The Power of the Nerd | Reshma Saujani | Google Zeitgeist

The Power of the Nerd | Reshma Saujani | Google Zeitgeist


So I know this may come as a shock to some
of you, but in middle school, I was kind of a nerd. This is me in the fifth grade. Growing
up, I had all the telltale signs of nerdiness, I loved Dr. Who and Bill Nye the science
guy, I started my own social justice club and of course I got all A’s. To be here, I
wasn’t as awkward as some of the nerds that you saw on TV and movies. I wasn’t Steve Urkel
or Lewis and Gilbert from “Revenge of the Nerds”, I didn’t have taped up glasses or
a pocket protector and I definitely wasn’t this hunk. Sorry, Larry, I had to.
(laughter). But still, I suffered some of the same abuse
that they got, some of the same abuse that many of you in this room have gotten. And
it wasn’t necessarily because we were smarter. It was because we were different. We weren’t
like the other kids. We didn’t dress the way they dressed. We didn’t talk the way they
talked. We didn’t like the same things that they liked. Growing up in the 1980s, there
were few things that were less cool than being a little brown girl who wanted to change the
world. We were one of the few Indian families in my neighborhood, and we were often singled
out by the local bullies. Many mornings I would stand there on my front lawn with my
parents, cleaning up last night’s TPing or egging.
One day somebody spraypainted “Dot head, go home” on the side of our house. In school,
it was much worse. I was the favorite target of the original mean girls. They would surround
me, laughing hysterically, taunting me, calling me a Haji, on the last day of eighth grade
they challenged me to a fistfight, after school, showed up with a Wilson tennis racket, a baseball
bat, a bag full of shaving cream, I showed up alone and left with a big black eye. Many
of us in this room have faced some version of this saga in our past. But we know how
the story ends, the nerds win. (laughter).
And it’s not even close. If you need any proof at all, just look at Fortune 500. And these
self‑described misfits and outcasts, they finally find a place where they belong, a
place they can all call home, a place called Silicon Valley. Here, they make the rules.
In Silicon Valley, you don’t get beat up for talking about ICOing your e‑sports start‑up,
you get venture funding, they build amazing products and services that make the world
better, they drive Ferraris, date models, pop Dom after their IPO’s, all the while sporting
a cool pair of Converse and a hoodie. Pretty bad‑ass.
(laughter). Silicon Valley becomes the real‑life “Revenge
of the Nerds” or its sequel, and in true Hollywood fashion, the geeks promise that with their
newfound power, they’re going to save the world. Fast‑forward and it’s 2011, and I
begin to notice something, Silicon Valley, it’s pretty homogenous, people like me, women,
people of color, we’re still the outsiders, so I think it’s a pipeline problem, and I
start Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit that’s working on close the gender gap in
tech, I thought if only if we could teach more girls to computer program, then Silicon
Valley, they would embrace them, and we do exactly that.
In less than five years, we teach over 40,000 girls in 50 states effectively quadrupling
the talent pipeline, girls like Jasmine, who is a single mom, works at Burger King, four
brothers and sisters, she builds an app called Whacky Words because too many kids from her
community in Oakland, they don’t have money for expensive SAT tutors, and she wants to
help them march back up into the middle class by building an app. Girls like Tricia, who
have been cyberbullied their entire life, she takes that pain and goes into her bedroom
and builds an app called Rethink, so every time you’re about to send something that’s
not so nice, it asks you, are you sure you want to send this? So smart. So different.
I thought for sure these nerds would be accepted in Silicon Valley. I mean, come on, if there’s
anyplace in the entire world that’s going to be open to outsiders, it’s Silicon Valley,
right? If anyone is going to be inclusive, it’s the very people who know what it’s like
to be ostracized, rejected, teased, for just being who you are. There is nothing more that
I love than teaching girls who conquer their fears and master coding. But when I look at
statistics like these, I can’t help but feel like I’m leading them into the lion’s den.
You know, reading all the recent memos and open letters and lawsuits, I just can’t help
but feel that my girls, they’re going to be discriminated against and put down the way
that I was, the way that so many of you were back when we were the outcasts. It seems to
me that some people in Silicon Valley, they’ve lost their way, they’ve forgotten their roots.
Now that they’ve made it, they’re shutting the door on people who look different, speak
different, think differently. They’re not opening up their work places to
people who are talented, with people from different backgrounds and different identities.
Instead, they’re making people feel unwanted, unwelcome, inferior, and even unsafe. I get
it. It feels good to finally be the cool kids. It’s hard to make room at the popular table.
It’s uncomfortable. But if we’re serious about making the world a better place, we’ve got
to start right at home. Tech CEO’s love to talk about how there’s no problem that they
can’t solve. Well, I see one right here and right now, and we’re not solving it. My girls,
they just want a chance to show you what they’re capable of, and if everybody in this room,
if you gave them that chance, not only would we close the gender gap in tech, but you would
build better, stronger, more profitable companies. All it takes is remembering that what made
us different is what makes us so successful. The world, it’s a better place because of
nerds. Just imagine where we would be without them. No PC’s, no internet, no Smartphones,
no streaming Game of Thrones. We have all of this because the nerdiest of nerds came
to Silicon Valley to be different, to let their freak flags fly high. That’s what I
love about Silicon Valley. That’s what makes it so special. That’s what makes your companies
so special, so successful, because you care about more than just the bottom line. You
care about building technology to make a difference. I admire that so much, and so do my girls.
They dream one day of working at your companies and joining your community. Let’s not forget
our roots. Let’s put an end to leaving people behind and putting people down, let’s join
together and say Silicon Valley is a place for nerds, no matter who you are or what you
look like, and we’re pretty proud
of that. Thank you. (applause)

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