the-life game that educates people about mental illness
  • A website designed to focus on social justice topics such as healthcare access, the prison system, and climate change
  • A location-based app that helps people find available parking spaces and restrooms in Seattle
  • A pet robot powered by Arduino C with sensory capabilities

"Students also welcomed Rainier Scholars and hosted their own mentorship panel for the scholars where they shared their SIP projects and insights regarding their GWC SIP experience and computer science knowledge," adds Kara.

In the final week, the students graduated from the program in a ceremony at F5 Tower. Each student presented their final projects, ranging from a mental health website that provides education and resources by state to a robotics coding repository, and many more. Participants were also given a chance to check out each other’s work, ask questions, and celebrate their accomplishments with friends and family, including a send-off with all the F5 speakers and mentors they met throughout the program.

On the final day of the SIP, students were invited to tour F5’s new Customer Engagement Center where they learned more about F5’s solutions and the company's role in enhancing and securing our customers’ Application Capital.

The program got some fantastic feedback from participants.

“We get to meet a lot of influential people that wear a lot of different hats in their careers, which is so inspiring because it teaches us what we can do with what we’re learning," says McKenna, age 16, while Sara, age 17, explained: “I’m doing this program because I want to go into computer science, and at the school that I go to, I don’t really have any computer science options.”

F5 Networks Girls Who Code

Exposure to a variety of career options

As Kara looks back through the weeks, she sees that the students were exposed to a variety of career trajectories available to those with programming skills, in the traditional computer science field and well beyond.

"Real-world projects in art and storytelling, robotics, video games, and website development demonstrated the breadth of opportunities modern programmers enjoy. In addition, the immersive experience was designed to encourage students to collaborate and support one another, while also building up their individual talents," she says.

"Post-SIP, the Girls Who Code attendees remain actively involved with exploring and learning more about technology. F5 provided the GWC 2019 class with 20 conference passes to the DevSecOps Seattle Conference, which took place this past September, where students were able to engage with leading DevOps and security professionals, and learn more about the security side of programming. Likewise, some students have extended their efforts in creating Girls Who Code chapters at their schools where they can continue building their programming skills while helping their classmates in doing the same," she adds.

"F5 is proud to support this and similar efforts through the growing F5 Global Good Program. Stay tuned for more details on the reach of our philanthropic partnerships, in concert with community and industry organizations, as well as additional profiles of specific efforts such as the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program."

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If you want to join them, search and apply for a range of exciting opportunities at F5 today.


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