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DEMO 2012 in Silicon Valley was sensational. Launch day for a new company unspools like a 24-hour rollercoaster ride; our own team returned to Washington, DC, sleep deprived, technology addicted, and ready to try out a dozen new web and social innovations shared by our co-presenters from other startups.

Yet as I stood outside the packed ballroom at the Santa Clara Hyatt grabbing the mini-sliders and puff pastries, the girl in me emerged. I couldn’t help but scan the crowd looking for other female co-founders and C-level execs.

Frankly, there weren’t too many. So I grabbed one of the few women I saw right away — Catherine Spence of HireQ — to help me hunt down more women for some pre-conference female bonding.

Coming out of an education non-profit, I am keenly aware that we need great models of female CEOs and leaders to inspire the next generation of girls to choose entrepreneurship and STEM related opportunities.

For instance, Inc. Magazine recently reported women make up half of the workforce but only one in four workers in the technology industry and 15 percent of senior management.

And according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women comprise only 11 percent of tech workers in Fortune 500 Companies.

So who were some of the rock star women of DEMO 2012? How can we all cheer them on as they build great companies that will build more jobs for our country? In their own words, here is what several had to say on how they got into technology and their advice for the next generation.

How did you get into technology?

Catherine Spence, co-founder of HireQ: I am a bit of an accidental entrepreneur.

While some people know they want to start a business (or many businesses), I was driven by my passion for this idea: everyone should love their job, and companies should love their employees.

My background is not in technology, but it’s clear to me that technology has the potential to solve some of the challenges that face job seekers and companies in finding each other. Using technology in sleepy industries like recruiting is way to create big change.

Rebecca Bahr, co-founder of Flinja: I got into technology from high school when my physics teacher would introduce us to various technologies and just make everything sound really cool from the invention of post it notes to solar systems.

Melissa Tyree, co-founder and CIO of Itography: Both my father and grandfather were programmers, so I took all of the computer science classes that I could in high school.

I ended up studying civil engineering at Texas A&M but followed my tech roots and was a systems analyst at Deloitte right after college. It seems that whatever industry I work in, tech always draws me back in.

Anna Anisin, CEO of 4sync: I think of myself as a geek in heels. I was that girl wearing pink lipstick and playing around with all the latest gadgets.

I finally took a leap of faith and launched my first startup in my early twenties and have been an active member in SF’s tech community ever since.

Courtney Titus, co-founder and CMO of GivingTrax: It all started in 2002 with my first marketing internship for KACE in Silicon Valley.

What career advice would you give young girls?

Tyree: Don’t be afraid to fail. Do things that scare and challenge you and you will never be bored. I encourage my daughters to try many different things. You never know what might inspire you!

Titus:Intern, if you’re in college. Find great mentors. Try and try again; don’t give up.

I’m currently part of the startup leadership program down in San Diego, and it’s been a great experience. I would definitely recommend it to other aspiring women in tech.

Anisin: No matter what career you pick, it’s very important to work hard and never stop believing in yourself.

It is also very helpful to find one or two solid mentors, who can guide you and also brainstorm with you. I wouldn’t have made it this far without the support from my mentors.

Bahr: My advice to all girls thinking of going into technology is to never lose hope and never get intimidated by others. Technology can be fun, creative and challenging, but its not an easy journey so don’t give up.

Spence: As women, we hear a lot about the challenges that we face balancing work and family as we move through our careers. These challenges are real, and there are no right answers.

What works for you might not work for your best girlfriend. But these challenges do not need to be constraints. We are empowered by choices, to construct our lives and our careers based on our values, hopes, and dreams.

I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

My advice to girls is to accept the challenge of dreaming big and making choices.

Photo credits: Demo Fall 2012

Julie Kantor blogs weekly for Huffington Post and In the Capital on issues around social recruiting, job search, entrepreneurship, women in the workforce and more. She is the co-founder of Barrel of Jobs, a startup that made its debut at DEMO Fall 2012.

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