A Technology Story: From ChickTech to Disney and Back Again

Sloane’s journey from high school tech newbie to Technical Director at “the most magical place on earth.”

Author: ChickTech
Post Date: August 17, 2022

When we most recently spoke to Sloane Miller, 20, now a Computer Science major at Texas A&T State University, she exuded the same excitement and passion for learning that she had when we first met her at age 16. Recalling one of her most recent times participating in a Code-a-thon—a collaborative event where teams of participants work collaboratively on tech creation sprints, often a mere 24 hours long—she laughed as she described her teammates taking a power-nap while she continued plugging away at her computer: “I know you all say you don’t want sleep. But I’m an insomniac. I actually won’t sleep.”

A photo of Sloane holding a tablet computer in front of a presentation board. She is showing the tablet screen to a small group of students and parents.

Sloane shows a group of parents and fellow students the app she developed during the 2018 ChickTech: High School kickoff event in Seattle, WA.

But she hasn’t always been this sure about her career path—or even her interest in tech. “I avoided technology for a very long time,” said Sloane. “A lot of my cousins were really into technology, but they are all a lot older than me. So seeing the projects they made and things they’ve worked on terrified me at a young age because I never thought I would live up to that.”

That began to change when Sloane attended the 2018 ChickTech: High School program kickoff in Seattle. “I got an invite from my computer science teacher at the time, and I was so honored that she nominated me to join ChickTech,” said Sloane.

During the kickoff event, about 75 girls from the Seattle area gathered for a full day of tech-centric workshops, working together in small groups to learn skills from coding virtual reality games to app development and beyond. “At that point, I really hadn’t had any in-depth experience in computer science,” said Sloane. At the event, Sloane met other girls interested in tech and worked with them to create a project, from ideation to completion. “I was on the app development team at the kickoff event, and I worked with my teammates to create a project called Muse, which helps you find local artists within your community and work with them a lot more effectively.”

A big part of ChickTech’s work revolves around allowing the students to problem-solve and gain confidence in their abilities. “At each of our events, we have professionals teach the students, but more importantly serve as mentors and cheerleaders as the students use their new tech skills to work together on a project they’re passionate about,” said Katie SanFilippo, CEO of ChickTech.

The variety of tech-based workshops that ChickTech offers allows students to explore different specifications in technology. “There were whole arrays of activities, and working with all of them allowed me to see what I had higher levels of interest in, where I thought I had more skill in, and it was overall very helpful in guiding me down my path,” said Sloane, who was able to try out workshops on robotics and game development. Through ChickTech, she began to learn how her passion for story-telling could fit into the tech world.

That passion grew even more last summer when Sloane landed an internship to work at Disney as a Technical Director. “ChickTech is what led me to realize game development and using technology to create these stories was a valid and viable option. I never would have considered it if people within ChickTech had not helped me make that connection.”

In addition to the technical aspects of her internship, Sloane found the community and collaborative opportunities to be one of the best parts of the summer. “I’ve never had that much of a strong sense of community before.” Disney—who also works with ChickTech as a valued partner—says that they have worked to develop this diverse community and create a business culture where ideas and decisions from all people help them grow, innovate, create the best stories, and be relevant in a rapidly changing world.

When asked about their philosophy on equity and inclusion in tech, they stated “Disney is committed to doing that in a way that counts everybody in, including young women and non-binary adolescents in technology.”

Sloane found her time at Disney to be very welcoming; she made connections with other interns as well as technical directors. “I talked with some of the technical directors serving on the Walt Disney Imagineering team, and heard a lot about how they were bridging the engineering side with storytelling, which I never really thought was a possibility either,” said Sloane.

A photo of Sloane talking with another high school student. A group of students are sitting and standing around a table, talking with each other and working on a project while folding paper.

Sloane (back, red shirt) chats with fellow ChickTech: High School students during the 2018 Seattle kickoff.

Disney emphasized that they have worked to foster these connections throughout its internship programs, stating that “interns work side-by-side with and are mentored by Disney technology leaders and will develop and grow their skill sets to help them take the next step in their career journey.”

Sloane’s experiences with ChickTech and Disney highlight the importance of community, something Sloane is working to build as a Youth Representative on the ChickTech Board of Directors. ChickTech CEO Katie SanFilippo thought immediately of Sloane when recruiting for two new Youth Representative positions last year. “Sloane has gone above and beyond in her own exploration of tech and continues to give back that spark by speaking at our ACT-W Conferences and staying connected with the mentors she connected with during her time at ChickTech.”

When given the opportunity to volunteer with ChickTech as a Board Member, Sloane said, “there was no way I could pass that up.” Within her work, she attends regular Board meetings, guides the overall strategy of the organization, and has been guiding the student-led ChickTech: High School Leadership Committee in conducting social media outreach to current participants so they can still have a strong sense of connection even in a virtual learning environment.

It’s clear to ChickTech volunteers and staff who have worked with Sloane throughout and beyond her time as a ChickTech: High School student that her passion for tech has only grown—now with a bit more emphasis on combining tech with art through programming and game design, and a huge desire to give back to the communities that support her journey.

When we asked Sloane what she’d say to other girls and young women thinking about pursuing a future in technology, she stated: “you’ll never know if you don’t try. So even if it’s not something you think you want to stick with, still try. Still learn, because you have nothing to lose. At the most, you may learn something you never thought you could ever do before or were ever capable of.”

Are you interested in getting involved with ChickTech? Are you a student looking to gain experience in STEM, or wanting to meet a supportive community of peers and mentors? Learn more about our upcoming programs here.