Kylee Davis is a problem solver, one who says her family instilled in her the notion that she could do anything she wanted to.
The senior computer science major describes how her parents never really differentiated between her and her brothers, whether doling out responsibilities or estimating their capabilities. So, she never second-guessed her aspirations. That’s why when a male classmate asked how it felt to be the only female in a sophomore-level programming class, she had to stop and think about her response.
“It caught me by surprise. Previously, I didn’t think anything about it,” said Davis. “It made me realize I want to try to help girls understand they can do it, too.”
When it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, two topics are usually highlighted: the explosion of employment opportunities in the coming decade, and technology’s increasing part in daily life. With women’s roles seldom represented, Davis has plans to make her mark on both topics.
Calm and unassuming, the Oroville native is seemingly unaware of all she has achieved during her time at Chico State. After spending four years embracing leadership roles, excelling academically, and creating a strong network with top technology companies, it is only now that Davis begins to reflect on her start.
She’s driven by a study highlighted by The New York Times that reported less than .5 percent of high school girls plan to major in computer science. That realization pushed Davis’ efforts outside the classroom into overdrive.
“I want them to know that it’s OK that girls think it’s cool,” Davis said of engineering and other technical fields.
Davis is an integral part of the University’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) that hosts the annual Imagineer Day, a day of hands-on learning and experiments for 200 elementary school girls.
She is part of a core group who revitalized the Chico State student chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE). At its annual Imagineer Day, SWE hosts more than 200 North State elementary school girls for a day of hands-on learning and wide-eyed wonder with lively experiments. The event has become so popular, it now sells out within a couple days.
And through her involvement with the computer science honor society Upsilon Pi Epsilon, she worked with Chico-based Build.com to plan and manage Girls Who Code, a workshop series that drew students from Chico’s high schools and introduced girls to basic coding skills through mini labs. Girls Who Code started in New York City five years ago with just 20 girls and has grown into a national movement, engaging tens of thousands of middle and high school girls across the country to pursue futures in computer science.
Coding, the language of computer science, is the tool that writes a story with technology. It communicates ideas with a computer or a program so they can be brought to life. During Girls Who Code, Davis helped the younger students work through challenges in mapping and writing code. At the culmination of the Chico program, attendees had a complete game to show for their efforts.
“What stood out to me was what I call the ‘lightbulb moment,’ when I would help a girl with a concept and her eyes would light up when it clicked for her,” Davis said.
After walking across the stage at Commencement, Davis hits the road for the Bay Area to launch her career at Google, where she has been matched with a team that fits her interest and expertise.
She was the first Chico State computer science student to intern at Google (turning down offers at HP, Chevron, Apple, and Intel to serve on the tech giant’s Google Play Search and Discovery Team last summer).
“Kylee has everything needed to be successful in computer science: curiosity, grit, and a high level of intellectual energy,” said Tyson Henry, faculty in computer science and Davis’ professor for several classes.
Henry did not question for a second that Davis would get an offer from her top choice, Google, and encouraged her decision to accept it.
“Chico State graduates do very well in the industry despite the fact they often start out with the fear they are not as well prepared as students from highly selective universities,” said Henry. “Often students from these universities relax and rest on their bona fides, while Chico State graduates are getting real work done.”
He attributes the success of Chico State computer science alums to the hands-on nature of the program that helps them to outperform their peers in highly competitive work environments.
“Kylee is so technically strong and tenacious, I was confident she would succeed at Google,” said Henry of Davis, who is the first Chico State computer science major to start a career at Google post-graduation.
Her short-term goal at Google is to have her coding work put into the search engine’s production. As for the future, Davis wants to take advantage of all the professional development opportunities Google offers, including Women@Google, a professional network for female Googlers with the goal of connecting, training, and retaining women within the company. The program boasts 10,000 members across 45 countries.
She is already making the transition from student to professional with SWE and has connected with the Bay Area chapter. Keeping her connection to Chico State is on her mind, too. Davis is eager to continue to work with the computer science department.
“I want to give back to the program,” said Davis. “Attending conferences as a student gave me a look at the industry and access to professionals in the field. I’d like to develop a program where I sponsor conference attendance for the next generation of computer science students.”