In her own words: The opportunity to share my unexpected passion with other women

By: Hanna Pedersen, Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program Teacher

Hanna and student Alexis pose for a photo together during lunch one day.

Looking back, I realize now that when I started college at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, I declared my major as psychology because I was drawn to a career in which I could help people develop tools to succeed. I didn’t realize that, eventually, I would learn that psychology was not my path; rather, I found myself pursuing a degree in computer science. I had virtually no previous experience with anything technology related, but I signed up for an introductory programming class and ended up enjoying the challenge so much that I decided to devote myself to a future in STEM.

So, when I saw a posting to teach at a Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program during the summer of 2018, I leapt at the opportunity to share my unexpected passion with other young women. While studying computer science in college, I would count the number of women in my classes at the beginning of every semester, and I was disappointed by the significant imbalance between men and women. I wondered how many young women might’ve been missing out because they had been intimidated by the fact that STEM fields have traditionally been male-dominated.

Walking into the Bank of America building in Charlotte on my first day as a teacher, I was incredibly nervous. My passion was still to help people succeed, so I knew I had to do my best to teach my students about a subject that I had grown to love. I wanted to ensure that the 20 young women in my class finished the summer knowing that they could do anything they put their minds to — and it would be a wonderful added bonus if that ‘anything’ was related to computer science.

Hanna and her teaching assistants, Parker (left) and Elaine (middle).

I was so anxious about ensuring the experience was a great one for them that I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to what my experience would be like. I had signed up to share the wonders of programming with them, and I didn’t realize that the summer would be one of the most profound learning experiences of my life.

I like to think I was a good teacher to those girls in Charlotte; my mom has been an educator her whole life, and she was often a life saver as I learned how to lead a classroom. I have never been more proud than when my students walked on stage at graduation and presented their final projects to senior executives at Bank of America. After seven weeks of watching my amazing class grow into a tightly bonded group of confident young women and competent coders, I realized that I had learned just as much from them as they had from me.

In those seven weeks, the young women in my class reminded me why I originally wanted to study psychology and why tech ended up being my calling. I love technology — I love the freedom, the imagination and the power of creation. I spent the summer watching my students try, fail, learn, try again and succeed. I also love to help develop meaningful relationships, which is at the foundation of the Girls Who Code philosophy. We’re at our best when we have teachers, mentors and friends who invest in our success and connect with us. My class’s success was the product of our collective desire to learn and grow.

Girls Who Code changed my life — today, I work for Bank of America as a tech analyst within the Global Information Security organization. I work alongside other incredible female technologists who are passionate about what they do. Teaching was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it helped me learn and develop my strengths. I will always remember the seven weeks I spent with my class. It was a summer of learning and growing together, and I will always be grateful for the experience.

Hanna Pedersen is an alumni of the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program at Bank of America in 2018. She studied computer science at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Hanna is currently working at Bank of America as a technology analyst.

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