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TECHNOLOGY

Arab Spring... for High-Tech Teens?

A U.S. government-backed plan to spread the Silicon Valley vibe
east--25 Arabic-speaking girls at a time.
In 2011 the U.S. State Department launched TechWomen, an exchange program that brings female tech leaders from the Middle East and North Africa to the Silicon Valley. Next up is a program for teenage girls.
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If you think there’s a shortage of women running tech start-ups in the U.S., imagine the dearth of women doing it in the Middle East and North Africa.

But the region is redefining itself—just consider the integral role technology played in the Arab Spring upheavals. As such, the U.S. Department of State wants to make inroads there and to do it, it's targeting tech-savvy teenage girls. The State Department is launching a program called TechGirls that will bring 25 Arabic-speaking girls ages 15-17 to Silicon Valley this summer for three to five weeks of intensive training and networking with their American peers.

The program will include a technology camp in which the teenagers will work collaboratively on designing new products and get in-depth lessons on things like cloud computing, Web design, mobile communications technology, programming, robotics, and social networking.

They also will spend time visiting big name Silicon Valley companies, meeting with technology experts, and doing at least one community service project.

TechGirls is a spin-off of TechWomen, a similar program for adult high-tech workers from the Middle East and North Africa who come here for mentoring and professional development each year. TechWomen is the darling of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who touts “smart power diplomacy” that complements traditional foreign policy by empowering women with technology.

Indeed, by building relationships with female innovators—and their younger, talented counterparts likely one day to be key influencers back in their home countries—the U.S. hopes to lay the groundwork for future connections that can benefit American tech firms branching out to emerging markets such as the Middle East and the Northern Africa.

TechWomen alumni working with U.S. embassies will recruit, screen, and select the youth participants in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen for the TechGirls program.

While it hasn’t been announced which companies will be opening up their doors to the teenagers this summer, firms that supported the TechWomen program last year included Adobe, AT&T, Intel, Facebook, Google, and many others.

It won’t be all head-down work—the girls also will do so some sightseeing and attend cultural and sporting events. In fact, it’s what they learn about American culture that’s just as important as the hard-core tech takeaways.

So what should these TechGirls see while they're here? If they're going to be little ambassadors spreading the Silicon Valley vibe, they shouldn't miss:

The Googleplex, Mountain View
Google’s headquarters are proof that innovating is fun. Employees get free food, can bring their dogs to work, and use colorful Google bikes to get across campus. The company also offers gyms, a beach volleyball court, and two “endless” swimming pools. While Google doesn’t give public tours (here's a virtual one), anyone can stop in at the lobby where there’s a display that shows live search queries coming in from all over the world.

The HP Garage, Palo Alto
The roots of Silicon Valley can be traced to this Palo Alto garage where electrical engineers Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard decided to work together making electronic devices. Legend has it that they decided on HP (instead of PH) from a coin toss. The garage still stands, is now a museum, and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

500 Startups, Mountain View
There’s no shortage of accelerators and incubators in Silicon Valley so a field trip to check one out is mandatory. 500 Startups is an accelerator that offers its companies access to 160 mentors who will help them get a leg up.  Its creative workspace is definitely worth checking out. And no wonder the name—check out its lengthy roster of tech start-ups.

Coupa Café in Palo Alto or Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View
Two hip hangouts where the hottest names in tech start-ups convene. They come in droves to demo their products and meet up with potential investors.

The Tech Museum, San Jose
This modern museum includes galleries that showcase another side of tech: genetics, space exploration, clean energy, and biotech.

The Computer History Museum, Mountain View
You could spend hours in this rich collection of exhibits because it covers everything from the history of mathematics to modern day computing, touching on the abacus through the mobile phone.

Stanford University, Stanford
It's one of the area's primary grooming grounds for budding entrepreneurs due to the integral role it played in the establishment of Silicon Valley as the world’s technology epicenter. A 70-minute walking tour includes visits to the Main Quad, Memorial Church, White Plaza, as well as the Science & Engineering Quad where a student guide talks about engineering history, sustainable building technology and the university’s famous engineering programs.

Thanks to Inc.com readers for offering up some suggestions! Have any others?

Last updated: Feb 23, 2012

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS

Christina DesMarais is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech start-up community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. On Google+, add her to one of your circles. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.




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