Coming from a family full of educators, it’s no wonder Sara DeWitt would want her career to focus on finding innovative ways to teach children. She was first inspired to explore the relationship between education and technology while enrolled in Stanford’s English master’s degree program. She took a class where English majors and computer science majors learned HTML and improvisation respectively, then came together to solve various development-based challenges such creating interactive stories or connected toys.
“I found myself thinking about how new technologies could help children learn and tell stories,” Sara said. Using her expertise in child development and HTML, Sara joined PBS to work on the PBS KIDS website. In 2009, she came up with the idea for PBS to launch a streaming video player for preschoolers. The project successfully launched that year, gaining 84 million streams rather than 5 million as her team had originally predicted.
However, some parents and teachers remain skeptical about whether screen-based technologies such as television or computer games are beneficial for children. They sometimes even ban screen time for their children and students, worrying that these shows and games are in fact harming children’s brains.
“What people often forget is that these technologies are tools,” Sara explained. “It’s the content built for them that can be either educational and inspiring, or mind-numbing and addictive. Someone has to be thinking about how these tools can be a positive force in children’s lives.”
The Challenges of a Working Mom
Sara’s work life quickly changed when she became a mother, a transition which was difficult for her. Some of her colleagues began treating her differently, telling her she would not want to take on big projects after having a baby. She also began running into issues around family policy and travel.
“I’d wonder, ‘Can I put the mini-fridge for milk on my expense report?’ or ‘What do I do when the gaming conference doesn’t have a pumping room?’ I was surprised by so many things that changed in my career life,” Sara admitted.
To help with this transition, Sara reached out to women in more senior positions who had gone through the same thing. They shared their own challenges as working moms and answered Sara’s many questions.
“Not only did I get some great ideas and tips, but I also I learned that it’s okay to ask others for advice and counsel,” Sara said. “They loved being asked.”
Returning to GHC
Sara also found support when she attended the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for the first time in 2017, where she was able to network with and learn from other women in technology.
“When I walked into the opening session, I was blown away by the energy in the room,” she said of the celebration. “I’m so often the only woman on gaming panels and in tech business negotiations. I was overjoyed to be with other women who are facing similar challenges and career questions.”
Sara will return to GHC this year, this time as a featured speaker. She hopes our attendees find the guidance and inspiration they need to enter, remain in, and thrive in the tech field.
“Your voice and your contributions are critical to the field,” Sara remind women technologists. “Women use technology every day, and you have the opportunity to make that technology even more useful and helpful in their lives.”