For the third year in a row, I had the honor and privilege to participate on a panel at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Washington Tech Trek Professional Women Night. This event is a week long STEM camp for girls entering eight grade and hosted at Eastern Washington University. The girls get to pick different tracks to learn about — cyber security, biology, robotics, etc. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the girls to dive deep into different areas of science and tech.
One evening out of the camp is the event I attended this year and the previous couple years — the Professional Women’s Night (PWN). Women working in industry in various science and engineering professions come and share their stories with the kids on panels. The panelists get asked questions from a moderator and from the girls, with a Q&A small group time after the panels wrap up.
This year I found the questions asked by the girls were profoundly more thoughtful and deep. It was very impressive to see how they are thinking through how to figure out what path to take for their future. Their questions and follow-up conversations got me digging deep into myself for answers. I also found myself being inspired by this upcoming generation who is looking at joining the STEM world.
Here is some of what I shared…
Q: What is your educational background?
I got my undergrad and master’s degrees in computer science from Eastern Washington University. Originally started in running start (almost 20 years ago…) and got an associates degree in web development at Spokane Community College which got me my first tech job. I wanted to go further into computer science though so I got an associates transfer degree at the same community college which helped me jump over to the university to finish my studies.
Q: How different is your job from what you learned in school?
Academic computer science likes to teach the groundwork needed to understand computers and tech. It focuses on the fundamentals of programming, operating systems, algorithms, and problem solving (among other things). Jumping into industry was a bit of a shock since my classes didn’t get to talk much on how software is actually built and shipped. My first job I got as an intern and learned a ton about how to apply everything I had been learning in school.
Q: How did you feel when you got your first job after school?
Both excited and terrified. Excited because I got to learn so much every day, I worked on cool projects with great people. Terrified because of just how much I had to learn to feel like a strong contributor to the team and wanting to keep up with what was being thrown at me.
Q: What’s one piece of advice would you give to someone looking at pursuing a degree in engineering or tech?
To be brave. Believe in yourself. Stay passionate. There are plenty of people you’ll run into with egos or be nay-sayers. Ignore them. Trust that you want to learn this and know that you can if you put in the work.
Q: What did you like most about school and your computer science program?
As bad as it sounds, I did enjoy beating the guys in my classes on projects and tests. But the real thing I liked most about my academic program was learning and solving problems. Learning new and better ways to solve problems. To understand how computers and software worked which gave me a new view on the world.
The world of computer science is also extra amazing because it actually can cross over with any other field. Like art? You can apply computer science / tech to that! Like psychology? You can apply computer science / tech to that! Teaching? Yup. Medical? Yup. You name it, computer science can overlap and tech skills will help your career.
Q:What’s your favorite part of your job? Least favorite part?
I work at a cyber-security software startup in charge of DevOps. My favorite part of my job is working with amazing people solving interesting problems every day. Tech is constantly changing and our software is constantly evolving to keep up and to grow feature capabilities. This keeps things always exciting and fresh.
My least favorite part of my job is an unavoidable part of software that is sold… dealing with customers when they are frustrated or grumpy. Granted I love helping people and making sure our customers get what they need to be happy so this isn’t that bad of a job duty it just isn’t my favorite.
Q: What one mistake would you change from your life?
As cliche as it might sound, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve plenty of mistakes throughout my path (and still do). I’m very human. Yet those mistakes have helped shape who I am today and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Q: How could someone get a jump start on preparing for a computer science degree?
Take any coding classes your middle or high school offers! Join an after school program that is for tech or coding:
Does your school not have any classes or after school programs like this? Try starting one yourself! Or there are these online resources to learn on your own:
- Code.org High School Curriculum
- Hour of Code
- Scratch — Free educational coding software designed by MIT
Q: What’s it like being a woman in tech?
I was honest with the girls, who clearly were already aware of problems in tech around treatment of women and minorities. I told them how the industry still has discrimination and sexism throughout it, but that from my view I believe we have more good folks in this industry than bad. There are so many strong allies and supporters trying to help change the tech world to be more inclusive and welcoming to all.
It was wonderful to hear that the girls who talked to me after the panel all knew who Ada Lovelace was! I shared with them about my non-profit, Future Ada, and how we are named after Lovelace and what we are doing to try to change the landscape of tech. I’m confident that by the time these girls get through school and out into industry things will be better and I told them as much.
Their generation entering industry will also further help solidify positive change which I am very hopeful about and excited to see. It’s up to the rest of us who are in tech now to ensure they have the proper groundwork in place to finish the job we started.
So grateful for this AAUW event every year. It’s my third year participating in the Professional Women’s Night of Tech Trek. Every year I come away more inspired thanks to these girls. I absolutely love the excitement and joy coming from these girls every year about science and tech. We need more of this in the world. We need to foster these passions in our women at these young ages. Last year I became a proud member of AAUW and am so happy to help support their mission to empower women and girls.