Founder and CEO of WITECH
Audrey Pe founded WiTech (short for Women in Technology) with the mission of eliminating gender biases for women in STEM and of making technology education more accessible to girls in her home country, the Philippines. Audrey started WiTech in 2016 at only 15 years old.
After being fascinated by technology, she started pursuing coding on her own (because most schools didn’t provide it), but quickly was disheartened by the lack of women in tech.
Time and time again Audrey saw how the media featured white men as figures in the tech world, so she decided to find her own role models. She started WiTech as a blog to celebrate stories of women in tech from around the world but it quickly evolved into more. As more high school and college students became involved, WiTech started organizing a conference geared at celebrating diversity and inclusivity.
WiTech has grown and has more than 11 chapters in 4 countries. Among the many amazing things WiTech has accomplished, Audrey and a team from WiTech traveled to Marawi to teach high school students the basics of programming. Today, Audrey, the amazing woman behind the organization, is 19 and taking a gap year before attending Stanford.
When and how did you know you wanted to start WiTech? What were some of the first hurdles you faced?
I remember first being fascinated by technology in a middle school computer class. Under the Philippine curriculum, computer class didn’t typically contain any sort of programming (it was usually on how to use Microsoft Office). But one day, my teacher mixed things up a bit by introducing the class to a game where we had to have a snake navigate a maze using blocks that represented lines of code. That was the first time I realized that the websites and apps I loved to use were made using lines of code. More than that, I learned at that moment that I wanted to better understand the technology that impacted my generation so deeply. Because I was most drawn to tech and its applications, I decided to pursue coding (as it wasn’t offered in my school) via online tutorials on Codecademy, Khan Academy, etc. When I entered high school and started to express my interest in pursuing a career in that field, I was met with a lot of mixed responses. While my parents supported me, they both had backgrounds in banking and didn’t know how to guide me. Many of my peers commented that tech wasn’t a common field for girls and a teacher even told me she ‘couldn’t imagine me in the tech industry’. Honestly, at that point in time (freshman year), I couldn’t really see myself in the industry either because I didn’t have any role models in the field. When I went online to read about startups or tech in general, I’d usually see headlines featuring white men like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Not only could I not identify with them because of their gender and ethnicity, but I also got incredibly intimidated when I read that they had been coding since early elementary school. They seemed to be a type of success that felt unattainable to me in the very male-dominated industry of tech. So I decided to find my own role models. I literally looked up the #womenintech on Instagram and other social media sites. There, I found profiles of women in tech that I then emailed to ask if I could interview for what was then the WiTech blog.
What were some of the first things you focused on when starting to build the WiTech community?
Initially, the aim of WiTech was to celebrate stories of women in tech from around the world. But as I continued to write features and conduct interviews I fell into a slump. I felt like I wasn’t seeing any tangible impact with the blog because I didn’t know if it was actually inciting change within the industry. That’s how WiTech turned from a blog into an organization. What started out as a joke (“Why don’t we host our own women in tech event geared at celebrating diversity and inclusivity?”) turned into a group of Filipino high school and college students organizing the first women in tech conference for students and by students in the Philippines. Since noticing that most participants of that conference were from middle to upper-class backgrounds (and could choose to enter tech because they had the resources to do so), we shifted our focus to include tech accessibility. In a country where millions of people live under the poverty line, we knew that providing access to tech mattered worked hand in hand with encouraging girls to enter the said field. True equality isn’t just a question of providing all the resources to girls, but also ensuring that everyone has the resources necessary to be able to explore the tech industry. WiTech (and my end goal with the nonprofit) is to provide every single Filipino youth with access to technology, regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status.
What do you wake up looking forward to today?
Every day, I wake up to notifications from my team and/or emails related to my work. Rather than this being tedious, I love it -- the ideas + questions being shared by members, emails from potential partner companies, proposals from organizations that want me to help mentor their members via workshops. I can wake up excited to do the work that I do because I know that it's making an impact on my community and changing lives for the better. This keeps me going and helps me seize the day, no matter how hectic it can be.