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left to right:  Kate Tsoukalas, Brittany Nielsen and Angelica Lim.

Female computer wizards taste life at the Googleplex

March 20, 2008

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By Barry Shell

A robot that cooks, a rural healthcare network and technology to preserve indigenous B.C. languages were the winning ideas that sent three SFU students to the Google Workshop for Women Engineers last month at Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters.

Angelica Lim, Brittany Nielsen and Kate Tsoukalas were among 200 female computer-science students chosen from some 400 North American university applicants to attend the three-day all-expenses paid workshop. (Peyvand Mohseni also won but did not attend.)

To win they had to have 3.3 or higher cumulative grade-point averages, demonstrate leadership in their field and submit a two-page essay outlining how, given the technical and financial resources, they would use technology to impact the lives of women and girls.

The participants were treated to technical talks and career workshops, tours of the Googleplex and the San Francisco Bay area, and an opportunity to do some serious networking with other women in technology.

"We literally spent hours just sitting and chatting with the other girls, and so we made contacts from all over the U.S. and Canada," says Lim, who met a Georgia Tech grad student who invited her to apply to their graduate program.

"Tech companies like Google are very supportive of women in science," Nielsen adds, "and the network of support starts at university and extends right into industry."

"I thought it would be a recruiting event," says Tsoukalas, but in between lavish meals at the Googleplex and their luxurious hotel accommodations in San José, the students were repeatedly told how difficult it is to get into Google.

"They kept emphasizing that we should finish our education and not be afraid to get a PhD. Google wants that level of education," says Nielsen.

During a break, Tsoukalas and Nielsen met Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who talked about starting girls in computing at a very early age. "Most girls," says Nielsen, "don’t consider computing until they get to university and realize there are far more options available to them."

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