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5 Tips for the Black Woman in Computing (BWiC)

Recently, I read @EvetteDionne: 5 Tips for Surviving Grad School As A WOC. I gave #icouldwriteSTEMWOCtips as a reply. For a STEM WOC, be an undergraduate student, graduate student or professional, the mode of operation is slightly different. So here goes:

Continually refresh your core competency skills. Most likely, your computing sub-discipline is rapidly evolving. To keep current with the newest, latest-and-greatest system, software and/or tool is a tall order. As you build your career, hone your technical skills regularly through reading, studying, and becoming an active contributor to your field. You want to have the pulse of your field – typically given by your field’s ‘thought’ leaders and influential members. I suggest identifying the influential members in your technical field and concentrate on keeping up-to-date on their research. Your intelligence, knowledge and experience within your discipline is completely under your control. Know your stuff and whenever you are challenged (and you will be because everyone is), you will simply further impress potential colleagues, employers, and clients. Plain talk: what’s in your technical toolbox?

Establish and grow your support networks. Yes, that is networks – plural. One network is not enough. I have found myself simultaneously building 4 support networks:

  • The racial/ethnic circle: under-represented minorities (URM), especially in STEM, conversations

  • The gender circle: female empowerment conversations

  • The technical circle: talking shop around that virtual water cooler

  • The philosophy of life circle: bettering your perspective of life and your role in it

I mean, peruse through my twitter account. My twitter followers and those who I follow are considered small by twittersphere standards but I find it to be a wonderfully, eccentric band of insightful and inspiring commentary. To have multiple networks is not novel, but for Black women, there is a tendency to fall into the stereotypical ‘superwoman’ role, e.g., the one-woman show. No one else does it. Why should you?!? A blend of face-to-face and digital interactions is very beneficial. Plain talk: are the individuals you are surrounding around yourself progressive or oppressive people?

Execute your plan, not one others have for you. Others have suggested activities and events that may not best serve their short-term or long-term goals but not me. Some of these engagements I have participated, while others I have not. Think deeply and think through the consequences of the choices. Confer with others, whose opinion you value, to assist you in weighing your options before you make your final decision. Hence, the motivation the establish and grow your support networks.

This one is the most difficult and time-consuming advice since it requires you to know your plan. Start by devising your career mission and vision statement. Undoubtedly, you need some first-hand successes and missteps to know what you do and don’t want to incorporate into your plan. Nevertheless, you should aim to be clear and comfortable with your plan and the common sense to revise said-plan when necessary. Plain talk: What’s your hustle?

Identify and use your beard. The likelihood of finding and then building a relationship with someone who looks like you at your place of employment is slim. Those who are considered successful could probably be counted on 2 hands. For many BWiCs, the feeling of isolation and being invisibly visible in your discipline and eventual place of employment is common. The computing community is not accustomed to interacting with Blacks, women and certainly not BWiCs. As a result, your voice is marginalized in most technical interactions. To combat this marginalization, you may need to speak through at least one beard.

Your beard is most likely a member of the computing majority – a man or woman of Caucasian, Indian, Asian or South Asian descent, who advocates your ideas, not stealing them, and also actively supports your career growth. Be the best you. Revel in your uniqueness. Let them help you. Plain Talk: find the work-arounds.

Confidence is queen. My definition of queen is a technical woman who has healthy self-esteem, comfortable with her career plans, active and productive member of her technical community and working toward building her networks. Not arrogant. Not a know-it-all. Not her-way-or-the-highway. She is well-balanced since she is capable of reporting well up the chain of command (senior colleagues, management, etc) as well as reporting well down the chain of command (junior colleagues, support staff, etc). She is unwavering in her plan outcomes but flexible in the path/route to arrive to that final goals. This is a life-long evolution of you. Lean in, lean back, stand up and/or walk out, when you deem appropriate. Admittedly, this tip is very Zen. Heck, I don’t feel like I’m a queen, yet. But if you have knowledge of this vision, your current circumstances can be placed in the proper perspective. Your value is not attached to your situation. Emote your emerging queen status. Plain talk: lessen the impostor syndrome and strive for queen status.

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