As the 2020 Technovation Girls season concludes, we’re showcasing some of the amazing virtual volunteers and partner organizations who help make the program such a success.

This season we proudly partnered with FactSet, a financial software company that provides content services and analytics to financial professionals. FactSet employees volunteered to judge 2020 Technovation Girls submissions and offer quality feedback to teams on all of their hard work. Even with the uncertainty caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, FactSet employees stepped up to support and encourage teams around the world online. We recently sat down with one of those stellar judges, Neti Shah, to learn more about her experience as a virtual judge this season.

Thank you so much for making time to talk to us! Will you tell us a little bit about why you decided to volunteer as a Technovation Girls virtual judge? 

I think the future generation truly has the ability to re-shape our future. I believe the answers to the world’s greatest challenges – ranging from health education to poverty alleviation to climate change – can lie anywhere, and therefore we should give everyone a fair chance. Technovation Girls taps into the potential of young minds from underrepresented demographics and gives them a voice.

I decided to be a judge because it was an opportunity to, one, understand what issues most are impacting the future generation and, two, see what solutions and ideas they have been able to come up with using technology. This was a chance to uplift and provide them with feedback that could take their product to the next level.

What was the virtual judging process like for you? 

It was so interesting to be on the other side of a competition like this– instead of competing, I was judging. I was in their shoes my freshman year of college, where I did a similar challenge, and I am aware of how much brainstorming and time it takes to turn an idea to reality.

What surprised you about the submissions you evaluated?

The amazing part of this challenge was the cohesiveness and overall strength of all the projects I judged. I really enjoyed seeing all of the effort that was put into the projects from the marketing videos to the detailed business plans.

Being a woman in technology and with a strong interest in social responsibility, I found this process to be educational and eye-opening. The great part of Technovation Girls is that it attracts strong competitors from so many different places; we get a chance to hear about prominent issues that affect countries around the world.

Through the experience did you learn anything about yourself, the teams, the technology or the problems the girls are trying to solve?

I learned more about myself and was inspired by these young girls to learn more and expand my horizons as well. They reminded me of the importance of a curious mind and pursuing your passions.

Do you have a background in STEM or computer science? If not, what drew you to volunteer virtually as a Technovation judge?

I grew up being surrounded and influenced by family members (women and men) being in medicine and engineering – even my grandfather was a mathematics professor and a huge contributor to his community! Many dinner table discussions centered around topics in STEM, so I have a strong interest in those fields. I was fortunate to have such strong mentors in my life and I believed that by being a judge – to give even a fraction of guidance and positive influence would be an honor.

What do you think we, as adults, have to do to help prepare students for the workforce of the future? 

We, as a society, have a long way to go. There is a prominent gender gap in STEM fields and technology-oriented occupations are largely male-dominated. To fix this we must create inclusive learning environments. There are so many misconceptions and stereotypes about tech-heavy professions that can discourage girls from pursuing these fields starting at a young age.

Building and increasing girls’ interests in technology should begin early on in their life, both in the classroom and at home, where students should learn more about female role models and their achievements in technology. Not only should K-12th grade curriculums include more education in technology, but, in an effort to respond equitably to gender gaps and other disparities, we would benefit to see the curriculums even tilt towards girls’ interests. Motivations for working in technology vary and to promote more girls in the field, we must show that it is just as relevant and important for them to contribute to technology as it is for boys.

Is there anything you would like to say to Technovation girls, mentors, volunteers, or fellow judges around the world?

Keep it up! I find it so empowering and exciting to see so much interest in improving the world through technology. You girls are the leaders of our future and you are all heading in the right direction!

Thank you so much to Neti for sharing her time as a virtual judge, and for this interview! You can learn more about the Technovation Girls 2020 finalists and regional winners that Neti and her fellow judges helped select, and meet them and many more of our incredible teams at Technovation’s World Summit on August 13th and 14th.