Looking at the keynote line-up at any major technology conference you expect to see experienced, successful, high-ranking executives from large corporations take the stage. What you don’t expect is to see six young girls, between age 11 and 13, hold the attention of a tech audience of nearly 7,000 people.

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But that’s exactly what happened this year at Red Hat Summit. Six alumni of CO.LAB, presented by Open Source Stories, joined Red Hat executive vice president and chief people officer, DeLisa Alexander, and executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Tim Yeaton, on the conference mainstage, during a moving afternoon keynote, to discuss their experience with CO.LAB and the importance of providing a platform for underserved communities and demographics to get involved in the technology industry.

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Coming from cities down the East Coast, Avelyn, Safiya, Gabriela, Lyric, Camila, and Tenzin flew from New York City, Washington D.C. and Raleigh to join us in San Francisco for one of the industry’s premier enterprise open source technology conferences. But there was more meaning behind their trip. With CO.LAB, our goal is to build a real community for the students, to embed them in the industry, help make connections and support them as they continue through their education. Should they choose to pursue a career in the tech industry, we hope that the relationships and skills they’ve learned through this initiative will enable them to get any position they want.

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In addition to the keynote presentation, the alumni also hosted two Poetry and Pi Workshops for attendees during which they showed more than 40 participants how to build a Raspberry Pi camera. These participants, along with our Summit attendees worked together throughout the week to bring a poem to life by capturing images around Red Hat Summit and San Francisco. The final collaborative 17-foot-wide installation reflected the A (arts) in STEAM and offered attendees a unique way to experience Summit. Beyond the participants in the workshop, more than 50 attendees checked out cameras from the Open Source Stories booth so they could also contribute to the installation.

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What we found most exciting about the Poetry and Pi Workshop is the wide range of titles and job functions that participated. The girls taught people with varying functions; among the participant list: a software engineering manager, a platform engineer, a DevOps engineer, a cloud engineer, a sales manager, several journalists, an open source enthusiast, a director of developer experience and a senior support engineer.

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Throughout Red Hat Summit these inspiring girls had jam-packed days full of sessions, workshops, VIP dinners, film premiers, and networking. They spoke with attendees all the way up to the executive level and handled themselves with poise and intelligence. We plan to continue to work with them and our other CO.LAB alumni to provide resources and mentoring to help them achieve their goals.

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