Laser Cutting = Magic

Wellesley Magnets

This semester involved a lot of building and coding in the name of physical prototyping (like that time I built a game box!) The opportunity to work with my hands was a welcome departure from my usual hours in front of a monitor situation.

You know how they say that as soon as you get a tattoo (or eat a cookie) you can’t help but think about your next one. It’s an immediately addictive experience that opens a world of possibilities. Laser cutting in the same exact way. Once I learned to laser cut, I wondered what else could I make (answer: everything) and that would look cool (answer: everything).

I made a set of four Wellesley-inspired magnets based on the saying: “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss.” This language is problematically gendered and condescending, not truly expressing the full potential of what it would mean to look, act, think, and work like an amazing being. In my experience, when I think about what it means to be the best, I think about Wellesley…so I modified the quote.

Wellesley Magnets

SO MUCH FUN!

P.S. I’ll let you know if I make more. I’ve been approached about selling a small batch and would use the money to fund my research next semester. You know how much I love a good side project…

P.S.S. Before I laser cut another batch of magnets, I would definitely fix the typo. Oops!

#OurTimeToLead – Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Be Bold - Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

Last month I flew to Houston, TX to attend my first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I was accepted as a Grace Hopper Scholar, finding my travel, food, and lodging, and affording me an opportunity I may not have experienced otherwise. So, before we get too far into this recap, I would like to formally thank the scholar review committee and Qualcomm, my corporate sponsor, for their work and generosity.

This year represented the largest conference (12,000+ attendees) with the largest, most competitive scholar applicant pool (2,000+ applicants with a 21% acceptance rate). Then again, if you’re going to hold a conference in Texas, where everything is bigger, you’ve got to follow suit.

The numbers of GHC attendees has steadily increased over the years, then there was Satya Nadella’s blunder last year, but while GHC has grown substantially in the last few years, it is by no means new.

The first GHC brought 500 technical women to Washington DC in 1994. The Wellesley Computer Science department sent, and continues to send, students to GHC every year. I can only imagine that other colleges and organizations are encouraging their women in computing to attend the conference.

Grace Hopper Celebration felt like home. My Wellesley home, that is. Being in a room filled with brilliant, passionate women is a very comfortable space for me and I wish it wasn’t such an anomaly. I intentionally carried my Wellesley tote bag to attract the attention of other people connected to Wellesley.

Wellesley at GHC
Wellesley at GHC

(Eventually, I found my tribe.)

Yet, I was surprised at how many women I met at the conference that had only heard about GHC months prior to attending. I was happy to see them at the conference, but couldn’t help but wonder how many women should’ve been there that weren’t. Who didn’t know about Grace Hopper and was potentially missing a professional-life changing opportunity?

Lately, I’ve been feeling that I owe it to other Black girls and young women to show them what a coder looks like; that a coder looks like them.

Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that having resources and support groups is enough, but we can’t forget that impact is directly correlated to access. Women can’t benefit from GHC if they don’t know about it.

More than anything, the conference was validating and proved that the work I’m passionate about is worth it and of value. I’m passionate about creating avenues for women and underrepresented minorities in the tech space; a charge that Grace Hopper is obviously in support of.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that I owe it to other Black girls and young women to show them what a coder looks like; that a coder looks like them. Once I left Wellesley with a CS degree, I fell in love with product and decided I wanted to be more on the product / business side. That’s fine and all, but I do love coding. This semester, I’ve been tinkering with circuits, and playing around with code – falling in love all over again. I’ve hesitated to expand my technical skills for fear of pigeonholing myself. If I learn more front-end development techniques, I’ll only be asked to do front end developer jobs. If I tinker with physical prototyping, I’ll only be asked to do physical prototyping jobs.

This may be true, but since when has expanding a skillset been a bad thing? Never. So, let’s do this.

#Wellesley2010

Wellesley 2010 5-year Reunion

Day 30 to 32 of #100inPDX

A tent in the middle of the Academic Quad. In a past life, I trekked through the grounds headed for hundred-year-old buildings to sit in classes that would stretch my mind. I saw the quad covered in crisp orange leaves, fresh feet of snow, spring flowers, and summer grass. Once upon a time, I sat in that very quad with a black robe and purple accents, celebrating an accomplishment four years in the making, with 600 other women who will. Now, I stood in a tent in the middle of the Academic Quad with dozens of Wellesley alumnae dancing to guilty pleasure music and running into familiar faces.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun played. Cyndi Lauper whispered the lyrics over a belting tent-choir. This was a space of love, acceptance, sweat, and bad singing; where being yourself was encouraged. We were who we were and during Girls Just Want to Have Fun was no time to apologize for our shortcomings. I turned and ran into another 2010er, we hugged. A genuine hug that said ‘It’s SO good to see you! How ARE you?’ The hug could’ve been superficial and I wouldn’t have been upset; that’s what reunions were supposed to be, right? Fake interest in people you haven’t thought about in years. That’s not what this was though and when I realized, I lost it. I cried.

At that moment, in a tent in the middle of the Academic Quad, surrounded by my Wellesley sisters, I realized that moments like these were far too rare in the world. Earlier that day, I sat in the Zeta Alpha society house, an old stomping ground, and navigated a conversation about the importance of meaningful friendships, the politics of gender, and campus updates in the last five years. The ZA house wasn’t mine (insert purple + gold hearts for TZE!) in college, just like Wellesley is no longer mine now.

But this conversation – the ability to dive deep into gender politics and come up for air to laugh about old memories – was all mine. I feel “so Wellesley” when I debate the nuances of my passion-topics and feel my brain stretching. I feel “so Wellesley” when I am less concerned with the way I will be perceived and more concerned with asserting my opinions. In all honesty, I feel “so Wellesley” all the time because it extends far beyond a geographic location or place in time. That is the Wellesley I love.

I’ve always felt at home at Wellesley, seeing myself reflected in the space. There’s something about returning to a place so frequently associated with unimaginable amounts of stress, competition, and type-A-ness, because it frames the way people share their stories. We graduated five years ago and by now certainly expected to be financially secure business leaders, but in reality, we’re in our mid-20s, struggling to claim our destiny, true desires, and fullest potential – life is a rollercoaster ride right now. I want everyone to know that there is a place for their narrative at Wellesley. There is a space for “I quit my toxic job and am working on what’s next”, “I’m behind on my PhD journey” and “I’m just living life”. I carefully asked “Where are you living right now?” Mostly because everyone is scattered, but also because that’s a question not loaded with implications.

Anxiously anticipating things you’re not ready for: the mid-to-late 20s plight. There’s something beautiful about hearing your classmates’ accomplishments, journeys, and realizations and listening to their journey. To fully understand their journey without comparison, judgment, or speculation. My classmates are pursuing or finishing advanced degrees, law school, business school, and med school. They’re single, dating, engaged, and married. They live a dream life abroad, a rent-free life at home, or a grownup mortgage life in a quiet picket-fence neighborhood. I don’t see my path reflected in every story, but I see similarities in the foundation. We are all driven, brilliant, considerate women that carefully consider our place in and impact on the world. We also love impromptu dance parties. That’s all the comparisons I want to do, because that’s all there is to do.

Returning five years later is Twilight Zone meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I spent the better part of the weekend grasping for the words to describe the way I felt and feel about Wellesley College. I may not have all of those words now, but I do know that Wellesley changed the trajectory of my life and made me a woman of which I am proud. #Wellesley2010

CRA-W 2015 Grad Cohort

Monet at CRA-W

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.

Revision Path

I got to geek out with Revision Path’s Maurice Cherry about UX, HCI, women in tech, design trends, travel, networking, a design-driven approach, and my experience speaking at PRO/Design. To say it was a great interview is an understatement. In line with most things in my life, this opportunity came about through a series of conversations, events, conferences, and happy hours, talking about the things which I’m most passionate. I have to send a huge thank you to Adekunle for putting Maurice and me in contact!

In their own words, “Revision Path is a weekly interview show that focuses on showcasing Black graphic designers, web designers, and web developers. Each week, we explore the stories, processes, experiences, insights, and creative inspirations of these awesome creators from all over the world.” In my words, Revision Path is a wonderfully curated podcast allowing the Black-tech community to voice their passions and show the continuous beauty of diversity (in tech and beyond). The work they’re doing is important and I’m honored for the opportunity to contribute!

This will also go down in history as the day my face appeared on the front page of a website in the tech section, thanks to EvolveUX!

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 2.50.41 PM

Listen to the podcast at: RevisionPath.com, SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher Radio