My relationship with technology is intimate and deeply integrated in my thinking and view of the world around me. I could not imagine existing outside of the tech bubble, and am fortunate to know that I belong. Women in computing are brilliant, powerful beings that deserve supportive experiences to network, engage, and be inspired by other women in computing. I often assert this opinion to already agreeing crowds – preaching to the choir, if you will – but in my experience, this point can’t be stressed enough.
As a Black woman in this field, I often have to compartmentalize my identity and network with women or African Americans in a small, technical spaces to see myself validated in pieces.
I studied Computer Science at Wellesley College, an all women’s college in Massachusetts. This means that my education was cultivated in a bubble of support and validation by people that strongly supported women in computer science. The best part about attending an all-women’s college is seeing yourself reflected at the top. At Wellesley, women always held the prestigious titles of valedictorian, student government president, and first author. I saw myself reflected in these accomplishments and constantly felt the affirmation of my abilities and belonging. Upon graduation, I realized that examples of women in computing are not as abundant in the real world, so I have to intentionally seek these validating opportunities, e.g. conferences for women in computing.
The 2015 Grad Cohort Workshop was the first time in my post-undergraduate, professional career that I had the opportunity to meet a large group of women in computing. Among the conference attendees, I easily identified potential mentors, advisors, and peers that looked like me, shared my professional interests, and could understand the details of my experiences. This feeling of community and validation is exactly what I sought in attending Grad Cohort.
Outside of traditional network opportunities, I felt like the community at Grad Cohort was genuinely invested in the professional development of each attendee. My secondary objective for attending Grad Cohort was to answer a personal question: Should I pursue a PhD after my Master’s program? This is something I have been grappling with and trying to figure out in a silo. At my institution, there are brilliant professors and advisors, but without seeing my identity reflected in the roster, I wasn’t sure that pursuing an advanced degree was right for me. At Grad Cohort, I received a variety of opinions and spoke with people that genuinely cared about my decision. I strongly believe in these forums as opportunities for successful women in computing to advocate for the collective inclusion and offer informed advice to other women.
As valuable as seeing so many women in computing was to me and my experience at Grad Cohort, the number of African American women pursuing advanced degrees in computing blew me away. As a Black woman in this field, I often have to compartmentalize my identity and network with women or African Americans in a small, technical spaces to see myself validated in pieces. I met intelligent, driven women pursuing Human-Computer Interaction and working on things I’ve always found interesting. The connections I made at Grad Cohort will follow me, as I am positive that I met the movers and shakers that I will continue to read about and work with throughout my career. I will continue to rave about my experience at Grad Cohort, because I want to spread the word to as many other women in computing as possible. Every woman deserves to feel overwhelming support and validation a professional, research-oriented, computing space such as Grad Cohort.