Girls Who Code students visit MLBAM office

Group of 60 interact with 12 female employees in enlightening discussion of future opportunities

July 21st, 2017
A group of 60 students enrolled in area Girls Who Code camps this summer were welcomed at MLBAM headquarters Friday. (Evan Fogel)

NEW YORK -- Lessa Hayes is a Yankees fan who will be returning as a junior this fall to Curtis High School on Staten Island, and while her favorite team was preparing for a night game across the country in Seattle, she saw another side of Major League Baseball on Friday afternoon that may have opened up vital future opportunities.

Hayes was among 60 students enrolled in area Girls Who Code camps this summer who were able to tour Major League Baseball Advanced Media's headquarters at Chelsea Market and then interact with 12 female MLBAM employees in a two-hour career discussion.

"It was amazing," Hayes said. "To be honest, until yesterday, I didn't know MLB worked so much with tech. I thought it was just a baseball company. It was really amazing to not just see how much tech is here, but also to see how women are involved here, too. It has inspired me a lot."

There were three groups each of 20 young women, all juniors or seniors in high school, who represented AppNexus, IAC and Adobe. Those companies host six-week summer Girls Who Code camps, part of the national program, and the students take field trips to such tech companies as MLBAM to expose themselves to possible STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. It is a win-win, because MLBAM seeks a diverse workforce and may find future members of the MLB family.

"They have a great chance to find new role models," said Emily Pries, summer emergent program instructor for Girls Who Code. "They especially love to hear from women working in tech about what their life is like both at work but also the journey they took to get into the position where they are today. They love to hear about people's college experiences, they love to hear about ways that technology intersects with different fields, so MLB is great because they think of it as this sport thing, but behind it, it's all powered by technology. It's an opportunity for them to see that in action."

MLBAM gave the students a tour of the social media operation, studios, the transmission operations room (TOC) and outside the Instant Replay room. Speakers included:

• Liz Addis, vice president, quality assurance

• Laura Artiles, associate iOS engineer

• Celeste Bell, senior director, recruiting and special products

• JoAnn Brereton, senior software engineer

• Liz Cox, associate software engineer

• Allison Creekmore, senior director, partner solutions

• Carolyn Dempsey, senior manager, product development

• Amanda Goonetilleke, associate software engineer

• Kelly Helfrich, product designer, mobile

• Jennifer Kaufmann, senior program manager, product operations

• Danielle Nourok, associate software engineer

• Shreya Palecanda, senior software engineer

"I think it's really important to increase diversity both from a gender, racial and ethnicity line in the tech world," said Creekmore, a Duke graduate who has long worked with high school girls in her spare time. "And it's important for programs like this to pair up with people here at to show them opportunities that exist of them in the real world. It's important to have interchange where they can ask questions of both women and men who support these great initiatives."

One student asked what motivated the speakers to stay in STEM.

"I played baseball when I was young because there was not a softball league, so I played on a team with the boys," Kaufmann said. "It never occurred to me until later that there was a gender imbalance. My mom was an upper executive in the '90s, so I saw that and was like, 'That's normal.' I'm glad I can talk about it now."

Now Kaufmann hires staffers for her team at MLBAM, and she sought to instill that same kind of confidence in the students packed around a large conference room table.

"If you're doing what you are passionate about and good at," she said, "you will succeed."

Dempsey added: "Following what you like will lead to other things you like."

One student asked the panel who their role models are. Two said "Mom," one said Hillary Clinton, one said Amelia Earhart, and another went with Michelle Obama, electrifying the room. The attendees were told to find their passions, but importantly to seize opportunities that can lead to things they are passionate about down the road. The speakers told them they look for curiosity, for people "who aren't afraid to break things," for "people who want to push the boundaries."

Girls Who Code has grown in the past five years from one classroom to hundreds. Now there are alumni who can mentor and open doors for new attendees, hoping to reverse a trend: Less than a quarter of computing jobs are held by women, and that number is declining.

"There is a huge number of tech jobs in the United States that we don't know how to fill yet," Pries said, "and at the same time, there is this huge gender gap between men entering the field and women entering the field. So we see this as an opportunity to get girls interested in going to college and studying as STEM majors once they get there."

Hayes, the AppNexus camper who aspires to teach, was asked immediately after the panel discussion for her takeaway on an illuminating day in baseball.

"Just always try and apply, give it your best, and to always show your true feelings," she said. "Because your true feelings will come out in an interview or something, and maybe you will get hired for that instead of your experience."