Women Who Reign: Erica Marie Kok

“Maturity has to do with the experiences you’ve had, not how many birthdays you’ve celebrated.”
 
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Two years ago, I was living in the Philippines. I grew up in the busy streets of Manila, and I remember the moment when technology truly started changing the way we lived. As a third world country, the Philippines is still mostly behind on technological advances. All these didn’t really matter to me then. I could hardly fathom the true benefits of technology, and I tried to steer as far away from it as I could.

When my family moved to America in 2014, my view of this industry did a complete 180-degree turn. The U.S. is the complete opposite of the Philippines. The fields of STEM, that are highly valued here, don’t mean as much in my home country. Over the past two years, I have seen technology evolve right before my eyes. I was on the internet for hours each day, reconnecting with my friends from halfway across the world, meeting new people, and sharing new ideas in online interest groups. Slowly, I started to believe that technology was actually meant to connect people and not the opposite. Communication has drastically improved, and people are able to reach out to each other with ease from different parts of the globe. Through technology, we are able to share ideas and propagate kindness more easily now.

I was also introduced to the “hackathon culture” that recently started booming. Being placed in a collaborative setting where everyone was encouraged to think outside the box and create whatever they want to create has been and incredible experience for me. This past year, I was able to travel to over 10 hackathons all over the country so far, and I still plan on going to more. Being at a hackathon where I meet incredible people and exchange ideas has been the highlight of my past year. I made my first robot at KnightHacks last January, and I made my first iOS app at HackFSU just last semester. In the mere two years that I have been here, I have already participated in Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI), and just last summer, I also interned for Facebook as a Facebook University (FBU) for Engineering intern. It’s crazy how much people can learn at such a short amount of time, and I hope to bring this culture back to the Philippines and other third world countries.

While technology has dramatically changed the world in the past few years, a lot of countries are still struggling to move forward from the past. I believe that the startup culture is the perfect way for me to figure out how to achieve my goal. Different startups have different goals to improve the community — from simple things such as making day-to-day tasks easier, to more ambitious ones such as improving the way people in third world countries live. I hope to one day create my own social enterprise or startup related to Computer Science that will improve the lives of people living in poverty. So much can change in the mere span of a few years, and I hope to bring the positive change that I will experience in the next few years back to my home country and other places who are also in need.

My advice for women in order for them to REIGN their lives? Don’t stop. No matter what anyone says, no matter how many times you feel like you won’t succeed, no matter how many people are telling you to stop — don’t. As long as you have the drive and the passion to make the world a better place, you’ll succeed. Also, never be afraid to ask for help. I’ve seen so many women become intimated or feel inferior to others when they ask for help, so they would rather go through challenges alone and figure it out by themselves, but the truth is, asking for help is never a sign of weakness. If fact, I see it as the opposite. By asking for help, you are showing that you do care about what the outcome of your work will be, and you are smart enough to recognize that it will be a more efficient use of your time to just go and ask for help. There are so many people out there who want to see you succeed, you just have to find the right group of people to surround yourself with in order to grow and learn continuously.