Celebrating Black History Month with the WISE of Today: Sara Young

Sara Young, Computer Science student at the University of Central Florida and past Microsoft intern. (Photos used in this article were taken by Victoria Cheng.)

During the month of February, we sat down with some amazing black women in science and engineering to talk about their career paths, challenges they have faced, and their advice to other WISE in the field.

Our next featured woman is Sara Young! She is currently a junior studying Computer Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida and interned at Microsoft on the Cloud & Enterprise team this past summer. She comes from a mixed ethnic background of half African-American and half Caucasian.

Thanks for interviewing with us, Sara!
So you’re currently studying Computer Science. Why did you choose this path?

I chose Computer Science by a happy accident. My last semester in high school I was mistakenly put into a coding class and was unable to drop the course. I ended up really enjoying the class and decided on a whim to apply as a CS major to my current university. I enjoy CS because I like the challenge and reward that comes with solving complex logic issues and being able to build virtually anything I want.

How have you had to adapt to fit in?

I knew going into the major that the diversity in tech was a major weak point in the industry. However, it wasn’t until my first CS class that I realized just how bad it was. Black people in CS are already a bit of a rarity to see and the issue is compounded as a black woman. In my school of nearly 70,000 people, I have met less than 5 other black female CS majors. This was a struggle for me and really made me question if this was a field I wanted to go into. Eventually I noticed that I was unconsciously changing how I dressed, spoke, and did my hair, as well as what music I listened to in order to fit in with my other classmates.

Have you experienced any prejudice?

I haven’t had anyone maliciously attack me for being a black CS major but I have noticed a lot of passive microaggressions revolving around my race. A big one for me that comes up every so often is being told that my hair (which is naturally very curly) is unprofessional and distracting, whereas classmates with straight hair who wore their hair down for interviews never had the same comments directed towards them. Another one that happens regularly is people not believing me when I mention I am studying CS. I’ve walked into interviews and had someone assume I was applying for a secretarial role rather than a software development role simply because I didn’t fit the preconceived notion of what a ‘software engineer’ looked like in their minds. Things like this bother me and I hope that bringing awareness to these topics leads to changes in the future.

How can we promote racial harmony in the work and school communities?

The biggest thing that we can do as individuals to create a happy and healthy work environment for all races is to educate ourselves. Even if you don’t think anything is going on, always be sure to listen and to take other people’s comments into consideration. I’ve noticed a lot that sometimes bringing up issues that I have experienced as a result of my race to others gets dismissed as me being overdramatic, and honestly that hurts far worse than the actual issue I was talking about. Never belittle anyone’s concerns and always keep an open mind to new people and new situations.

I also feel like we, as STEM majors, should be doing more outreach to school programs specifically targeting minority students. My middle school was almost exclusively comprised of black students and the idea of being in engineering was never even thought of because nobody told us that those positions existed. Introducing students to the many fields in tech and getting them interested early is the absolute best way to bring more diversity into the CS field.

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Do you know an amazing WISE that you want to nominate an for an interview? Do you have a woman that you look up to whose story you want to hear? Nominate them today by commenting on this article or by messaging our Facebook page here!