Tag Archives: Women in Tech

13-Year-Old Shani Zuniga Designs Energy Saving Home Climate App #WomenInSTEM

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ventixWho says you have to be an adult to invent something useful? 13-year-old Shani Zuniga, together with her father, Gabi, and their neighbor Danny Eizips have created a cloud-controlled home heating and cooling device called Ventix. Unlike Nest, which controls the overall climate in the entire house, the Arduino-based Ventix can be used to control the climate in each individual room by opening or closing individual air vents.

For the Disrupt SF Hackathon, Zuniga enlisted his 13-year old daughter, Shani, as the designer for the app that controls the entire system.  While she’s been learning to create graphics for awhile now, this was her first ever hackathon.  Shani designed the entire app for both iPad and iPhone and is now working on one for Android.

Black Girls Code Receives $50k TechCrunch Include Grant

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blackgirlscodeBlack Girls Code, whose mission is to increase the number of women of color in STEM fields by empowering girls to become innovators, leaders and builders of their own futures, is the recipient of the first TechCrunch Include Grant of $50,000. By reaching out girls through workshops, summer camps and after school programs, Black Girls Code introduces computer science to girls from underrepresented communities.

TechCrunch Include had applications from over 145 organizations around the world; all of them advocate to make tech a more inclusive place. Applicants had to show how they were making an impact in their local community.  TechCrunch will be working with Black Girls Code, and 3 runners up ensure that they are better connected to the TC community.  As the Include recipient, Black Girls Code will receive tickets and exhibiting space at upcoming TechCrunch events.

Broadcom Foundation Launches Series of Interactive STEM events at Computer History Museum

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BROADCOM LOGOPartnering with the Computer History Museum and major corporations in Silicon Valley, Broadcom Foundation will introduce middle school students to basic concepts involving coding, such as logic, structure, space and change. Students in Broadcom Presents Design_Code_Build will gain hands-on experience through activities like programming Raspberry Pi, which uses a Broadcom system-on-a-chip, to navigate a maze. Each event will be keynoted by a high-tech industry luminary who will share his or her personal store to inspire students.

“The program will introduce the untapped talent reserve of young people to computer coding and afford them the opportunity to interact with volunteers working in exciting careers that rely on coding —from chip design to app building in fields from medicine to digital animation,” said Paula Golden, Executive Director, Broadcom Foundation, and Director, Community Affairs, Broadcom Corporation.

“Through our partnership with the Broadcom Foundation, we look forward to creating a unique educational experience for these young people by providing access to technology and industry leaders and leveraging rich historical content through the Museum’s legendary exhibits,” said John Hollar, Computer History Museum Chief Executive Officer and President.

Broadcom Presents Design_Code_Build hosts its first session on October 11, 2014. The 2014 schedule will include three full-day workshops in 2014, followed by four more in 2015.

For more information, visit the Broadcom Foundation and Computer History Museum websites or visit Broadcom Foundation’s Newsroom and read the B-Inspired Blog.

Women in STEM Podcast Episode 5 – Marlin Page, Founder of Sisters Code

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marlinpageInterview with Marlin Page, Founder of Sisters Code. Marlin served as a technology executive at a Fortune 500 company, Deputy CIO for the City of Detroit and is now CEO of a Tech Staffing Company.

Hosted by Sarah Worsham.

Music is Light Emotions by MIGmusic.

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Women in STEM Podcast Episode 2 – Jessica Kirkpatrick, Director of Data Science at InstaEDU

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jessicakirkpatrickInterview with Jessica Kirkpatrick, Director of Data Science at InstaEDU and blogger for Women in Astronomy & Astrobetter.

Hosted by Sarah Worsham

Music is Light Emotions by MIGmusic.

Listen to Women In STEM podcast Episode 2:


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Women in Tech, Laura Eagin, WordPress Developer & Teacher

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laura_eagin_headshotLaura Eagin is a teacher and co-organizer of Girl Develop It Detroit, a non-profit organization that brings affordable hands-on instruction to students eager to learn web development skills. By day she works as a freelance web developer and web designer for a dozen small businesses ranging from retail to real estate, tech startups, and non-profit organizations. She specializes in building beautiful, easy to use WordPress websites.

Sarah Worsham: Please tell us about your typical day…

Laura Eagin: No two days are alike and I love it. My office location, project and co-workers steadily rotate throughout the day. My time is divided between coffee shops, co-working spaces, a desk in a digital marketing office, and my home office. On a few evenings a month you’ll find me teaching a Girl Develop It workshop too or planning our next GDI event. I take my laptop with me wherever I go and I’m constantly communicating with clients via email, phone and Skype. It feels like a big juggling act and it puts all of my tech and communication skills to use. To top it off, I learn something new every day. In essence, I work my dream job.

Sarah: What’s the highlight of your day?

Laura: The highlight of my day is when I solve a difficult problem, and my second highlight is when I can respond to the client with the positive news. That’s because I have two relationships that I’m constantly managing: my relationship with the code when I’m molding it to do the exact thing that I need it to do, and my relationship with the client who has trusted me with the task.

Sarah: What’s the most difficult part of your job?

Laura: The most difficult part of my job is saying no. One of the surprising things about being a web developer is that people think that I can solve every problem ever. In my client’s eye I’m a superhero with limitless capabilities. Who am I to tell them otherwise? I have learned an incredible amount while working my way through new languages and tools, but I will admit that occasionally it would be best if I simply said no. Thankfully I can often also say: “…let me connect you to someone who may be better suited to help.”

Sarah: What’s been your favorite job or project and why?

Laura: After working with WordPress sites for several years, Girl Develop It gave me the chance to plan and teach my first WordPress workshop. My problem solving and communication skills went into overdrive. How could I convey the things I’ve learned the hard way, but make them easy for a beginner to retain? That first workshop showed me that there is an application for my technical skills outside of a day job where I fix client websites. I love teaching what I am passionate about and I love making those first few steps easier for the person learning it.

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

Laura: To be honest, I fell into the technical side of web design rather unintentionally. I was always a graphic designer. But because I cared about how a design looked, I would find tools to modify the templates to my liking. I started out by customizing everything from MS Word templates to MySpace profiles and HTML newsletters. I broke it, fixed it, swapped out the graphics, and soon became the go-to person for technical troubleshooting. I can’t imagine getting started in tech any other way. For me it has always been about curiosity, trying new things, and finding a way to bend the thing until just before it breaks. As it turns out, that’s the dictionary definition of the term “Hacking.” Who knew?

Sarah: What has been most important in terms of getting where you are today?

Laura: The most important thing that I have benefited from is being location-independent. I’ve stepped away from a desk job several time throughout my career and I’ve never regretted it. I’ve met loyal clients who have continued to work with me while I lived in one place, or another, even while I was on a road trip for the better part of two years. The people I work for care about the work that I do, not the location that I do it from, or the degree that is on my resume, or a company name on my business card.

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

Laura: I’ll admit that I watched a lot of TV in my teen years, and one of my absolute favorite shows was called Trading Spaces. If you haven’t seen the show, think of it as a mini version of “Extreme Makeover : Home Edition”. During an episode you’d see an interior designer lead an ambitious overhaul of one room in a house. The team would use some elbow grease and creative thinking to completely redecorate a room on a minuscule budget. Most importantly, they’d take risks!

I know it may sound silly, but seeing strangers come together under a tight deadline to deliver a project like that, well, it was inspiring. While it might have seemed like pure entertainment at the time, it was also motivation to me to “think big” and make something with my two hands. It also motivated me to produce, direct, design and star in my family’s own Trading Spaces mock episode during the summer of 2002. As a result, I taught myself video editing software and I learned how to install a hard drive on my family’s computer.

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

Laura: I am thankful to be able to say that I have not yet encountered a career roadblock due to my gender. But everyday I tiptoe closer to this reality. I am growing my business and hiring help, I’m also an entrepreneur, and my work is now squarely in the “web developer” category in a male-dominated industry. I’m aware that there may be a time when I’ll have to stand up for myself against a gender bias.

Jessica Valenti puts this moment into words far better than I can: “Sexism operates more like a pickpocket than a mugger. You don’t always get punched in the face – instead you’ll be happily halfway home before you realize you’ve been robbed.” I hope that I’m ready to honestly speak up, if I ever realize that I just got robbed.

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

Laura: You can learn the very basics of a programming language in a few days, really. After that, the hard part will be to continue to use it. Practice! Use your newfound skill on a lot of different projects and learn something new from each one. Volunteer to build a website for your favorite local charity, or create a new internship at a company – the worst that they can do is say no! The best that can happen is that you’ll build a small portfolio and with your valuable skill you’ll soon have a career. In your career you’ll find that there are many opportunities to add another skill to your portfolio – do it!

Sarah: In your opinion, how can we get more girls interested in STEM careers?

Laura: Success looks different for everyone, but we need to be careful not to paint it differently to boys and girls. If a girl is inquisitive and great with math, we may quickly put her in a box that conforms to our ideas of what a woman would do with a skill set like that. A teenage girl who babysits four nights a week may not be a future mom or nanny, she may be an self-starting entrepreneur! A young girl who mixes mud, water and crushed leaves in a play kitchen may not be a great chef – she may be a future biochemist! The possibilities really are endless.

Note to the adults too: We listen to the gender-biased opinion of others and we put ourselves in boxes too. Let’s not do that as much!

Connect with Laura:

Thanks Laura! We hope 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!

Women in Tech, Interview with Deborah Wheeler, Chief Information Security Officer at Ally Financial

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deborahlinkedinDeborah Wheeler is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Ally Financial.  She’s in charge of establishing policy and programs to support the security of electronic customer and company information. The most difficult part of her job, but also the most rewarding, is educating employees and customers on information security and privacy — a challenge because it has to be done delicately in a manner that doesn’t cause panic or paranoia.  Deborah shares her story with us…

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

Deborah Wheeler: My favorite job is the one I’m currently doing! I love Ally and the people I am privileged to work with daily. My favorite projects, regardless of company, are the ones where I’m building an information security department. I love the challenge of building a function that is so essential to protecting and enhancing a company’s reputation through the mitigation of risk.

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

Deborah: There was no one particular moment when I decided to pursue a career in STEM. I started out as a fine arts major in college and wanted, for a very long time, to be a musician! I wound up in technology purely by accident, but I’ve never looked back.

Sarah: What has been most important in terms of getting where you are today?

Deborah: The most important aspect of achieving my level of professional development has been experience. I entered the field of information security long before there were college majors on the topic. Having had the opportunity to speak in college classrooms on information security and at the high school level, it has become apparent to me that there are some careers that you simply cannot prepare adequately for in college. I believe that information security is one. It’s great to learn about technology and learn about hackers and malware from a contextual perspective, but until you experience it first hand and have to defend a company against it, it’s just not something that can be taught, in my opinion. When I was in college majoring in information systems and working full-time in the field, there was a marked difference from what I learned in the classroom and what we were actually doing in the business world.

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

Deborah: Growing up I did not have any mentors or role models in STEM careers. My mother was a home maker, and my father worked for the city we lived in. Neither had college degrees. While attending evening college, I worked full time for a law firm. As computers were just becoming prevalent for home use, my employers sent me to look at them for use in our business environment. Learning how to use them, and more importantly how they worked, was both fun and challenging to me and came easy. Shortly thereafter, circumstances required a move to another state during my studies, and upon transferring colleges, I opted to change my major to information systems.

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

Deborah: OH YES!!!!! Attitudes about women in technology were very prevalent in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Working as an engineer in a telecommunications firm in the early 90’s was challenging in and of itself, but I was only one of 3 women in a department of 150. Sexual harassment was very common. Attending conferences in my chosen field was always “interesting” as there would be several thousand attendees, and I was easily one of the only women in the room. Snide remarks were rampant, and I learned early to develop a thick skin. By the late 90’s and the early 2000’s, it was becoming more commonplace to see women not only at those same conferences, but to also see more women earning technology related degrees and joining the work force in technology careers. The lessons I took away from those early difficulties of establishing myself in the field were to be true to what I knew I wanted and could do, find open-minded individuals who could help guide me on my chosen career path and teach me to think creatively about how to deal with naysayers as easily as they could teach me how to deal with difficult technical problems, and to never give up….no matter how many times you want to.

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

Deborah: Earlier in my career, I had a particularly difficult sexual harassment issue that was handled well by the company; however, the individual in question was allowed to keep his job. The tension created by his overt actions and the subsequent reporting of it by another male co-worker, created a very tense environment for some time afterwards. But I never wavered in my desire to be professional in the workplace and to consequently continue to treat him with the same level of professional respect I held for him before the incident. Over time the tension eased, and shortly thereafter I left for another opportunity. Incidentally, it was our male boss who deserves the credit for handling that situation. I’ve encountered many wonderful men in my field who have both supported my goals and career ambitions and who have proved invaluable as mentors and role models.

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

Deborah: My advice for anyone wishing to pursue a STEM career is to just do it! Like any career, having passion for the subject matter, I believe, helps you get through the difficulties, adds to your credibility in the long run, and distinguishes the individuals who are successful, from those who are not.

Sarah: In your opinion, how can we get more girls interested in STEM careers?

Deborah: I think we need to stop talking about women in STEM fields as though it is an oddity or rarity. I doubt very much that there are similar discussions about men entering nursing careers, yet I would venture to guess that male nurses are about as rare as women scientist or engineers. Perhaps more so. Young women can do or become anything they want. But in order to believe this, I think we, as their mentors and role models either officially or unofficially, need to stop talking about STEM careers as though they are unachievable by women, or as though women will experience tremendous difficulties in pursuing them. We need to treat them for what they are… another option on the table for talented, intelligent young women to pursue.

Connect with Deborah:

Thank you so much Deborah! We hope 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!

Women in Tech, Interview with Kate Snyder, Principal Strategist & Owner of Piper & Gold Public Relations

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kate-snyder-piper-and-goldKate Snyder is the principal strategist and owner of Piper & Gold Public Relations, a boutique PR agency in Michigan. She and her team work with organizations like government agencies, nonprofits and small businesses to help them figure out how to connect with people. Technology is a huge component in this — technology allows people to connect in a whole new set of ways and she works with organizations to help them take advantage of digital tools like social media, blogs, software tools and more to build meaningful relationships. Kate also co-founded Domestic Slice, a lifestyle blog. Kate shares her story with us….

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

Kate Snyder: One of the organizations I volunteer and work with is Impression 5 Science Center. I spent eight years in communications at a government agency that worked on helping people connect with jobs, so I saw on a daily basis the importance of STEM education. Working with I5 is fantastic in so many ways — I know it’s important and makes a difference, but it’s also just super fun. I mean, you get to play with bubbles. Bubbles at work? Yes, please.

Sarah: Tell us about the 2020 Girls program. How did you get involved with it?

Kate: We’re fortunate to get to work with ITEC — the Information Technology Empowerment Center — as one of our clients at Piper & Gold. We came on just as this new program, 2020 Girls, was starting. It’s been such a cool experience to get to be a part of a program that’s so close to my heart. I was always told growing up that math was hard. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it wasn’t hard for me, I just perceived it to be. In actuality, I’m a huge data geek and love the numbers side of business. I feel like if I’d been a boy, I never would have been “sheltered” from math. Giving these girls a chance to connect with other women telling them, “You can do this. This is meaningful,” is such an important and powerful thing for them to hear.

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

Kate: I really grew up believing I was bad at math and science. My grades didn’t support that theory but I just believed these were supposed to be hard. I’ve always been involved in music and theater and people were constantly telling me I should study music or art or writing in school. In the end, I studied all of them and got a liberal arts degree. It wasn’t until I got into PR and starting using all of these phenomenal digital tools that I realized I was a part of the STEM world. I use technology on a daily basis to do my job and advance my company and my field. I use all of these “hard” things and I really enjoy it.

Sarah: What has been most important in terms of getting where you are today?

Kate: I was fortunate to work under mentors who gave me a lot of responsibility and freedom as it related to my positions and I think that’s made a huge difference. I’ve always had a very “figure it out yourself” kind of mentality as it relates to work and having the freedom to do my job and earning trust as a leader has been huge.

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

Kate: Early in my career I had several very traditional mentors — mostly my bosses. Now, as an entrepreneur, I find myself looking up to and gaining so much from peers of mine in entrepreneurship. It’s such a unique and different work experience to own a business, to have people counting on you, to be the end of the line on every major decision — it’s been so critical for me to have these peers who have a shared experience in entrepreneurship.

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

Kate: I look young. I’m blonde. I’m “perky.” I remember as far back as high school having a (male) teacher who called me Barbie, a moniker that was repeated most of my life including on a feedback form from a student at a college at which I teach. “It was nice getting to look at Malibu Barbie all semester,” was the exact comment. You don’t forget that comment. I’ve been called “little girl” and “sweetheart.” Once a guy actually patted me on the top of my head. I wanted to punch him.

When I was younger and less confident I would just let it roll off my back or quietly seethe about it. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In had a profound effect on me professionally. I realized I was contributing to the problem by not addressing sexism as it occurred and I was subconsciously treating male and female students, interns, employees and clients differently. Now when someone says something inappropriate, I point blank state, “That was incredibly sexist,” or “That is not an appropriate way to talk to a colleague.” I just went off on an individual the other day for saying, “Don’t go getting all emotional on me, Mom,” to a woman who had just returned from maternity leave. It may have felt like a harmless statement to him, or it could have been an attempt to bond with a fellow parent, but it set me off. I immediately reacted with, “It is never appropriate to connect emotions and gender or parental status in the workplace. Never.”

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

Kate: I feel like the world of social and digital media is one of the areas of the tech community where you can find a huge base of female colleagues and coworkers, and I love that about it. I also think that it’s important for all of us to be well-versed in the STEM disciplines regardless of our intended career path. When I first started off to be a writer, I never realized how heavily software and digital platforms would affect what I do, nor did I recognize that as a small business owner, numbers would become my life. STEM is everywhere.

Sarah: In your opinion, how can we get more girls interested in STEM careers?

Kate: I think we need to break down the stigmas that these disciplines are harder than anything else you’ll do. Being awesome at ANYTHING is hard. Get over it. Being awesome is also fun and rewarding, whether that’s in engineering or music.

Connect with Kate:

Thanks Kate!  We hope 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!

STEM Events for Week of April 7, 2014

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STEM-calendarSTEM events for Women happening this week of April 7, 2014….

Tuesday, April 8 – Saturday, April 12

Wednesday, April 9

Thursday, April 10

Saturday, April 12

Have a STEM event you’d like us to feature?  Please submit it.

Women in Tech, Interview with Jessica Kirkpatrick, Director of Data Science at InstaEDU

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jessicakirkpatrickJessica Kirkpatrick is the Director of Data Science for an education tech company called InstaEDU. InstaEDU offers on-demand, online tutoring for high school and college students.  She helps people in her company make decisions and improve the experience for their students and tutors by analyzing the data that is collected through their website.  Jessica has a PhD in Astrophysics and spent many years studying dark energy in the cosmos before switching careers to data science. Jessica is also the Blogger-in-Chief for Women in Astronomy as part of her membership of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy.  As blogger-in-chief she manages and edits the posts from their eight regular contributors and guest bloggers.  She regularly writes blog posts for Women in Astronomy and Astrobetter about Women in STEM, the tech industry, and best practices for coding and data visualization.  Jessica shares her story and insights with us….

Sarah Worsham: Please tell us what your day-to-day is like.

Jessica Kirkpatrick: I spend most of my time trying to answer questions for other people within my company using our data. I answer questions like: How can me make the experience better for our users? Which users are most valuable? What makes users return to our site? What is most important in retaining users? What subjects are we serving well / not well? Which advertising campaigns are working and which aren’t? What do we expect our growth/revenue to look like moving forward? What is the life-time value of our customers?

I answer these questions by doing statistical analysis of the data we collect using a programming language called python. I create visualizations of the data that can be shared with others in the company and investors. My day involves pulling data from our database, reducing it, analyzing it, and communicating these results to others within the company. I also build tools and visualizations so people in the company can monitor how the site is doing automatically.

Sarah: What’s the highlight of your day?

Jessica: I really enjoy working in tight-knit teams and collaborating with others. The highlight of my day is when one of my coworkers is struggling with a problem, and I can help them solve it using data analysis.

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

Jessica: I have always been fascinated with understanding how things work. My favorite subjects in school were math and science. But I really knew I wanted to become a scientist when I took high school physics. It was the perfect combination of problem-solving and math. It felt like solving puzzles all day, I just absolutely loved it (and still do).

Sarah: What sparked your interest in astrophysics?

Jessica: During my freshman year at Occidental College, I learned about dark matter and got involved with a professor who was doing astrophysics research.  I became really fascinated with the make up of the universe, how it was created, and what it’s eventual fate would be.  I continued to study astrophysics for the next twelve years, and my PhD at Berkeley involved the study of dark energy.

Sarah: You moved from academic research to the tech field… Was there something that sparked this change? How did you make the transition and what insights can you share with others about making such a career change?

Jessica:  There were a lot of factors that motivated my change from academia to the tech industry:

  • New Challenge – I had been doing astrophysics research for 12 years and I was ready for a new challenge.  I felt like I would learn and grow more by switching to the tech industry than I would by staying in academia.
  • State of the field – Because data science is a newer field than astronomy I have the opportunity to make a bigger impact and do more innovative work.  I am excited to be one of the pioneers in this field.
  • Work environment – My research work was isolating and solitary. I wanted to work in an environment that was more collaborative and team based. I also found the pace of academic research to be a little slow.  Because most work is done for the purpose of publication, the level of rigor and depth of analysis is quite intense.  This means projects can go for months or even years.  In the tech industry projects tend to be fast-paced and less in-depth.  This is a better fit for my personality and work style.
  • Location – I wanted to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area where my family lives.  There are lots of tech jobs here, but very few astrophysics positions.
  • Finances – My initial salary offers for tech positions were 2-3 times more than my initial salary offers for academic positions.
  • Lifestyle – I was tired of working evenings / weekends and feeling like my job was never done as an academic/researcher. I wanted a job that was challenging and fulfilling, but also would allow me more work-life balance.

In terms of making the transition, I have written about how I did this in several blog posts on Women in Astronomy.  I suggest readers look at those posts if they are interested in learning more about how to break into the tech / data science field.

Sarah: What aspects of your career, schooling and experience helped you get the job you’re at today?

Jessica: While studying astrophysics I spent a lot of time solving problems and trying to find patterns in data. I became really comfortable with math, statistics, and computer programming. I also learned a lot about visualizing data and communicating complicated results to people. All of these skills helped me make the transition into the tech industry and obtain my current job.

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

Jessica:  My high school AP Physics teacher, Andrew Elby, encouraged me to pursue physics and become a scientist. I remember going in at lunch to talk to him about some physics problems, and he said to me: “You have a real talent for this, you should consider majoring in physics.”  No teacher had ever said anything like that to me before, it gave me the confidence to pursue a degree in physics even though I knew it was a “hard” major and that there weren’t many women who studied it.  Andrew is now a physics professor at the University of Maryland, and continues to mentor me to this day, there were many times during graduate school when I struggled and would call him for support.  It makes such a difference to have someone believe in you and be your cheerleader through difficult times.

I also was really inspired by my mother growing up.  She has her PhD in psychology and was able to perfectly demonstrate being a very successful career woman while also having a healthy and balanced home life.  It was such a blessing to have her as an example and I continually try and emulate her in my adult life.

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

Jessica:  Teaching has been an incredibly useful skill.  I started tutoring and teaching physics and math as an undergraduate, and I still teach through my company’s web site InstaEDU.  I don’t think I ever truly understand something until I have to explain it to someone else.  Because so much of my current job is explaining complicated analysis to various people within my company, the skill of breaking down problems and explaining them to non-experts is incredibly valuable.  Also becoming comfortable talking in front of the classroom really helped me with my presentation and public speaking skills.  I used to get so nervous when I had to talk in front of people that I would visibly shake.  Now I frequently talk in front of large groups and actually enjoy it.

I never had done any computer programming until I was an undergraduate at Occidental College.  Many of my peers had been coding for years and I felt very behind.  But I spent a lot of time learning how to program both through classes and independent study projects, and it’s been one of the best skills I have ever learned. There are so many amazing things you can do with a computer, and learning how to code has opened up so many job opportunities for me.  It’s also a lot of fun to get a computer to do work for you.  Things that would take forever to do by hand can happen almost instantly by writing computer programs to do it for you.

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

Jessica:  I have a learning disability which makes it very challenging for me to read and write.  For a long time I just thought I wasn’t very smart and that was why things took me so long.  I was able to make real breakthroughs in high school when I started working with an educational therapist who specializes in learning disabilities. My educational therapist helped me understand where my strengths lie and how to accommodate my weaknesses.  He also helped me realize that I could more effectively process written words by using books on tape or having my computer read text out loud to me.  Because of my learning disabilities, my PhD took a little longer than average and I am totally ok with that.  I think it’s important to forge your own path, and go at a pace that feels right for you.  I’m glad I took extra time to complete my schooling, but was healthy and had balance in my life during that time.

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

Jessica: I have experienced sexist remarks and sexual harassment during my career. When I was younger I had a difficult time knowing how to respond when these things happened.  While a graduate student at UC Berkeley I was the head coordinator for the Society for Women in the Physical Sciences and through work within that group I learned a lot about how to combat these issues and discuss them in a direct and productive manner.  Now when someone says something that makes me uncomfortable (or that I think is discriminatory) I address it head-on.  As a result, I rarely experience problems these days, or if I do experience a problem, it is usually resolved quite quickly and doesn’t escalate.  I write a lot about how to combat harassment, gender bias, imposture syndrome, bullying, and other issues that women in STEM face on the Women in Astronomy blog.

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

Jessica:  There are lots of ways to get involved in the tech industry and gain experience with data analysis.  Go to a tech meet-up or hack-a-thon.  Do a Kaggle Competition project.  Take a course on Google or Coursera.  Do a summer internship with a tech company.  Or just try building your own webpage or app.  There are lots of small tech companies that would love extra help.  Check out AngelList for opportunities.

Sarah: You’re very active in helping women and girls in STEM careers. Is there anything you think parents should do to encourage their children to be interested in STEM?

Jessica:  I really would encourage parents to expose their children to a lot of different activities and subjects regardless of their gender.  My parents weren’t astronomers or athletes or artists, but they exposed me to all those things growing up and encouraged me to explore many different interests.  I played with Barbies and Legos.  I conducted experiments and baked bread.  I played basketball and made quilts.  One of the reasons I do STEM outreach and education is I want the next generation to see that engineers and physicists are not just old, white, men… but come in all ages, races, and genders.  I have participated in programs like Expanding Your HorizonsGirls Inc, and Women 2.0 and find them very rewarding.

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