10 Questions with Andrea Delgado-Olson

Founder of Native American Women in Computing, Program Manager for Systers and GHC Communities at AnitaB.org

Courtesy of Andrea Delgado-Olson, second from right.

Andrea Delgado-Olson is a member of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians in the Northern Sierra Foothills of California. She is the Program Manager for Systers and GHC Communities at Anita B.org (Anita Borg Institute) , as well as the founder of Native American Women in Computing, which she started after attending Grace Hopper in 2014. She wanted to connect with other Native women in tech for support and mentorship, but no such community had been started at the time. Fortunately, Anita Borg Institute was waiting for someone to start it, because like Andrea, they saw the need.

Andrea has been working on projects to preserve the Northern Sierra Miwok Language and pass it on to her children. She collaborated with Google and Udacity on the Android Basics Nanodegree course, Android Basics Multiscreen Apps, which uses the Miwok Language as its content. She has been recognized for her efforts in Native Max Magazine (pg. 51) as a Change Maker in the Native Community. She strives to lead this community and its members in a collaborative way that provides them with leadership opportunities that will continue to highlight Native American Women in Computing. These opportunities are a beacon for other Native women seeking other Native women in prominent positions to look up to as role models.

1. When did you decide you wanted to be in the tech industry?

I was attending Mills College Oakland, California to get my Bachelor’s degree in Education when I needed a course to fulfill my Quantitative & Computational Reasoning requirement. I was hesitant to take Statistics so I looked for alternative classes and came across a Computer Science course, Contemporary Computing. It filled the requirement but also sounded really interesting. My final project/website for the course incorporated all of the required specifics, but I added much more because I had so much fun designing it. My professor saw my passion and encouraged me to continue on the CS path to my Master’s degree. I will forever be grateful to her and my other professors for their guidance, for recognizing that a passion was there before I did. I fell in love with Computer Science that semester and have been programming ever since. I’m currently expanding my interest into Android and game development!

Also, Mills is an all-women college and co-ed for graduate programs, which gave me a unique experience as a woman entering Computer Science. One professor introduced us to Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration and recommended we all attend. Being at my first conference surrounded by 8,000 women in tech was inspiring. I knew I was where I was meant to be: at the forefront of helping companies and organizations achieve gender equity in their workforces.

2. Who’s someone in your life you looked up to when you were younger?

I looked up to my mother. When I think of strong women paving the way for other women to take on roles in their work, she’s the first person who comes to mind. My mother was an attorney for the federal government in the Office of Special Council. She was the head of an office full of men, which is what women face in many industries, tech being one of the worst fields for women. She taught me about strength and leadership, but also about persistence and achieving your goals no matter the obstacles. I am strong because of my mother and hope that the work I’m doing makes her proud.

3. Where’s your hometown?

I was born in Oakland and currently reside in Lafayette, California.

4. Can you tell me about a time you faced a struggle?

Educating, or re-educating my children, after they’ve “learned” about Christopher Columbus, or the first Thanksgiving and the “friendship” between the pilgrims and Native Americans. There are difficult conversations with teachers, with their ignorance when it comes to Native American history and the inaccuracies in the ways it’s told. I hope that with every year that passes there will be some progress made in how schools teach about Native Americans for the sake of my children. I hope that my children will have the courage and pride to share their heritage in a safe environment.

November, Native American Heritage Month, is always a month of angst. My daughter, who’s in kindergarten, brought home a plastic arrowhead and plastic pony-beaded necklace, and I don’t know the context of how it was explained or what the children were taught about arrowheads. The only thing she shared with me is that Native Americans used to hunt, but not with guns. I know they had a feast in class that day as well. When I speak to this group of new teachers, I hope they will take me up on my offer to come in and talk to the class about our tribe and how we celebrate Native American Heritage Month. I have yet to be contacted by any teacher my children have had.

“I hope that with every year that passes there will be some progress made in how schools teach about Native Americans for the sake of my children.”

5. Can you tell me about a time you did something you were immensely proud of?

Starting Native American Women in Computing, after I saw the need for a community to support the fraction of a percent of Native American Women in tech. I sought information from another founder to gauge what it would entail. I’m a mother of three, and at the time I was also a working, full-time graduate student. After weighing the benefits I submitted my application to start the Native American Women in Computing group. I felt most proud at this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration when at our Social/Networking event a woman entered and said, “I found my people!” That, to me, was one of the greatest milestones of the community.

6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?

I submitted an application to Georgia Tech’s online Masters in Computer Science, but I’ve been debating whether to apply to complete my Masters degree or apply for my PhD. I’m wavering on whether I should go back to school or teach myself the skills I want to learn. The resources are out there to be a self-taught programmer, but I love research. I would like to study ways to preserve endangered languages and work with people who are feeling the disconnect with their heritage due to not knowing their native languages. My thesis work was a case study that showed a correlation between language and not feeling like you can “identify” as being Native American because you don’t the language. I would love to continue working on this into the future.

7. Favorite food?

Mexican food, but more specifically, pork chile verde, green chile enchiladas, and anything with hatch or pueblo green chiles. Also, Native American food, but it’s hard to find, and my attempts to make it just don’t do it justice so I leave it to the professionals and relatives. There’s a great restaurant in Denver, Colorado called Tocabe, and their hominy salsa is wonderful!

8. Mac or PC?

PC, but I use Mac for work and PC for personal use.

9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?

I would be an entrepreneur or instructor for an organization that teaches coding/programming/web development to women, girls, at-risk youth, and underrepresented minorities. I would provide the curriculum, materials, and mentorship opportunities for all attendees to participate.

10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Stick with the math classes (I do love math!) and take Computer Science classes, lots of them! And convince all your female friends to take them with you; there is power in numbers and support for one another.

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