The Hidden Value of Detours: How a serendipitous stumble into a cyber-cafe catalyzed Gladys Maina’s IT career

Gladys Maina ● Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Professional and Mentor in Kenya

Gladys Maina ● Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Professional and Mentor in Kenya

Gladys Maina wasn’t always going to be an IT professional. A dutiful daughter, she initially obeyed her parents’ directions and pursued a medical laboratory certification, following in her medic father’s footsteps.

“Then during a long holiday, a friend introduced me to a cyber-cafe. These had just started coming up in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004. They said, ‘Here, you can pay a bit of money and then you can access the internet.’ I came from Nyahururu, a village, so I was very impressed. I remembered thinking, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Gladys describes the halcyon days of the early internet with fondness, reminiscing on MSN and chatting with people around the world. The feelings of liberation and connectedness that the early days of the internet provided proved to be alluring distractions from the career opportunities that awaited her in the medical field. She got her opportunity to switch sectors when a friend recommended her for a sales position at a newly opened a cyber cafe. After working in that role for three months, she became a cyber cafe attendant.

“That meant internet was free. I could research as much as I wanted, and had a computer at my disposal.”

Later, she studied information of management systems at Kenya Methodist University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Nairobi. Now, she’s optimistic that young women from similar backgrounds as her, who haven’t grown up in Kenya’s biggest cities, will have a more direct path to tech access. She points to innovations like the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) communications protocol, which enables information and money transfer over basic phones.

“For instance, you can use a standard phone to enroll in M-Shule [mobile learning management platform delivering educational content via SMS]. You don’t really need to have a smartphone for you to access technology. The government of Kenya is trying to digitize a lot of schools and services, from issuing tablets to students to establishing walk-in centers such as Huduma where you can access internet and get government services.”

Access isn’t everything, though; it’s always helpful to have somebody model what success looks like and encourage you throughout your journey. That’s why Gladys is active in mentoring young women pursuing STEM paths, working closely with African Women in Technology since 2016, and mentoring girls through the Ghana-based Nsesa Foundation. The experience of working with young women has left her with strong beliefs about the importance of lifelong learning and letting youth choose their own paths.

“Mentorship is a symbiotic journey where you are both learning. I believe you are never too old to be taught and never too young to learn. I would tell [parents and educators] to let their young ones pursue their dreams.”

She alludes to her own decision to switch fields as one of the reasons she feels strongly about giving young people the freedom to decide their vocations, and says that choices about work can cause friction in relationships between parents and children. In such situations, all is not lost.

“You can finish the degree that your parents are paying for, get a job, and then work toward what you want to do. That’s what I did. My parents finished paying for the medical laboratory school, but for my diploma, bachelors and masters, I paid using my own money.”

Her story is a testament to the value of flexibility and risk-taking, starting small and working your way up. Today, technology has advanced from the days when Gladys worked as an attendant in a cyber-cafe and chatted on MSN. So too have public perceptions of women in tech.

“Now people can celebrate women like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. Here in Kenya I look up to Dr. Chao Mbogho, who has been changing the narrative and showing that women can make it. We aren’t born with a male brain or a female brain. You can achieve what you want, you just have to put in the hours, then keep on going. Sometimes it will get tough, but you have to keep going, keep learning, and keep developing yourself.”

The Data Scientist Who Mastered Multitasking: How Sundas Khalid Became the First Female in Her Family to Pursue a Degree and Career

Sundas Khalid ● Data Scientist ● Amazon

Sundas Khalid ● Data Scientist ● Amazon

Sundas Khalid had never considered attending college, let alone a profession in engineering. As a young woman coming from a conservative family in Faisalabad, Pakistan, she says receiving an education and building a career was unheard of.

Shortly after finishing high school in Pakistan, Sundas got married and came to the United States in 2004 to live with her husband. After a six-year gap in her education, she decided to pick up where she left off and further her studies. Sundas attended a community college for two years before transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle in 2012. While earning her bachelor’s in business administration, she simultaneously raised her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

During her time at UW, Sundas interned at Amazon as a financial analyst intern and worked with databases. She won first place for her presentation among all the interns and was offered a position. At Amazon, she recognized a newfound passion for technology.

“I never considered tech as an option because no one in my family or friend circle studied tech,” she says. “And it was a bit late, as I was three months away from graduation.”

In the last three months before graduation, Sundas took a database management certification course and began interviewing for Amazon’s technical and analytical positions. In 2014, she graduated from UW as valedictorian and gave a speech to an audience of 3,000 students, parents and faculty at the Husky Stadium.

The path to success has not always been easy for Sundas, especially because she has been raising two children while building her career. In difficult times, she says she reminds herself of her husband’s support and stays inspired by those around her.

“I look at where I was and where I am. Compare yourself to yourself, not to another person,” Sundas says. “Don’t compare yourself to other people because everyone has different journeys.”

Sundas started attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2016 and has not missed a conference since. In 2017, she took part in the local Seattle chapter as a member of the speakers’ committee and was in the data science committee the following year. In 2019, she plans to be on the mentoring committee.

Through the AnitaB.org community, Sundas connected with the two co-founders of Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) in 2018 and now leads the PWiC Seattle Chapter.

“To overcome imposter syndrome, I’ve started surrounding myself with women who look like me and pursue similar career paths,” Sundas says. “[I have been] mentoring young women who are entering tech and helping them shape their future.”

Sundas currently works as a data scientist in Amazon’s A/B testing platform and Weblab, the centralized science team for testing and launching new features for the Amazon site worldwide. She has given over 20 presentations and has worked with several Amazon teams, including Alexa, Amazon Music, Search (A9), Amazon Devices, Amazon Kindle and Prime Now.

In November 2018, Sundas won two awards for exemplary work at Amazon with her non-Prime experience (NPX) team. After five years at Amazon, she says that she has taught herself data engineering, statistics, machine learning, SQL, R and Python with the help of courses and the people around her.

“If you have a dream, make sure you have the right people around you,” Sundas says. “It’s about who you involve in your life and surrounding yourself with people who believe in your dreams.”

The Art of Code and the Code in Art: How Aimee Lucido Blends Code, Music and Writing to Tell Her Story

Aimee Lucido ● Senior Android Engineer ● Uber Eats

Aimee Lucido ● Senior Android Engineer ● Uber Eats

“I love working on hard problems that actually touch people, I love working with a team, and ultimately, I love shipping a product to millions — if not billions — of people. That feeling never gets old!”

Aimee Lucido loves being a working engineer. One of her most memorable projects at Uber was the development of a robust and stable UI to allow drivers to get a bonus by recruiting riders to sign up to become drivers themselves. The project spanned four different teams, three microsystems, and involved large changes to the API. As the sole engineer on a very large full-stack project, she had to learn new languages and navigate differing team priorities.

Aimee got interested in coding in middle school through games and continued her interest in high school. She went on to receive degrees in computer science and literary arts from Brown University, and a fine arts master’s degree from Hamline University in creative writing for children and young adults.

Her advice to anyone who thinks they might be interested in coding: Just give it a try! See how it might be related to other interests you already have. Learning anything new can be a challenge. She recommends breaking challenges down into steps.

“If I’m feeling overwhelmed by something (or, more often, too many somethings) it helps me to make a list. Checking things off that list gives me a feeling of completion, and also it ensures that I don’t forget anything. And so often a really hard challenge feels hard only because there are so many tasks to accomplish, but no one item on the todo list is particularly strenuous. So if I remember that a big task is made up of lots of little tasks, it instantly becomes more manageable.”

In an effort to inspire more girls to share her love for engineering, Aimee authored a new children’s book, Emmy in the Key of Code, that will be published in September 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify.

“It’s about a twelve-year-old ex-musician named Emmy who accidentally ends up in a computer science class, and finds herself connecting with code the way she always wanted to connect with music. It’s told in a hybrid of verse and Java code, and my hope is that kids will read it for the story, not realizing that they’re secretly also learning computer science.”

Adding to her passion for engineering and writing, Aimee is a lot of other things: A marathon runner, a musician, a crossword puzzle creator. And that’s the message that Aimee Lucido embodies: Computer science can be the main focus of your life or it can be just one of the many things you do. And you can use code itself to do the other things. Aimee sees math, music, art, poetry, and code as, essentially, the same thing: A way of communicating; a recipe to convey something to the world.

“Once you know code, it bleeds into everything you do.” Besides her first novel being about the connection between music and code, Aimee uses coding to help her make crossword puzzles she has published in The New York Times, Crosswords With Friends, and smaller indie publications.

Aimee is a vocal advocate for diversity in computing. While she knows that underrepresented groups, including women, still face challenges in the field, she appreciates the opportunity to be involved in the charge for change. Part of her work at Uber is to help increase diversity through leading by example and sharing her own experiences.

Her advice for anyone struggling to find a place for themselves in the tech industry is to “keep yourself loosely defined” and “say yes to everything” to maximize opportunities and possibilities you can’t yet imagine.

“Change your definition of yourself often; it keeps things interesting. But make sure to say no to things that don’t move you towards your goals.”

Empowering Women in STEM Around the World

Nehal Profile Pic.png

Wogrammer is excited to introduce you to our newest board member, Nehal Mehta.

Nehal grew up in Mumbai, India and moved to the US for her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan. While she has built an impressive career in the tech industry she did not grow up thinking she’d become an engineer.

“I did not always want to be an engineer. I didn’t even know what engineers did. I thought that they worked on factory floors. However, I liked math and science in school.”

She was all set to go to business school, when she found herself in an accounting class truly bored and decided to look at other majors. So, with help from a college counselor, she took some new classes which steered her towards analytics and tech.

“I loved my programming and statistics classes. I embraced that area and graduated with a degree in Computer and Information Systems.”

From there Nehal embarked on a decades long career in tech, growing in leadership roles and building strong teams. She especially excelled at growing, mentoring and managing large teams across multiple countries.

Leveraging her vast technology background Nehal moved into strategic partnerships at Symantec and Veritas. More recently she joined Genesys as their Director of Global Strategic Alliances. Having lived and worked in multiple countries, Nehal is a global citizen who deeply believes in the power of bringing together diverse cultures and communities. She shares how her varied experiences allow her to, “draw parallels in the challenges that working women face across the globe and how we can positively move it forward through removing conscious and unconscious bias.”

Nehal brings years of passion and experience advocating for women and kids in STEM. She regularly speaks at conferences, highlighting the importance of networking and building a strong personal brand.

Her advice for women is to “build a personal board of directors and to actively give back to your network.” You can read more about her advice in this post, “Who’s on your Personal Board of Directors.

Join me in welcoming Nehal to our board and the Wogrammer community! You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.

Old Code, New Tricks: How Andrea Goulet is renovating code through her business Corgibytes

Andrea Goulet ● CEO ● Corgibytes

Andrea Goulet ● CEO ● Corgibytes

As the daughter of entrepreneurial parents, it was only fitting for Andrea Goulet to learn the ropes of owning her own business at an early age. By age 12, Andrea was running a business that supported her father’s clients — handling everything from logistics and orders to invoices. Her natural ability to understand business was further propelled in college as a marketing student at Virginia Commonwealth University. When an old high school friend approached her about a business proposition after reading her marketing blog, Andrea was surprised to hear what he had to say.

“He told me that the way I think about marketing is very technical. He noticed I used algorithms and patterns, and my thought process included many elements of programming. I was always interested in technology, and he believed I would be a good fit for leading his startup.”

Since 2009, Andrea has become a serial entrepreneur and the founder of several brands, including Corgibytes. What started as a simple side hustle became her ultimate niche and passion. At Corgibytes, Andrea and her team revitalize legacy code, which Andrea describes as “code without trust,” but is commonly thought of as “fixer upper” software that needs to be modernized.

“When people ask me what is the purpose of re-engineering old code, I use this analogy. If you want to remodel your kitchen, you don’t bulldoze the entire house. There is good business logic embedded in an existing system, and there is usually a way to update and modernize something by doing a little bit at a time.”

Andrea explained that for many companies, updating software instead of rewriting it is not only cheaper but more efficient, especially if the code supports many users. To reinvent old code, there are a series of processes Andrea uses. First, she starts with a report that her company calls a “Code Inspection.” Because Corgibytes operates in a digital space without a physical product to touch, this report helps business teams visualize and understand different things that make code very healthy. Her team of developers measure and report on these aspects, such as code complexity, duplication, test coverage, team communication, and more. From there, they are able to decide how fragile the code is and what needs to be repaired. Andrea’s marketing background means that these recommendations, which are usually difficult to decipher by people who don’t code all day, are in plain English. This makes it easy for executives to understand and act on. To effectively lead Corgibytes, Andrea had to first submerge herself into coding classes.

“In the beginning, learning how to code was really hard. It’s difficult to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. I watched a TED Talk by Carol Dweck about developing a growth mindset, and it helped me see that I can grow and eventually I’m going to learn it.”

The most popular programming languages that Corgibytes supports are Ruby, Python, Java, and C#. With the help of Code.org, Code Combat, freeCodeCamp, and various other learning tools, Andrea has become proficient in coding and she built a team that can help clients with a variety of programming languages.

Andrea shares her expertise through Legacy Code Rocks, a podcast she started that uncovers new tricks that programmers can use on old code. After previously having a marketing background and discovering what it is like to enter the tech industry, Andrea prides herself on being able to create a dialogue between business people and programmers.

“It has been an amazing feeling to translate business, which is my native language, to people who speak code because I understand both very well. Now I am able to help two people who normally wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively work through a problem.”

Her advice to others hoping to develop their own businesses in the technical industry is that the initial idea does not have to be perfect. She believes that anyone can create and develop a business on the side and work to watch it steadily grow over time, just as Corgibytes did. With the added help of a growth mindset, anything is possible.

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This story was told in partnership with Women in Tech Summits (WITS), which hosts events across the United States to connect, inspire and build a community of women building the future of tech. Andrea Goulet is a past speaker and serves on the WITS advisory council. Register for an event near you at https://womenintechsummit.net.

How Melika Farahani Builds Her Confidence and a Path to Success

Melika Farahani ● Software Engineer ● Cafebazaar

Melika Farahani ● Software Engineer ● Cafebazaar

As soon as she showed an interest in technology, Melika Farahani’s family encouraged her to pursue that path. Despite being a young girl, her curiosity in her father’s engineering work with computers sparked an early interest in working in the same field.

Melika first started to explore this interest at Farzanegan High School in Tehran, Iran. As a student, she chose to participate in the Iranian National Olympiad in Informatics, an optional competition in which winners often receive admission to top universities. After several rounds of exams, Melika won a bronze medal in the competition and established a great ranking in Konkour, Iran’s annual university entrance exam. Melika then received admission to the Sharif University of Technology, Iran’s most renowned technical university.

During her first semester as a computer science major, Melika searched for a part-time job that would allow her to work with professionals and improve her technical skills. She soon joined Cafebazaar, a famous software company that offers more than 170,000 downloadable Iranian and international apps to over 39 million active users.

“I learned a lot from my coworkers and became familiar with cutting-edge technologies in programming, development and software engineering,” Melika says.

Melika continues to work at Cafebazaar part-time. During her four years in this role, she says her greatest accomplishment has been the recommender system project she worked on with a team of five data scientists and engineers. The main goal of this tool was to help users find apps they are most likely to download, making recommendations based on their interests and preferences. To do so, Melika’s team built a model to process the data of users’ interactions with Cafebazaar’s platform and suggest related applications in a list format.

“A big challenge [I faced] was time management. Handling university and a job together was a difficult problem, [but] having this amount of work makes me more organized,” Melika says. “Before this project, I never directly saw my work’s effects but this project had a real result and we got lots of positive feedback from our users.”

Melika used those same time management skills to participate in other projects for both school and work. As a college student, she was a member of the first women’s team for numerous local STEM tournaments. Melika was also a technical staff member in the 2017 International Olympiad in Informatics. To hone her communication skills, she became a teaching assistant for database, data structures, advanced programming and game theory courses.

Melika says she struggled with and overcame the challenge of low self-confidence in the first few months of working. She says that over time, it was a matter of targeting her areas for improvement, such as public speaking, that helped her gain confidence.

“In Iran and even in the world, there are fewer women in tech than men. Also, all my coworkers were older than me, [so] it took some months for me to have confidence to make big decisions at work,” Melika says. “Of course my work teammates had a huge effect on this, but more importantly, I tried to change my attitude. I decided to accept roles, take risks and improve my soft skills, such as speaking.”

Melika currently supports research projects (on a voluntary basis) in machine learning and data science with university research groups in Denmark and Canada. She plans to leave Iran for three months this March to intern at the National University of Singapore’s Institute for Application of Learning Science and Technology research group. Melika aims to pursue graduate studies in other countries to further her career.

“My family’s support really helps me so much. From the beginning, they supported me during the Olympiad,” Melika says. “It’s not very common in Iran for girls to be working at the age of 18, but my family got permission for me to do it. I really appreciate their support and trust.”

Girl Scout to Galaxy Explorer: How Caeley Looney discovered her path to aerospace engineering in middle school

Caeley Looney ● Mission Analyst ● Harris

Caeley Looney ● Mission Analyst ● Harris

It’s almost as if the stars aligned to bring Caeley Looney into the world of aerospace engineering. Caeley was born to two engineers — her mother was a naval engineer and her father worked at a defense contractor. She knew it was only a matter of time before her love for STEM pulled her towards engineering, too.

“I went through elementary school wanting to be a wide variety of things, from a fashion designer to a teacher, but the thought of being an engineer never crossed my mind until I was exposed to robotics.”

When Caeley was in middle school, her parents saw an ad for the local Girl Scouts FIRST robotics program and encouraged her to join. After getting a taste of STEM on this all-girls robotics team, she quickly began exploring different fields. During her first two years at Farmingdale High School in Long Island, New York, Caeley conducted research projects for her science course. When she realized that she enjoyed researching the Mars Rover, Caeley explored her newfound interest in space-related work through similar projects. These high school projects honed Caeley’s interest in STEM to aerospace engineering.

In 2014, Caeley enrolled in an aerospace engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. During the summers before college and after her freshman year, she volunteered at We Connect The Dots, a nonprofit organization that offers STEM-related programs to underprivileged students. Then the summer before her junior year, Caeley had a computer science internship with the Institute for Defense Analyses, where she she got her first look into the defense industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. Caeley went on to complete an internship with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center during her last semester of senior year, where she had the opportunity to focus on aerospace engineering and some computer science.

Caeley is a member of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a community of more than 1,100 universities, companies, nonprofits and government organizations nationwide working to increase girls’ and women’s meaningful participation in computing. After receiving the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award in 2014, she was invited to join the NCWIT Facebook community, a support system of thousands of girls in tech.

“Any time I have an issue or concern, I just go and make a post on our Facebook page,” she says. “Within five minutes, I have ten different girls giving me advice and telling me not to give up!”

While attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2017, Caeley was interviewed and recruited as a mission analyst by Harris Corporation, a defense contractor and information technology services provider. She started working at Harris after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in May 2018.

At Harris, Caeley supports several key elements of satellite analysis. She simulates the orbital mechanics and dynamics of their small satellites system and her responsibilities include plotting different orbits, defining station keeping boundaries and optimizing spacecraft subsystems. Caeley says she is lucky to learn about a variety of systems rather than diving specifically into one topic.

“I always get to learn about different systems. I get to learn about things like balancing a power budget, sizing solar panels and developing a communications link budget. It’s great because I never get bored!”

“Any time I have run into a challenging situation, I have forced myself to step back and remember why I am in that situation: to become an aerospace engineer,” she says. “It has definitely been difficult to remember that while I’m in the midst of a tough problem but that has always been what gets me through. Well, that and ice cream!”

Caeley also battles the stigma against mental illness with the support of her service dog, Charlie. With her special furry friend by her side, Caeley says he is one of the biggest reasons she was able to make it to where she is.

“Mental illness is something that I struggled with for a greater part of my life and once I got to college, many of the symptoms worsened,” Caeley says. “My service dog has helped me realize that my disability shouldn’t hold me back from achieving my dreams and literally reaching for the stars. He reinforces my self confidence every time I begin to doubt it.”

Her advice for others — don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Caeley says that her incredible support system and a list of things that make her smile are what get her through the tough times.

“It made it a lot harder to give it up knowing that I’ve worked since the sixth grade towards this [goal]. Don’t give up,” she says. “This world needs women in computer science, aerospace, etc. Without us, progress isn’t made, so remember that.”

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This story was told in partnership with NCWIT Aspirations in Computing.

Joanna Tong blazes a trail for women in biotech and chemical engineering

Joanna Tong ● Supplier Collaborations Technical Manager ● Genentech

Joanna Tong ● Supplier Collaborations Technical Manager ● Genentech

For many of us, medicine is the sought after solution for a cold, flu, or allergy. It can be the promise of a cure or a healthier lifestyle. For Joanna Tong, medicine is much more than that. It is the opportunity to make an immediate and tangible impact on the lives of those overcoming chronic illnesses. As the Senior Technical Manager for Genentech, Joanna is primarily focused on the overall quality of the medicine, its production, and its ability to be transported to different companies.

As a young student, Joanna enjoyed biology and genetics, and considered becoming a biologist early in her career. While studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was exploring different paths that aligned with her ambitions, when a professor recommended chemical engineering. After taking a few classes in the field, she grew to like the discipline because it empowered her to think outside of the box.

“In school, I did traditional lab work, however I found it more interesting to utilize technical problem-solving skills that are involved with engineering.”

Joanna put her skills to the test when she began interning at Genentech, over 10 years ago. Genentech gave Joanna the chance to dip her foot into the biotech and pharmaceutical worlds and allowed her to realize how much she loved the work she was doing.

“When I say that I help ensure we make high-quality medicines for patients, most people don’t realize that the medicine we make is quite different and much more complex than the pills you would see at your local pharmacy. Most of the medicines Genentech makes are proteins that are delivered via an IV infusion at a hospital, and those proteins are made by live cells that we grow in giant bioreactors. You have to control for and understand so many variables to keep the cells happy and producing the protein you want. It’s an incredibly complex process.”

Joanna spent most of her career as a Manufacturing Engineer, which plays an essential role in Genentech’s production of high-quality drugs. The complex drugs could aid those with serious medical conditions such as colon cancer, lung cancer, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. One of the many important part of that role was making sure that the medicine-producing cells were effective and safe. Now, as a Supplier Collaborations Technical Manager, Joanna’s tasks are less focused on the manufacturing process and more on collaborating with suppliers.

“I work with the suppliers that give us the ingredients and equipment we use to make our medicines. It’s important to partner with them because if we don’t have good starting materials, it’s hard to have good quality come out the other side.”

As one of the only girls in advanced math and science classes early in her educational career, Joanna understands what it is like to be a minority in a technical field. Because of this, and in addition to her job, she now serves as the Regional Lead for Pharma Technical Operations Women Professionals at Genentech. Through this organization, she develops programs and organizes monthly events that help over 1000 women in the Pharma Technical Operations in the Southern San Francisco organization accomplish their career objectives while building the company’s pipeline of future leaders.

“I think opportunities for women in STEM are already changing and increasing. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for a lot of amazing women leaders. It helps to have role models and mentors.”

Written in the Stars: How Myra Nawabi followed her heart and a non-traditional path to become an Afghan-American Pioneer in Technology

Myra Nawabi ● Senior Project Engineer   Lockheed Martin

Myra Nawabi ● Senior Project Engineer   Lockheed Martin

“Hey Elon Musk, if you’re looking for a COO for SpaceX, I’m the woman for the job.”

Myra Nawabi grew up reaching for the stars. As a young child growing up in Afghanistan, some of her earliest memories are gazing up at the night sky and thinking about what life would be like on the moon. She was not deterred by the adults around her claiming nobody lived up there and she asked, “what if there is a young girl up there who is invisible? How can we know for sure?”

That passion was a constant guide, helping her navigate some challenging times in her life. (And there have been more than a few!) The first one being when she was 6 years old and the Russians invaded her home country. Myra remembers that, “even during the war, the night sky was my constant.” After enduring several years of turmoil, when she was 10 years old her family fled to Pakistan and then on to New York. Her dreams of building products to explore space and the moon propelled her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at Arizona State University.

Unfortunately, as she was about to complete that program, she succumbed to intense pressure from her family to get married. On the positive side, that decision brought Myra to the Bay Area and within a few years she found herself back at school, pursuing a BA and a teaching credential from Cal State East Bay. As circumstances in her personal life took another turn, it was with the help of an academic advisor that she received financial aid and was able to complete her program.

After graduating, Myra went on to teach middle school math for a few years. It was through that experience she participated in a summer fellowship program with IgnitEd, that helps classroom teachers get hands-on STEM knowledge by working in industry. What started as an 8 week internship at Lockheed Martin has turned into a nearly fifteen year career.

“Every intern (65 people in my cohort) made a presentation to a roomful of executives. They talked about what they learned and what they were taking back. In a “do or die” moment, I announced that my district was laying off teachers and I had no idea what was in store for me. But I did learn ethics at Lockheed Martin and I was going to teach it in my classroom to middle schoolers.”

This out of the box thinking caught the eye of an executive at Lockheed Martin Space. He encouraged her to apply for a position with their IT department and she’s been building her career there ever since.

At Lockheed she is closer to realizing her childhood dream of exploring the moon. She is most proud of building Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). The GLM is a satellite-borne single channel, near-infrared optical transient detector that has been placed on the GOES-16 satellite in a geostationary orbit. This orbital position allows for GLM to measure a dedicated region that includes the United States with continuous views capable of providing lightning detection at a rate never before obtained from space. GLM detects all forms of lightning during both day and night, continuously, with a high spatial resolution and detection efficiency.

Myra has been recognized as a leader in her space, being named Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence in 2016 and receiving Women in IT Awards, Business Leader of the Year Award in 2018.

Her resiliency has propelled her forward through difficult circumstances.

Myra’s advice for others is “shut down the voices in your head. We all have voices, we’ve picked up along the way. We internalize them.”

Quieting those voices has been a key part of Myra’s success. She has developed a unique strategy which she calls the 8Cs — 4Cs that act as a barrier and 4Cs which she uses to build a support system of mentors, sponsors and advisors. (Keep an eye out for a guest post from Myra on her 8Cs.)

How Jessica Pointing combines her love for physics and computer science to explore the field of quantum computing

Jessica Pointing ● PhD Student in Quantum Computing ● Stanford University

Jessica Pointing ● PhD Student in Quantum Computing ● Stanford University

Jessica Pointing grew up in Reading, England with a passion for science. As a young girl, visiting a Microsoft office on a school trip was all she needed to fall in love with quantum science and technology.

“They showed us objects levitating and zooming around a magnetic circular track,” Jessica recounts. “I was amazed. I absolutely loved the conference.”

After moving to Denmark at the age of 15, Jessica continued to explore her interests at Copenhagen International School by starting a science club, which took students to university lectures and hosted a science show. She also conducted physics research at the Technical University of Denmark to explore how ambient pressure affects the output of certain technical devices.

Jessica gradually developed her love for computer science through participation in hackathons. In 2014, she decided to come to the United States for college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After two years she transferred to Harvard to complete her undergraduate education.

“I enjoy the flexibility that the US offers,” she says. “Attending a US university allowed me to explore my interests in both physics and computer science. The mathematics and physics of it are challenging and fun, but it also has the potential to be practical to humans!”

During her sophomore year, Jessica took a course on quantum computation. The course explored the practicality of quantum computers, which are a relatively new type of computer that “solve certain problems that would take billions of years to solve on a regular computer in just seconds.” Jessica quickly discovered that “quantum computing is at the intersection of physics and computer science,” which catered directly to her interests. This was enough to set her out on exploring career options.

While in college Jessica explored various paths, including investment banking at Goldman Sachs, strats at Morgan Stanley, software engineering at Google, and management consulting at McKinsey. With these diverse experiences under her belt, Jessica graduated from Harvard in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in physics and computer science.

Jessica says that of all her experiences and internships, her most meaningful accomplishment is her blog, where she shares how she navigated challenges with applications and interviews — the “things that no one really tells you.” She authors articles that cater to a wide range of student needs, from applying to universities to career interview tips. Jessica’s articles have even been featured by Time and Business Insider.

In an attempt to search for something that combined her love for the theoretical and practical sciences, she chose to further her education in quantum computing. She is currently exploring this intersection at Stanford University, where she is a PhD student and Knight-Hennessy Scholar specializing in quantum computing. Jessica emphasizes that her success in finding her passion comes from “not being afraid to go outside of the typical situation” and “asking so many questions.”

“Ask yourself why you do what you do. If you know why you’re doing it, you have a purpose, a direction, a goal,” she says. “This can help when you encounter a challenge. It becomes clear how to best approach it.”

Paving the Way for a more Sustainable Future: How Tatiana Estévez Carlucci is developing technology to harvest water from fog

Tatiana Estévez Carlucci ● Founder and CEO ● Permalution

Tatiana Estévez Carlucci ● Founder and CEO ● Permalution

“I have always wanted to make a difference by improving the world as much as I can.”

Even at a young age, Tatiana had a knack for improving the way machines worked. She often disarmed things that didn’t work in her childhood house, such as the washing machine. Her love for  improving processes developed into a passion to make the world a more sustainable place to live. Originally entering college as a business student, Tatiana opted to take several engineering classes and formed a deep connection with environmental engineering and water-related technologies. This connection led her to found, Permalution, a company that focuses on fog water harvesting and holistic project development.

“I believe that some of the big issues that we face worldwide are companies that are not sustainable. If we put our money into businesses that are environmentally cultured, I think we can have a cleaner long-lasting environment,” Tatiana says.

With this vision for the future, in 2015, Tatiana founded her startup while she was living in San Francisco. However, it was only after she moved to Mexico that the company really started to grow. She wanted to focus on harvesting water from fog using similar methods to traditional rainwater harvesting. Utilizing fog as a source for water could have several applications including, harvesting steam to recycle water in the textile industry, developing self-producing energy systems, and helping improve farming and agriculture.

There are five main types of fog, and although Tatiana wants to eventually harvest them all, she and her team are currently focused on harvesting coastal fog which mostly is formed close to water. Tatiana’s first task was to start looking for different designs and materials that would improve upon older methods. Although she had background knowledge from taking mechanical, electrical, and environmental engineering classes in college, it still took an extensive amount of research to ultimately design her first project.

“I built the first functional prototype to show my roommate we could harvest the fog that passed through our window, and in the morning, the whole floor was wet and damp, “ Tatiana proudly shares.

After improving the design, it was featured as a finalist in Singularity University’s Global Impact Challenge. It was also featured in Fast Company as one of the 3 new devices that could “suck water from thin air.”  With that recognition, Tatiana realized that Permalution had the potential to be implemented globally. She began building a team that included two thermal engineers to help further develop her prototype.

They continued to develop their design through a partnership with a research center at a university in China that was developing a synthetic silk from a spider that had the properties of water capture. Tatiana and her team built upon that experience to design more scalable, yield-improving materials.

Permalution first identifies a place that seems optimal to harvest fog. Secondly, the team sets a sensor module that runs for 4 to 8 weeks that allows them to determine where to place the fog catcher. The fog can then make contact with the membrane and start draining the water that usually falls in the gutter.

“We can harvest up to 3 times more water with fog than rain in areas where fog conditions are optimal. We are now exploring [how] to add solar energy and rain harvesting to the modules. We can use the membrane we created to use cloud seeding technologies to create fog anywhere in the world.”

Tatiana and her team are in the process of building a 20 meter replica of the prototype in Mexico for a massive reforestation project in Tepic, Nayarit. She explains that the water industry is highly regulated, so in the process of creating a new product, she must also navigate governmental laws and public policy related to water which can sometimes be a hindrance.

“I try to focus on the opportunities of the future instead of the current limitations. The encouragement I received from other fellow women at the CleanTech accelerator program and through competitions was gold to me. I learned a lot from women who became my role models, so I try as much as I can to assist, motivate, and encourage women who have their own initiatives.”

For this reason, in addition to the work Tatiana is doing with Permalution, she also founded Tech Quiero, an organization that supports women and girls with learning how to code.

“A misconception I often have to dispel, mainly for women who have the spark to be engineers, is that it is not about working with engines, as many believe. The word engineer comes from ingeniare which means to use your genius to put things together and make something new, useful, innovative. This is the basis for creating a new world.”

Tatiana hopes that other women can find their calling in life and believe in themselves enough to help further the creation of this constantly changing, new world we live in.

Re-architecting the Status of Female Engineers: How data architect Cindy Mottershead overcomes the stigma of women in tech

Cindy Mottershead ● Data Architect ● Blackbaud

Cindy Mottershead ● Data Architect ● Blackbaud

As a young child, Cindy Mottershead’s determination to “fix things up” led her to find the nail stuck in her mother’s washing machine drum and bring it back to working condition. This was just the beginning of her journey in engineering, specifically as a data architect.

In high school, Cindy discovered a love for puzzles when her math teacher gave her a calculus book and encouraged her to learn beyond the curriculum offered by the school. She spent countless hours playing with an Altair 8800 computer and learning how to write logic in her teacher’s office.

“As soon as I played around with this computer, I loved it,” Cindy says. “I learned about this thing called computer science and started writing with BASIC.”

Despite coming from a lower socioeconomic background with limited educational resources, Cindy pursued her interests by teaching herself about computers and receiving government and merit-based grants to further her education. Cindy’s passion continued to grow at the University of Southern Maine, where she majored in the school’s new computer science degree program.

After college, Cindy worked with modems as a junior engineer at Codex. Within a year, Cindy solved problems that even the senior engineer could not solve and advanced in the company. She then moved to Wang, a computer hardware company that produced word processors and early computer models. At this company, Cindy worked on projects with former vice president, Al Gore and put together an ethernet board to connect Wang minicomputers to the ARPANET (the network that became the basis for the Internet). Despite having the opportunities to work on projects to promote the ubiquity of the internet, Cindy admits she faced obstacles based on her being a woman in tech.

 “A group of hardware guys sent a long letter to the CEO. They said the problem is that this is software, so they needed to get a man to do it,” she says. “Luckily, my manager was very supportive and said I knew what I was doing. I eventually found the hardware glitch myself — it was not a software bug/glitch! That was a really fun experience.”

In 1985, Cindy moved on to Thinking Machines  where she worked with VLSI (very-large-scale integration) chip design and became the project leader working on an operating system. It is here, she says, that she built the work she is most proud of.

“I wrote a simulator using UNIX semaphores, sockets, shared memory, etc. to replicate the distributed system design of the Connection Machine,” she says. “I fixed some boot loader code, loaded my kernel and let it run. I ran one of the test programs, and it just ran! I stood there staring at it for hours, it seems.”

Eight years later, Cindy left Thinking Machines to start her own company, Islandway Software. This New England-based distribution company was an angel-funded enterprise that operated for five years before closing down.

“We were two women starting a technical company, which was pretty much unheard of then,” she says. “But after five years, [they] told us that it’s ‘too much of a risk’ and ‘we haven’t seen a successful company run by two women.’”

Despite the social stigma against a women-led business, Islandway Software created a very successful product: a client-server based product planning tool. Cindy says that although, “there are now a gazillion of these,” the product we designed was unique and very powerful at the time.

In 1998, Cindy began consulting and became a partner at Papyrus, a human capital services firm specializing in executive coaching, strategic consulting and talent searches. Cindy and her business partner sold Papyrus a year later and she decided to do contact-based consulting on her own. From 2000 to 2006, she invested time in volunteer work for nonprofit organizations to expand her skillsets. Cindy then founded Attentive.ly, a real time processing company, with two other women. While she was originally responsible for most of the architecture herself, Cindy soon employed a small group of engineers, most of whom were women.

“Working with a team of female engineers was such a difference from working at some of the other companies where I was the only woman,” she says. “You could really see the value of diversity on a team because people started to approach problems differently and worked well together.”

Attentive.ly was eventually sold to Blackbaud, a NASDAQ company that has been recognized by the Anita Borg Institute as one of the top companies for women technologists. Cindy currently works at Blackbaud as a data architect.

“If you love logic, you will absolutely love engineering. Just do it.” Cindy says. “Diversity makes engineering an amazing place. We need more women and people of color to make these teams vibrant and open to diverse views.”

Looking at the Big (Big) Picture: How Melanie Grierson is helping humans explore mars

Melanie Grierson ● Software Engineer ● Lockheed Martin

Melanie Grierson ● Software Engineer ● Lockheed Martin

As a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, studying astronomy and physics, Melanie Grierson is already working at one of the largest global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies companies in the world. At Lockheed Martin, she gets to perform her dream job as a software engineer on the Orion mission. Melanie always had a love for the STEM field, but she has a particular interest in astronomy because of her desire to learn more about the space.

“There’s so much that we can learn about human life on Earth by studying the universe.”

Jasmine Johnson, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow, had a chance to interview Melanie via webinar in partnership with the Ron Brown Scholar Program.

Listen to her story here. Enjoy!

Learning New Keys: How Washington D.C. Developer, Natassja Linzau, Is Transforming Data Literacy in Government

Natassja Linzau ● National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine ● Web Developer

Natassja Linzau ● National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine ● Web Developer

Like engineers, piano teachers are guided by best practices. Piano teachers typically advise their students to think carefully about the composition and the structure, work through trial and error, and think about what outputs they want to achieve.

In high school, Natassja knew she wanted to pursue a career in music. She studied music and psychology at the Brigham Young University and later received her in Masters in Music at Catholic University. While running her music teaching studio, Natassja would guide and mentor her students on the best practices of the piano.

In the mid-90s, she began working at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington D.C. as a secretary. Still passionate about music, during her spare time, she volunteered at the D.C. Federation of Music Clubs. The organization needed a website and she offered to help, as she had taken a programming class in high school. She enjoyed building their website and knew from there she could do more. She wanted to understand web development and front-end engineering better, so she took online classes at night through the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. During this time, she was also taking care of three kids and balancing three jobs but was able to pursue a new career path she never considered before. Over the next 18 years, Natassja transitioned from her administrative role to an official Web Graphics Designer to Web Developer.

From piano keys to a computer keyboard, Natassja took her career to the next level. Natassja joined Women Who Code DC in 2015 and met other women passionate about technology who wanted to enter the industry. However, in the beginning she noticed a lack of female mentors. So, she started the Mentoring Program within their chapter, which helped connect women with role models in the tech industry.

In 2016, she took a position with the U.S. Department of Commerce as a lead front-end engineer. In this role, she oversaw the Discovery team of the Commerce Data Service, however, after a couple short months, she found another opportunity to help lead the Data Education Initiative. This new project, also called the Commerce Data Academy, created opportunities for the U.S. Department of Commerce employees to learn more about data science, cybersecurity, and new programming languages. Natassja lead this project because she wanted to foster mentorship within America’s Data Agency. More than 1000 employees signed up for the initial classes. The program she designed contained over 38 technical courses, and was so popular it began attracting interest from other federal agencies.

Moving beyond the Census Data Academy, Natassja was the Lead of the Data Talent Working Group for the U.S. Data Cabinet, which was responsible for developing guidelines and standards for data training, education, and professional development for many data roles in the federal government. This was especially important so that federal agencies can find the right data scientists for the right jobs. She also helped standardize the terminology for data on USAJobs.gov, while developing the Data Science Jobs microsite.

Over the past couple of years, Natassja has created new opportunities for female technologists, her co-workers and future data scientists interested in joining the Federal workforce. Her musician mindset of persistence and discipline allowed her to keep going, despite not starting out on a traditional path to tech.

“Be patient, and persist. Keep going and learning. Like in coding, there’s always something new to learn. Things are always changing.”

The Teacher Who Taught Herself to Code: How creating tools for her classroom launched Anna Andresian’s career in tech

Anna Andresian ● Staff Software Engineer ● AltSchool

Anna Andresian ● Staff Software Engineer ● AltSchool

Teachers unlock the potential in us all to acquire new skills and develop our talents and interests over time. For 11 years, Anna Andresian did just that as a Latin teacher at various middle and high schools around the United States.

As a high school student, Anna loved studying science and had dreams of becoming a high school physics teacher. Spanish and Latin, her next favorite subjects in school, influenced her decision to change her major once she entered college. After graduating from Brown University with a BA in Classics, Anna took a teaching job at Rocky Hill School in Rhode Island. In 2004, she moved to London to receive her master’s in Classics at Oxford. From there her passion for teaching and learning deepened, and she taught at numerous schools around the US, including in New Jersey and Colorado.

 As her teaching career progressed, Anna realized that she wanted to make the material delivery more dynamic and interactive for her students. She began recording macros in Microsoft Word, which are saved sequences of commands or keystrokes that can be recalled. She used macros to color code certain texts and allow for better language association. This experience sparked a curiosity in technology and led her to inspect the generated code to figure out how to write different macros to solve more complicated problems.

“This enabled me to use Word as a presentation tool without ever writing on the whiteboard,” Anna says. “I [then] created self-correcting Excel spreadsheets that allowed students to type in a Latin noun or verb and then type in its forms, receiving feedback about which answers were right and wrong.”

In 2012, Anna discovered an opportunity to establish a base of coding knowledge with the convenience of learning at her own school. When two students started an after-school programming club to teach other students how to write their own games, Anna decided to join and became “totally addicted to coding.”

“I started building some online tools that my students could use to practice their Latin, and I found that these online tools really changed the range of what was possible in my classes,” Anna says. “The more I learned, the more I felt was possible.”

She enjoyed creating new tools to use in the classroom, such as homework assignments that give automatic feedback and interactive games that teach students how to practice vocabulary. At the end of the 2013 school year, Anna took a break from teaching and attended the Recurse Center in New York for three months to further her coding knowledge. Out of pure interest in technology, she did a lot of back-end work at the workshop. After completing that program, Anna took her first technical job working on education web apps at Amplify.

“I really loved that the whole point of the [Recurse Center] program was not to get hired, but to make us better programmers,” she says. “You pick what you want to work on and you spend your days working towards that!”

 After working at Amplify for a year and a half, Anna joined AltSchool, where she now works as a staff software engineer. At AltSchool, Anna continues to build her technical skills working on developing their personalized learning platform for K12 schools. Through her hard work and dedication, Anna seeks to harness the power of technology to revolutionize teaching methods for schools across the nation.

How Angie Jones is taking the World’s Automation Engineers to the Next Level

Angie Jones ● Senior Developer Advocate ● Applitools

Angie Jones ● Senior Developer Advocate ● Applitools

“I’m now at a point in my career where my skill set is sought after by many tech companies. That is amazing to me; I have leveled up.”

For Angie Jones, leveling up is an everyday occurrence. Not only does she make sure she is consistently up-to-date in the forever changing dynamics of the tech world, but with her non-traditional job, she is afforded the opportunity to help others become better engineers as well. Angie had no idea that enrolling in her first computer programming class at Tennessee State University would lead to a career in aiding aspiring engineers around the world.

Before beginning her journey as an automation engineer guru and consultant, Angie started her college experience majoring in business. Her father encouraged her to take at least one computer class because he recognized it was an emerging space at the time. Soon after completing the course, she changed her major to computer science, realizing she had a true love and talent for coding. For 15 years she worked with companies such as Twitter and IBM as an automation engineer writing code to simulate and verify customer scenarios.

“Test automation engineers write code that runs behind the scenes, that is not a part of the finished product. Our code is like a key ingredient that supports developers and helps the entire industry move faster and with confidence.”

Despite being great at her job and holding 25 patents in the United States and China, Angie realized that she was not sharing enough of her ideas. About two years ago, she recognized that it was difficult to hire employees in the test automation engineering field. Although the role was in high demand, Angie noticed that companies found it difficult to fill these positions due to the lack of experience in candidates within the industry.

“We would interview candidates and they didn't have the experience and weren’t up to the level we needed them to be. It wasn't necessarily their fault, as the high demand for this skill has only recently skyrocketed. These roles would be open for a year or more, if ever filled at all.”

Hoping to alleviate the problem, Angie launched her own blog to support automation engineers with common issues. Through angiejones.tech, Angie was able to share techniques and strategies that would help engineers become not only more proficient in their duties, but excel in their careers.

As she began to publish content more regularly, Angie received requests from more and more companies to present at conferences and seminars. When it became challenging to balance her extensive travel with a more traditional work schedule, a timely opportunity presented itself to join visual test automation company, Applitools, as a Senior Development Advocate.

“My job is to help automation engineers and developers around the world become better at their jobs. Over the past two years, I've traveled to more than a dozen countries to share my knowledge with others; and it’s funny because you think that these countries will have different problems and challenges, but tech is universal and everyone is struggling with the same things.”

In this more flexible position, Angie is given the opportunity to help others advance in their careers and truly understand test automation concepts and practices. She is leading a brand new initiative called Test Automation University, a global online educational platform that offers free courses on test automation.

“I feel privileged to be able to work in technology, a highly creative field that is shaping the world as we know it. What makes this even better is having the opportunity to help other engineers level up and reach their goals as well.”

Merging Women’s Studies and Engineering: How Mona Mohammed applies her unique experiences to transform wastewater treatment

Mona Mohammed ● Graduate Student in Environmental Engineering ● Bucknell University

Mona Mohammed ● Graduate Student in Environmental Engineering ● Bucknell University

(Photo credit: Salma Mohammed)

For a young Mona Mohammed, watching her father work on water projects in Yemen as a civil engineer inspired a desire to pursue a similar career. Despite discovering her interest in engineering early, Mona questioned that interest at multiple points along her journey. She first left Yemen in 2008 to attend Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong (UWC) for an International Baccalaureate Program. It was there that the intensity of a physics class first caused her to question her decision to study engineering. After her time at UWC, Mona decided to take a gap year and return to Yemen.

During that time Mona had a year long internship with the GIZ Yemen German Reproductive Health Program. In that role she helped coordinate the efforts of field staff in raising awareness around issues of reproductive health, including child marriage and its impacts on the wellbeing and education of girls in Yemen. Mona says, it was during her experience that year, that she understood the lack of access to water and sanitation to be the most pressing issue facing Yemen. Her experience also helped her recognize the gendered nature of this challenge.

“It is usually poor young girls who are tasked with securing water for their families. This is usually means spending time out of school, taking long walks in dangerous conditions and carrying heavy water every day.”  

As she was applying for universities, “my friend came over and spoke about her experience studying civil engineering and encouraged me to apply, as she thought I would really enjoy it.” Mona credits this encouragement, along with support from family and friends, as a key part in her decision to become an engineer. She acknowledges how that guidance is especially important for women to push past some of the barriers they face in pursuing STEM fields.

“Even though people suffer to different extents from the lack of access to water based on their socio-economic class, water scarcity is a national problem as different parts of the country are expected to run out of water by 2020,”  says Mona. “To me, becoming an engineer meant finding ways in which my family and I could continue living at home.”

To that end, Mona moved to America in 2011 after being awarded a full scholarship to study at Bucknell University. There, she received a dual undergraduate degree in women’s and gender studies and civil and environmental engineering.  When asked how women and gender studies tied into her career path, Mona says she views her women’s and gender studies major as another tool in her engineering toolbox.

“[The major] is a lens that helped me analyze engineering problems from a gendered perspective and ask questions such as, what are the differences in the impacts of water scarcity on each gender.” She continues “using this lens, has the implication of changing the power dynamic for women and giving them more time to join schools and learn different skills.”

Mona is convinced that a sustainable solution to the problem of water scarcity has to be one with women at the center of it. She also jokes that gender studies is what “kept [her] sane”, as she navigated different cultures, and faced different forms of sexism, in her home country and in the USA.

Mona is continuing her education at Bucknell University, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental engineering. Her research focuses on improving wastewater treatment and evaluating its social, environmental and economic impacts. Mona looked at improving anaerobic (without oxygen) wastewater treatment, which produces methane. In its gas form, methane can be used for energy production and heating. However, not all the produced methane is in gas form, some of it is dissolved in the water leaving the treatment plant. That dissolved methane contributes to a great extent to global warming. As such, Mona designed and operated a biological reactor that oxidizes dissolved methane into carbon dioxide, potentially reducing the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants.

Despite her determination to further her studies and accomplish more, she encountered common challenges many women in this field face. To overcome those challenges, Mona encourages others to persevere and develop a support system (in her case it was family and friends) who you are comfortable going to in times of need. An important person in Mona’s support system was her graduate studies advisor, Professor Deborah Sills.

“Women have to go through a lot more to get into and remain in [STEM] programs,” Mona says. “When I was applying to grad school, Professor Sills took me in as her master’s student. She has both supported and challenged me throughout my masters. Having a professor here who would always advocate for me and at the same time expect the best of me definitely pushed me to meet these expectations, so I’m forever indebted to her.”

Furthermore, sexism in STEM remains a big inhibitor for women to continue in fields such as engineering. Having a female mentor and a role model in her advisor, Mona was able to see first hand the intersection of social awareness and justice with engineering research and practice.

After graduating, Mona plans on returning home to Yemen to “help with the relief efforts of the humanitarian crisis.” As the peace talks continue, she hopes for an end to the war and an avoidance of a man-made famine in Yemen. She intends to contribute as a water and sanitation engineer in what she hopes will be “a dawn of a reconstruction era”.   

Mona emphasizes how impactful combating the water crisis would be for women in Yemen. A resolution would mean a drastic change in their societal roles and open up innumerable opportunities.

The Power of Mentorship: How Jackie Chen is Inspiring the Next Generation to Create a more Sustainable Future

Jackie Chen ● Distinguished Member of Technical Staff ● Sandia National Laboratories

Jackie Chen ● Distinguished Member of Technical Staff ● Sandia National Laboratories

From a young age, Jackie Chen was a scientific observer, studying her father’s movements in his basement for hours on end. Whether her father was diligently writing detailed Chinese calligraphy or building mechanisms, such as four-bar linkages (which are basic movable chains connected by four joints), Jackie was entranced by his focus. Those early experiences sparked an interest in constructing devices for herself. Jackie attributes her success to the encouragement and the mentorship of her parents and the professors that followed them. Now as a professional mechanical engineer manifesting code to understand ‘turbulence-chemistry’ interactions in combustion and to improve engine models, Jackie provides that same support to future generations of engineers.

As immigrants from China, Jackie’s parents strived to give their family every opportunity for a better life. Growing up in Ohio, Jackie was heavily involved in school activities, piano lessons, Mandarin classes, and extracurricular science fairs. It was during her time in school that her parents provided her with considerable support and guidance.

“During that time in the 60’s and 70’s, there weren’t a lot of Asians in Ohio, so experiencing bias toughened us up. I had a lot of encouragement from my family, and they taught me to embrace diversity and to not conform to what other people think I should be.”

With this steadfast attitude and the advice of her father, Jackie went on to study mechanical engineering at Ohio State University. Jackie realized early in her career the value of seeking out mentors. In college she encountered one of her first professional mentors, Professor Lit Su Han. Along with his graduate students, Jackie was invited to work on a turbine blade for a heat transfer experiment, which proved to be pivotal in her decision to focus her future work on fluid dynamics based on smoke visualization of flow over the blade in the wind tunnel.

After graduating, Jackie went on to pursue a Master of Science in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley where she once again found a mentor in Boris Rubinsky. Under his direction, Jackie developed a new skill and learned to freeze biological tissue to then observe its topology under a microscope. Her exploration of several different disciplines of science drove her to further her studies, obtaining her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. As part of her research she worked with a relatively new tool at the time to study turbulence physics.

“I enjoy scientific investigation because of the excitement of understanding new phenomenon.  In my current job, I am able to test new ideas using high-fidelity turbulent combustion simulation tools performed on some of the world’s largest supercomputers.”

One of the simulation tools that Jackie uses now as a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff of the Combustion Research Facility at Sandia National Laboratories is something she pioneered with her fellow postdocs over the past few decades.  Together they developed the first principles direct numerical simulation code (DNS), S3D, that is used by combustion engineers and computer scientists worldwide to study the nuances of fundamental turbulence-chemistry interactions in combustion and to evaluate asynchronous programming model paradigms for advanced computer architectures.   The frequent refactorization of S3D by Jackie and her collaborators is driven by the need to keep up with the evolution of high performance supercomputers which have grown exponentially in performance over the past decades.

The tool she developed is now a standard being used internationally by many research groups, giving Jackie the opportunity to travel, present her findings, and mentor other young students.

From her work with undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students, Jackie has come to realize the importance of  future generations creating sustainable new technologies and her role in guiding them.

“It’s extremely gratifying to watch somebody that you mentor develop confidence and capability and then pursue their own careers when they leave. Many of them have gone on to have successful careers in academia, national laboratories and industry.”

From observer in the basement to award winning engineer, the roles have reversed for Jackie as she provokes thought and instills knowledge in her students, the way her father and professors did for her.

“I would tell them [students] to stay the course and not be afraid of impediments that come their way.  It is important to have good mentors and role models at all levels because it shows it is possible, with a good work ethic and determination,  to be successful in overcoming challenges and embracing new opportunities.”

How QA Engineer, Ijeoma Ezenonyebuchi, Keeps Listeners Connected through Quality Program(ming) at NPR

Ijeoma Ezeonyebuchi ● Quality Assurance Engineer ● NPR

Ijeoma Ezeonyebuchi ● Quality Assurance Engineer ● NPR

While in elementary school in Clinton, Maryland, Ijeoma grew up with a passion for reading and learning new languages. She never thought she would find herself in the technology industry. Initially, she dreamt about being an entrepreneur, owning an international hotel chain and traveling all around the world. However, during high school, she joined a pilot robotics program, which opened her eyes to the world of engineering.

While learning about robotics and practicing coding, she developed a strong desire to build things. One of her most memorable projects was hacking with the “Hello World’’ boilerplate. She coded ”Hello Friend" and her friend was marveled to see a message just for her. “I was amazed that such a small program could bring joy to my friend,” she says. Seeing how something she built could spark such joy inspired her to pursue Computer and Electrical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

While at WPI, Ijeoma was an active student on campus despite her rigorous engineering schedule. She was on the track and field team and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Despite being a well-rounded student, she admits there were many times she was faced with a problem and wasn’t sure how to approach it at first. During a challenging engineering project, an encouraging professor once said “this seems like the hardest thing in the world right now, but it’s small in comparison to the other challenges you'll face. You'll get through this, and it will make you stronger in the end.” Years later, she still reflects on her professor’s supportive words when confronted by a difficult challenge.

After graduation, Ijeoma spent a couple of years as a consultant. In December 2015, she joined the National Public Radio (NPR) Tech Team in Washington D.C. As a Quality Assurance Engineer, Ijeoma works on the NPR One mobile application, testing and verifying new features. She ensures that the NPR One application is a positive experience for its loyal podcast followers, many who use it as their primary source of news and information. Ijeoma’s role is crucial for the future of NPR, and journalism in general, as users change their listening behavior and start accessing news via mobile devices. One of the highlights of working at NPR is  working with other diverse engineers who all share the same mission to deliver in-depth, quality content to a diverse audience.

In her spare time, Ijeoma is the Java & Android lead with Women Who Code DC, where she organizes events and teaches Java and Android development to aspiring developers. Although her dream of owning an international hotel chain did not become a reality, Ijeoma travels the world speaking at tech conferences such as the Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference, THAT Conference, and most recently, All Things Open in North Carolina.

“Technology can do great things, find a way to use it to make an impact.”

Out With The Old and In With The New: How Samira Korani promotes Artificial Intelligence & Tech in Iran

Samira Korani ● Python Developer ● ARPCO

Samira Korani ● Python Developer ● ARPCO

Growing up in a country where traditional gender roles are still somewhat prevalent, Samira Korani, decided to break the mold of society’s standards and dive into a field of work no one considered she would. While Iran is seeing increasing numbers of women pursuing STEM fields, many women there continue to face the same challenges as their female counterparts around the world. Samira’s steadfast fixation on her dream, however, never left room for her to doubt her desire to help bring Iran into the future using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Growing up as the only daughter with four brothers, Samira easily differentiated herself from her traditional family. While her parents encouraged her to pursue the arts and possibly marry at a young age, she found herself drawn to math and science. She developed a passion that would ultimately serve as catalyst into her career in tech.

“When I grew up, I started believing that we can use technology to predict our society’s changes and learn about our country’s past.”

This revelation led Samira to text mining.  After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Management and her Master's degree Information Technology, Samira developed a better understanding of how text mining would be particularly helpful in Iran where the dominant language is Farsi.

Utilizing text mining with Farsi is particularly difficult due to the lack of text corpus, or large collections of electronic documents. A text corpus would serve as a primary source of data for research dealing with language, however, its limited supply makes it challenging to determine facts about Iran’s history.

Essentially text mining uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to derive quality information from written text and transform it into quantitative learning material. Using Python Samira is able to generate new information from documents that can be converted into data for analysis.

Unfortunately, in Samira’s experience, the Iranian government still adheres to traditional practices and is slower to adopt new technologies, such as AI for data analysis. However, she does not let that slow her down.

As an instructor at Iran’s leading institution for engineering and physical science disciplines, Sharif University, Samira connects with an open source community discussing the importance of artificial intelligence. She also strives to mentor young women to change the traditional societal expectations and encourages them to pursue their dreams.

“In my field, they try to ignore me and they told me I couldn’t be a coder, but I am a hard worker, and I had a dream to work with technology. The future of science is artificial intelligence because humans and technology integrate with each other. It took a lot of hard work and not being disappointed easily to do what I do, but I will continue reach my goal.”