I remember when the Mission Critical staff first got together to discuss the Women In Technology contest — none of us were sure if the audience was going to agree, but we all thought it sounded like a good idea. And, boy, were we right.

Nominations for women working in various fields, from diverse backgrounds, with unique visions flooded in from the moment we announced the contest up until the final minutes before the deadline.

It was such an inspiration to see so many people take the time to put these women in the spotlight, and while I wish we could have featured every nominee, I guess that wouldn’t have been much of a contest, now would it?

Each woman’s story was amazing, so the staff had to come up with a way to decide who the winners would be. It was hard. Really hard. But, one thing stood out about the Top 25 Women In Technology: They are all paving the way for young girls and other minorities to follow in their footsteps.

And that's why I am so excited to introduce my honorary plus one for this digital event. Her name is Juliette Palacios, she's 16 years old, and she’s the founder and executive director of Computing Minds — a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching and inspiring girls to code.

In fourth grade, Juliette was introduced to coding in a "fun way." The particular program demonstrated was easy to manipulate, so she was able to see how her actions could affect the character on the screen. The focus was on the result, which is the fun part, not the machine language and logic that was controlling it, which is also fun but can be overwhelming at first. The idea was to teach the kids what they could do with computer programming with the hopes that some of them would be interested enough to later learn how to make the program perform as desired. And, it worked. In Juliette’s case, at least. So, now, she’s paying that experience forward by doing the same thing with other young girls aged 9-12.

I had the chance to talk with Juliette about her vision for her organization, and she really just blew my mind. You see, it’s not just that she’s a girl who’s into coding and wants to break the stigma by bringing other girls into it with her. She’s a problem-solver (so, it makes perfect sense that she does like coding). Juliette talked about schools where students don’t have access to computers or other technologies. So, they raise money at Computing Minds — to bring the world of technology into every classroom possible.

Thinking about Juliette and all of the amazing things she has done at such a young age made me realize she is the epitome of hope when it comes to what the Top 25 Women In Technology are fighting for.

This group of women is one of the best cohorts I have ever worked with — no blasé attitudes here. In fact, to quote them, they were excited, grateful, humbled, honored, surprised, inspired, and the list goes on.

I said “were” because that’s how they felt when they found out they had been selected as a winner and would be featured in this issue. I simply can’t imagine what they are going to feel like after reading about Juliette because, to me, that’s the real prize, right?

To find out more about Computing Minds, explore the website, where you can register a girl for classes, apply for a scholarship, or donate to the cause.

Thank you to everyone who participated for making the inaugural Women In Technology contest one for the books — check it out for yourself.