How did you learn about PDXWIT, and what keeps you coming back?
I learned about PDXWIT from a friend and fellow student in my Thinkful Data Science program. For me, it would be difficult not to want to be a part of PDXWIT. One of the things I really respect about PDXWIT is that it is a community in search of a people. It asks, “would you like an opportunity to succeed in a new way? Would you like to be part of a new kind of community? Are you willing to move in a new direction, though it may be challenging, and at times even intimidating, because it will, at times, require navigating a largely uncharted territory? Would you like to learn how to thrive in this kind of environment and endeavor? If so, we will partner with you. We are your community.” I find this approach both inspiring and motivating. It is what lets me know that I have found my tribe. As one who comes to the tech world from the fields of education and philosophy, this has always been my stance and way of living. I am grateful to PDXWIT for sending the message that pursuing a career in technology does not mean abandoning this call.
Can you give us some background on your career in tech? Did you intend this career path?
I was intrigued by this new field of data science and continue to be grateful that I was shown meaningful ways to plug into it. I am relatively new to the tech world. Previously, I’ve written content for a start-up that created Java programming courses. Currently, I’m part of a new class of Data Scientists. However, the majority of my professional career has been in the field of education. Today I come to the tech world with two Master’s Degrees, in English and Philosophy respectively, and a good deal of cultural awareness due to having lived and taught abroad—and simply by virtue of being a person of color in the U.S.
Did I intend to pursue a career in technology? For years I looked longingly at the world of technology. It seemed bright and shining, and very far from me. The advancements being made with AI and other technologies filled me with wonder and a type of excitement. I knew that I wanted to be part of that world, but did not see how that could happen. It did not seem likely, but I remained intrigued. Then, at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, I decided to spend my summer vacation volunteer teaching with Free Geek. While volunteering, I also began attending their free workshops. One event happened to be a talk titled, “Getting Started in Data Science.” I had no idea what data science was; I just felt drawn to the world of technology. As I listened to the introduction to Data Science, I became fascinated by what seemed to be on the “other side of the curtain”, that went far beyond the E-Learning Instructional Design certification I had just completed. This was an opportunity to help design the scaffolding and mechanisms on which the modern technological world hangs all of its a posteriori suppositions, predictions, and behaviors.
The more I learn about the field of data science, the more I understand and am reassured that moving toward a career in technology does not mean moving away from a life of serving my community. In fact, the opposite is true. I have a strong sense that the field of data science is a new ground zero for questions of social justice and ethics. By working out our collective cultural predisposition toward seeing anything that is “generated” by a computer as somehow the product of culture-neutral, bias-free, foundational data, we can develop the new tools to address what we are seeing as the issues unfold. For example, how can we decide what constitutes “good” data to supply to AI and use as a basis for machine learning models? The possibilities of what is achievable in the field of data science speaks to a personal philosophy: moral obligation is not a luxury or choice; it is a function, component, and criteria of our humanity.
We are at a wonderful moment in the history of technology, yet, this is also a moment in which it is crucial that as morally engaged human beings we embrace a paradigm and praxis that address, and seek to mitigate, the reality of bias in data sets, data collection, and the very questions we deem interesting or useful avenues of intellectual exploration in the tech world. All of these things have very serious implications for the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and consequently the future of society as a whole. For there is only one human “race.” I see PDXWIT as an ally community in which people are willing to hear others, enhance their voice, and work together to engender positive responses in the greater tech community. This is one of the reasons I will keep coming back to PDXWIT.
Have you had a travel experience or a change in fortune that impacted your life?
I grew up on the west side of Chicago, and went to a boarding school an hour and a half outside the city. Over Christmas break one year, I had the opportunity to spent two weeks in the Netherlands, with my roommate whose family was Afro South American and Dutch. I remember writing home and telling my mother how much better I was treated in the Netherlands as a person of color, and how much I liked the people. That experience opened my eyes to the fact that there are so many ways of being “seen,” and so many ways of seeing those we might consider “other.” It was the first time in my life that people looked at me as only one person, not a “race” or a “culture” or a “problem.” I came to realize in subsequent travels, the key thing that made that first experience so light and freeing was that suddenly, all of the mental space that had been consumed by having to deal with other people’s biases toward me, was removed. I could be a young girl off to see the world with a friend. I could think about so many other things. The mental bandwidth it newly afforded me was truly astonishing. I wish the uninterrupted experience of this type of freedom for all people. Since that first trip to the Netherlands, I have visited 16 countries.
Anything else you’d like the community to know or want to share?
Yes! I currently host a casual Data Science Meetup, made up mostly of my other Thinkful cohort classmates. We meet every Saturday, near Pioneer Square, to practice whiteboarding, and other types of problem solving, using Python and SQL. I’ve found, via my travels and schooling that often times the best and most innovative solutions come from groups that are rich in diversity and background. Part of the reason I started the group was to practice my problem solving skills, and build a community that could provide a space that was a break from homogeneity.
We welcome anyone else in the PDXWIT community, who is interested, to attend!