[Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog]

I was only 12 years old when I was introduced to BASIC, my first programming language, and it influenced my entire career path. Now working as a female engineer in a male-dominated industry, I recognize the importance of getting women interested in science and technology at a young age. In March, I decided to get involved as a mentor in the Technovation Challenge—an outreach program that gives high school girls a chance to explore computer science and engineering as well as grow their confidence and entrepreneurial skills while being guided by women mentors in the field.

The Technovation Challenge is a nine-week course for teams of high school girls to design a mobile app prototype, write a business plan and pitch their proposal to a panel of judges—which includes tech leaders and VCs—at one of many events held around the country.

One of the biggest obstacles in getting students involved in computing is the technical expertise that’s usually needed to program software. So I was excited to learn that App Inventor for Android, which makes it easy for anyone to create mobile apps for Android-powered devices, would be part of the Challenge this year. Rather than reading about CS, the girls were able to directly participate in engineering to quickly prototype mobile apps, without getting bogged down by the nitty-gritty of programming. Whether the girls were brainstorming ideas for their apps, fleshing out their business plans or hacking away at their prototypes, I was inspired by their creativity and determination.

A team of girls build their mobile prototype using Android App Inventor

At the regional pitch night in Mountain View in April, I was floored by not only my team’s presentations, but by all 50 girls competing. It was hard to believe that these confident young women—with their solid business plans and app prototypes—had joined the program just nine weeks ago with no background in entrepreneurship or programming. My team pitched a social education app—a chemistry-based game like Jeopardy! that students can play with friends in order to prepare for tests.

This Saturday, May 21, marks the culmination of the program, when the regional winners will convene on our Mountain View campus for the national pitch night. Here, they’ll compete to have their app professionally developed and distributed on the Android Marketplace by demoing their prototypes, presenting their business plans and ultimately convincing industry leaders that their startup is worth investing in.

The Technovation Challenge tackles the computing world’s gender gap head on, giving girls early exposure to tech in a fun, engaging environment that develops their skills and confidence. I’m proud to mentor high school girls interested in engineering and technology, and I hope their experience in this program today will inspire them to become the tech leaders of tomorrow.