When you own a software development company and you lead a foundation that encourages young
girls to learn to code, you’re often asked about how we can get enough coders among our population. In
fact, it seems that at most dinner parties we attend there’s at least one parent in the room that asks
about how to help teach their children to develop technology skills. One team at Carnegie Mellon
University (CMU) must have been asked the same thing, as they’ve come up with one option. They call it
According to their website, Alice is designed to teach logical and computational thinking skills,
fundamental principles of programming and to be a first exposure to object-oriented programming. It’s
used by teachers but can easily be led by parents-as-teachers as well. Most start at middle school level,
although it has regularly been used with younger children – and even those at university level.
Designed to provide the basics coding and software design, it includes game development but is also
used to expand understanding of both logical and creative thinking. Studies done at CMU found proven
benefits in engaging and retaining diverse and under-served groups in computer science education.
In and of itself, Alice is a fabulous teaching environment. The Alice Project as a whole, however, also
provides supplemental tools and materials for teaching using Alice across a spectrum of ages and
subject matter. They have established an active community, wherein teachers of all sorts interact to
provide ideas and applications and talk through concerns or questions.
Alice starts with a simple drag-and-drop approach, to make the concept of programming less daunting.
Students (and teachers!) progress quickly to develop stories through animation and sound, and
ultimately even build games.
If you’ve ever had to name a product or a company in the past 20 years, you know how difficult it is to
settle on something that’s not already taken. While many girls could be Alice Smith, there’s only one
alicesmith.com, and acquiring the registered trademark is a complex process.
As the creative folk at CMU tried to express this program, they thought, of course, of storytelling. Who
better to embody the idea of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Carroll, a
mathematician, novelist, and photographer, could do intellectually difficult things but also realized the
most powerful thing was to be able to communicate clearly and in an entertaining way. This inspired
CMU’s efforts to make something complex (programming) easy and fun.
As they describe on their site, the name is also a very practical choice. The artwork associated with the
Alice books is now in the public domain, its copyright having lapsed. Also, the name “Alice” has several
other advantages: easy to spell and pronounce, it shows up at the top of alphabetized lists. Great
It’s so important to offer programming as a key still today that CMU has found a way to make this
project a gift. In other words, it may cost you in time and energy, but there is no financial outlay. It’s
So, no matter the age of your children, go take a look at Alice. There may be a great storyteller inside
your child’s mind, once they have the tools. You’ll find a link to it on our Foundation website, under
Hiring programmers a world away has long been a desperate option for those looking to fill their need for tech talent. The argument was simply that American programmers weren’t available or affordable, and going off-shore promised lower costs and a tech team who worked while you slept.
Over time, American C-suites learned that there were hidden costs to the overseas solution. The time zone differential left small windows for communication and problem-solving. And English fluency, together with other cultural understandings, have grown from “nice-to-haves” to essential factors. These ‘soft’ attributes had a major impact on internal project management.
Such real-world lessons now collide with a growing concern of American jobs versus foreign jobs, and the real possibility that bad actors could comprise your offshore team and compromise your software integrity.
Indeed, when offshoring one loses certain control of the project which frequently translates into losing control of the money spent on that project; some companies spend millions without reaching a satisfactory solution. We’ve all heard those nightmares.
While acknowledging the cost savings companies cite for offshoring entire IT departments, what about the occasional, but necessary project updates, system and deliverable alignments that in-house software development teams inevitably face?
Because hiring a full-time developer — or team — requires an extended search, considerable overhead and the moral fiber (or lack thereof) to eliminate staff when the project is complete, companies look to what seems to be the easier and cost-sensitive solution of outsourcing via offshoring.
The alternative is onshore outsourcing. Assembling a stateside team to support and solve urgent software solutions invites creative collaboration, assures accessible control and eliminates the angst that comes with the “long-term commitment” of a new employee.
At PS Solutions, we thrive on providing creative onshore solutions for companies hitting roadblocks with their technology. We assign skilled developers to work onsite with in-house teams, or offsite but easily accessible. Either way, you meet the designers and developers working on your project; you can see the progress they are making and engage as frequently as you like. You’re in control.
Our capacity to scale, staff and site solutions according to client projects is what distinguishes PS Solutions. We match talent to task and temperament to team, assuring project needs and corporate culture are equally considered.
The result is ten years of satisfied clients who have avoided or at least augmented the offshore approach. For major corporations or mid-sized companies alike, onshoring is a welcome alternative to the overseas and often over budget offshore solution.
On February 28, 2017, the President signed the “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Act” into law. The primary aim of the bill is to compel the director of NASA to encourage women and girls to study within the STEM fields. The purpose of this act is to support NASA and help women to consider and pursue a career in aerospace. NASA will use three initiatives to support the efforts; the NASA GIRLS AND NASA BOYS programs, Aspire to Inspire, and the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research.
The INSPIRE Act is one additional step in what needs to be a comprehensive approach to break down the glass ceiling for women in many STEM fields. We currently have a tremendous shortage of US trained personnel to fill the many opportunities in STEM fields. The US is currently losing thousands of jobs overseas, simply because we don’t have trained people to do the work required. While not anywhere near a cure for the problem INSPIRE is a step in the right direction. The fastest fix to this problem is to make sure that women are given every opportunity to go after what are often traditionally male opportunities in the STEM fields.
PS Solutions Foundation is dedicated to helping young girls get exposure to STEM opportunities, particularly software engineering in the hopes that they will be encouraged to pursue the field as they work through their educational path. PS Solutions Foundation has provided scholarships for girls participating in science camps at Penn State Altoona.
The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act was signed into law on February 28, 2017. It was one of two bills designed to encourage woman to pursue careers in science and business fields. This Act allows the National Science Foundation to encourage entrepreneurial programs for women. These programs will allow women the opportunity to strive for careers in the STEM fields from the lab to the commercial world.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, they only hold 25.6 percent of computer and mathematical occupations and only 15.4 percent of architecture and engineering occupations. At the college level, women only earn 18 percent of computer science degrees.
Founded in 2012, PS Solutions Foundation focuses local efforts at encouraging young women to develop an interest in software engineering. The Foundation partners with educational providers to engage the young women so they can explore Computer Science and hopefully one day strive for a career within the field. There is a large opportunity for women within the STEM fields and this Act will hopefully be only one step in a comprehensive plan to help grow those opportunities for women.
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