Alumni Q & A: Emilee Betz
Emilee Betz (BSCS ’17) Discusses the Importance of Women in Technology
Since the day she discovered her passion for programming, Emilee Betz realized a second passion along with it: a desire to bring diversity to the tech industry. In her four years at Pitt, Betz has led technology leadership programs that bring middle school and high school girls to campus to learn more about computer science. For the past two years, she has been the President of Pitt’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS) organization and led a program called WiCStart for incoming freshmen women who are undeclared majors to introduce them to computer science. Betz continues to be an influence for women in tech as she heads off this summer to start a full-time position with arguably the most well-known tech company in the world — Apple. She will be joining their Core Operating Systems team as an operating systems engineer — what could only be described as her dream job. “I would do this for the rest of my life if I could,” says Betz.
What made you decide to pursue a degree in computer science?
When I was a junior in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I took a programming class because my friends were taking it, and I just fell in love with it — I fell in love with problem solving and the concept of creating something totally new that solves a problem, just at your keyboard. I had this awesome teacher who encouraged me to apply for the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award, given by the National Center for Women and Information Technology — a national foundation for promoting diversity in tech. I won the regional award and it got me involved in the computer science community. It kept me engaged and I kept programming, and here I am today.
Why did you choose the University of Pittsburgh?
My mom and sister both went to Pitt and they loved it, so I was already considering coming here. When I won the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award in high school the award ceremony was hosted in the William Pitt Union, here on campus. I thought it was the prettiest building I’d ever been in, and the campus was beautiful. But mostly I was just so excited to see a university and a department care about diversity and care about tech. That’s what solidified my decision to apply here.
Can you summarize the role you’ve held over the past two years as President of the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) organization at Pitt?
Our organization strives to create a community that is welcoming of and promoting diversity in tech. We hold events that are just for social purposes, so that people can get to know each other and find people they can just have that comradery with and overcome obstacles that their unique demographic faces. We also hold networking events for women that are in the tech industry to meet our members. Every year we have a mentoring lunch where we invite women from all the companies around the area to come and have lunch with our members — to talk to them and get to know them. We hope to create some mentorship relationships out of that. We also hold tech workshops and events with the computer science club as well so our members can continue to feel connected to the greater computer science community here at Pitt.
Why do you think there is a lack of women and minorities in the tech industry?
I don’t think there’s enough exposure to computer science at a young age, especially for women. Girls get turned off to the whole field of STEM I think around fifth or sixth grade. There are a lot of theories for why this happens, but the most popular is that the representation of STEM in the media is pretty masculine and white-washed. So, females and minorities may feel like it takes some genius property that they don’t possess to succeed in this field, or that they’re not going to fit in so they don’t even bother pursuing it. But, if we can reach young women especially and young minorities in general, and show them a true representation of computer science, we can create a better, more diverse work space. And not only does diversity create better work environments for people, but I believe diverse teams create better products.
How would you paint a more accurate image of the computer science industry for these young girls?
I would say that programming is exciting. It’s not just staring at a computer screen. It’s solving problems, it’s talking to people, it’s seeing what the world needs in terms of technology, and it’s making huge changes for society and its people. It’s so much more than nerdy teenage boys programing in their mom’s basement, drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheetos. It’s creating actual, world-changing solutions to major problems. It’s so interesting and it’s so much fun.