Women in Technology: Interview with Marlin Page, Founder of Sisters Code

marlinpageAfter college, Marlin Page was an aspiring Mortician, until she learned to code in 7-different languages in a 13-week boot camp. Her accidental entry into the tech field literally changed her life over night. She went on to develop software, became a technology executive at a fortune 500 company, served as Deputy CIO for the City of Detroit, CEO of a Tech Staffing Company and recently founded Sisters Code. Sisters Code’s mission is to educate, empower and entice women to explore the world of coding and technology. Marlin on a mission to “Awaken the Mature Geek,” in unconventional and disruptive ways.  She shares her experiences and insights in how she got to be where she is today.

Sarah Worsham: Was there a particular event or moment when you decided to pursue a career in STEM?

Marlin Page:  I was introduced to a 13-week boot camp through Compuware Corporation where I learned to program in 7 languages in 13-weeks. That experience was hard and amazing at the same time. Once I had my first coding, “ah ha” moment, I never looked back.

Sarah: Did you have any mentors or role models growing up that led you to this career? How did they influence you?

Marlin: Unfortunately I was not introduced to the field of technology in middle or high school. I was blessed with a mom and dad who allowed me to express myself and encouraged me to try different things. They ultimately encouraged me to believe in myself by allowing me to fail and succeed! When I was in college I started out at Florida A&M with a business major, and after my first year I decided to return to Wayne State to study Mortuary Science. Halfway through my time at Wayne State, I decided to travel (in my car) to Los Angeles to pursue my singing career while attending USC with a major in Public Affairs. In between I traveled to Switzerland to perform Techno music and FINALLY, I returned to Detroit and completed my degree in Public Relations while working as an aspiring Mortician at a funeral home. My parents allowed me to try different things and believed that I would find my way. They ultimately encouraged me to try the 13-week tech camp and it changed my life.

Sarah: How did you get where you are today?

Marlin: Essentially, I took a chance on myself. I believed that I could do something different and I did. I have a B.A., M.A., and started my Ph.D. program, none of which are in Computer Science. After working as a coder, I explored other positions within the company and essentially was promoted throughout each business unit. I went on to start a very successful technology company and serve as Deputy CIO for the City of Detroit. Bottom-line: A strong sense of belief in myself coupled with the “No Fear,” has afforded me an amazing career and experiences.

Sarah: Did you have to overcome any obstacles to get where you are? How did you do that?

Marlin: My obstacle was letting go of what other people thought about me. When I was younger, adults would say, “you are so cute to be so dark,” and I didn’t know how it affected me until I began making some pretty crazy, self-destructive decisions. When I stopped making excuses, started loving myself, realized that I was enough…my life changed! I had nothing else to prove, all I had to do was to live my life.

Sarah: Have you ever had any difficulties in your career due to gender? How did you handle them?

Marlin: I was usually the only woman at the technology table, which caused me to sometimes be overlooked. If I had something to say, I said it. If I thought I deserved that promotion, I asked for it. If I felt any disparity, I addressed it. Bottom-line: I didn’t sit back and wait for things to change, I introduced solutions, and most importantly built initiative to ensure the gender and racial divide in technology were addressed. I found out early that I could either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. I chose the solution each time! It was also important to mentor and bring other women along with me on this journey.

Sarah: Are there any skills or courses that have been more useful than you initially expected?

Marlin: High school extemporaneous speaking competitions and public speaking classes. I would have to say the best class has been life…. Getting out of my comfort zone trying new things, traveling to different places, and meeting people have propelled my career…those experiences have pretty much demolished all of my fear. I’m pretty fearless.

Sarah: What’s your day-to-day like?

Marlin: I start my day by working out (at home) around 5:30 a.m. After getting my daughter off to school I will work at my home office or for a different view, I choose a local coffee shop. A great deal of my time is spent meeting, networking and coordinating activities around Sisters Code. A few days a week I will take my lunch break and go for a 2-mile run on the riverfront before I head back to the office. My work is usually concluded by the time I pick my daughter up from school, and that is my time to spend with her, talking about her day. I usually will work a few hours after she goes to bed, and then if I’m up to it read a good book or watch endless episodes of Law and Order.

Sarah: What’s the highlight of your day and why?

Marlin: The highlight of my day is completing a task for Sisters Code, as it moves me closer to realizing the goal of educating, empowering and enticing women to explore the world of coding and technology. Another highlight is spending time with my family and being 100% present for them. Without family none of this would really matter.

Sarah: In your entire career, what’s been your favorite job or project and why?

Marlin: Coordinating the technology activities behind Super Bowl XL. I loved the challenge, the spirit of collaboration, and I am also a huge Football fan.

Sarah: What sparked you to start Sisters Code? What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating this organization? What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Marlin: Sisters Code was founded because I wanted other women to experience the “awesomeness” a career in technology has afforded me. I am living proof that technology can transform your life. I speak for various organizations to empower girls in STEM, but I think we are missing a population of women who have work experience and could definitely re-career into the field of technology. Hey: I’m living proof that it’s possible. If the goal is to really bridge the technology gender gap, we cannot create “one hit wonder classes.” Sisters Code’s mission is to build a community of technology to transform the lives of women.

The most rewarding aspect of this experience have been watching the 50 women walk into our weekend website warrior program, with no formal coding experience and to visualize their “ah ha moments,” their moments of increasing self-esteem, and their technology journey after the class. For example we had a 67-year old retiree who learned JavaScript, and shortly after created her own interactive ministerial website. She now serves as a TA for Sisters Code. One young lady enrolled in a local community college after attending our class in an effort to earn her degree in Computer Information Systems.

The major challenge was gaining support for my 13-week Coding Academy idea, where women would learn to become front-end developers with jobs waiting for them upon completion. The twist is that the women will be paid a salary to attend the class, which is totally unconventional and disruptive (Which is why I love it.) I believed in the program and began sharing it, and during my second meeting we received support from a major corporation to launch this program in Detroit in 2014. It’s going to take unconventional, innovative and creative ways to bridge the technology gender gap!

Sarah: How can someone get involved with Sisters Code? Either as a student or volunteer?

Marlin: Students: Visit our website at www.sisters-code.org and sign up to receive updates or register for classes.

Join us on Social Networks:

Volunteers: Email me at marlin@marlinpage.com or connect via the aforementioned social media outlets.

Sarah: Tell us about your “No Excuses” T-Shirts. Why did you create them and what do they represent to you?

Marlin: There was a time in my life when, my journey was pretty tough. I found myself blaming everyone else for my misfortune, until I learned the word, “accountability.” I remember sketching the phrase “No Excuses” in a notebook and decided immediately to make it a t-shirt design. (Since leaving Corporate America, my style of dress is usually t-shirt and jeans.) My shirts are meant to inspire people to, “stop making excuses,” for what’s not right, make a different decision, and get “it” done. Understanding that I am ultimately here on this earth to serve, a portion of the proceeds is donated to those in need.

Sarah: Your website says that your song, “Always Believe”, was created to encourage teens and children to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. What motivated you to create the song? How has the process changed you?

Marlin: At the age of 12, my daughter was 5’7 wearing a size 10 shoe, and her self-esteem had plummeted. I realized that no matter how beautiful I told her she was, she had to believe it herself. She is the reason I created the book and it took a life of it’s own. I recorded the song about a year before as a motivational song for children (as we all know the lyrics to some of the songs out here are the most appropriate for our children.) I decided to use the words of the song as the basis of the book, and included the actual music CD in the back of the book along with an 18-page workbook, and motivational magnet for the fridge or locker. The process changed me, because my daughter has blossomed into a very confident young woman who now motivates others. Always Believe is also the title of my workshops when I present for Microsoft’s DigiGirlz Program and for other organizations as I empower girls in STEM and Life. Ultimately girls simply must believe in themselves before they can excel in technology or any other aspect of their lives.

Sarah: You obviously have both a creative and technical side. How do they influence each other? Do you find being creative helps with your technical work (and vice versa)?

Marlin: My creative side absolutely enhances the technical and vice-versa. It amazes me that many people still have stereotypes about who techies are, how they look, and how they act…I guess I defy all the stereotypes! My creative side has helped me to build a business, work in corporate America and build initiatives, work in a government entity, all while having a great time and laughing a lot (which is VERY important to me.)

Sarah: What was your favorite game or toy growing up?

Marlin: I loved to line up my mom’s spices and act as if they were people (I know it sounds crazy.) I would read the spice container to see where they were manufactured and act as if that was where the “person,” lived. Essentially it allowed me to travel to various areas of the world…sounds boring, but it was awesome!

Sarah: What advice do you have to anyone interested in a similar career?

Marlin: Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if you try something different…If it won’t kill you (and it won’t) then go for it! If you are not 100% sure this career is for you, the simply ease yourself into coding by taking free online classes, or local classes. Lastly, find someone in a similar field that is open to talking to you about their journey in technology.

When learning to code: Think first about what you want to do, and then decide what program you should learn. For example in our program we are helping women to become front end developers, so we begin with JavaScript (HTML and CSS are not considered coding languages.) If you aren’t sure, don’t fret…just chose a language (what do you have to lose, right?)

A huge thank you to Marlin for sharing her time and experiences with us.  Hopefully you found her story helpful, interesting and inspiring.  If you would like to share your own story, please submit your information and we’ll be in contact soon!

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