Where Are Women of Color in Tech?

By Shaela Smith

Information Technology (IT) has been really good to me.  And to think for me it was an accidental encounter.  After high school I was so for sure that I was going to be a medical doctor that I enrolled in my university’s Pre-Medicine Biology-Chemistry program.  Yet, somewhere between freshmen and sophomore year I wasn’t feeling those subjects.  Mind you, I am fascinated by the human body and how it works but the course work to prepare me for a career in medicine was just plain slow and boring and my grades reflected how I truly felt about it: horrible.  My academic advisor knew of my love for problem solving, creativity and my incessant need to get everything right. She suggested I try Computer Science since I was skilled in math and computers.  Since this major was still in the same college I was already enrolled in at the university my pre-requisition classes still counted.  It felt good to know that I hadn’t wasted any time or money trying to find myself.

What I did wonder was why I hadn’t heard of this career path before? Why had it taken me a while for things to fall into place?  Why weren’t more people who looked like me involved?  Why? Why?  Why?  Ironically, back then I didn’t think that way.  I was already working as a contractor in a major corporation doing systems analyst work.  So basically I was doing the job before I completed my degree.  And where I worked there weren’t many people that looked like me either so I was sort of used to this dynamic.  But now I am older and have completed my Master’s degree in Computer and Information Systems and for some reason on the business side of computer programming I began to see a lot more people of color. I want that diversity to translate into more workplaces and I plan to be a major proponent in making this happen.

I admit I was not the most enthusiastic studier.  I prefer not to use the word hate but no other word clarifies how much I detested reading, absorbing and dissecting something someone else already translated, compressed and delivered.  Call it selfish but I require the ability to assert myself and my opinion in what I study.  This is the main reason why biology and chemistry did not attract me.  Those things, in introductory stages, have all been discovered and dispersed.  With computer programming, I can recreate something that someone else did.  Make it more simplistic and transparent or make it more robust and stringent.  Oh, the possibilities since there are not many options in careers where that is evident on day one.

Imagine coming into work and no expectations of what the day will bring is the norm.  That each day, in its own peculiar way, is unique and very far from what could be considered ordinary.  That the timeline that you have to work with is purely at your disposal but within reason; deadlines are common.  This is how I would describe my career in Information Technology. No day, no project, no situation is ever the same.  It’s like opening up a puzzle and putting the pieces together one by one finishing that one and starting all over again.  In some instances you even get the opportunity to make things better.  That’s the beauty of computer programming code.  It is an environment where peers equally share.  Where conundrums are explored, decimated then disseminated because as a community we promote an atmosphere of shared experiences and of course who ever discovers the answer gets to gloat if only for a moment but live in infamy as his or HER work is used over and over again.

Like I said before Information Technology has been very good to me.  I credit it with meeting my significant other, giving me a career I simply adore and with also never allowing me to become complacent or bored.  You see, information technology never lets me rest on my laurels or allows me to be satisfied with just getting things done.  It requires me to finish and finish well because quite simply people, particular programmers, don’t get things done — we finish things.

Back in college, while studying computer science I was often the only woman and person of color in my classes.  It boggled me as to why there weren’t more women in tech, considering that  women are natural problem solvers and often approach problem solving from a different perspective then men.   This is why I am at a lost as to why Black women are not a more present force in the IT field.  I believe Black women are naturals for these roles.  IT careers are abundant and evidently a main component in many fields such as medicine, manufacturing, energy, and other sectors.  None of these fields can progress or achieve momentous breakthroughs without the help or the innovation of professionals that create through information technology.  With more and more black women at the forefront of emerging ideas, it would only make sense if more women of color considered entering the field.

The most powerful tool we have going for us is innovation and unrelenting possibilities and those two powerhouses are permanent inhabitants within Information Technology, because without either IT is irrelevant.  But one thing that IT hasn’t taught me is why the disparity?  Why are there so few women, especially Black women in information technology, particularly computer programming? I believe that it’s important that we continue to encourage women of color to branch into fields that are least traveled. How can we help make computer programming and IT related fields more accessible to Black women?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. dirtychai

    November 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I feel that there are still some blanks that need to be filled when it explaining what IT is to the masses. I know that it is more than just fixing computers and knowing strings of symbols, letters, and numbers. People need to understand how they can learn computer science.

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