I was never one of the popular girls in school. I had a crooked smile, unruly hair, and thick glasses. I grew up in a small rural town in the backwoods part of South Carolina where opportunities were limited.
It wasn’t until my aunt and parents pitched in and bought my first computer as a Christmas gift when I was 12 years old. That was the year 1999. Right before Y2K. Destiny’s Child was in their prime and Beyoncé was widely unknown. AOL Internet flooded folk’s mailboxes with CD-ROMs and Facebook was nonexistent.
My passion for technology quickly became a “thing” and I was excited about receiving emails from strangers than letters in the mail (now it’s the total opposite). My Barbie dolls and other miscellaneous toys were abandoned for browsing online. Not long after, I was teaching myself how to code HTML and CSS at just 12 years old and built my first website – completely from scratch – by the age 13.
While I was in school telling my peers, most of them didn’t have a computer in their homes, about this awesome website I’d built the night before, you can imagine the major SIDE-EYE I got from them. And pretty soon, I became the butt of computer love jokes.
It was discouraging.
But I knew I was different.
I didn’t take pride in being different until I entered the workforce after college. My “computer love” landed me a job in my field as a web designer less than six months after graduation and I’ve worked in my field ever since. My passion has yielded opportunities to work in industries such as higher education, healthcare, nonprofit, tech start-ups and corporate businesses. And my “difference” has started a digital strategy business where I work with amazing business leaders from all over the world.
As I reflect on President Obama’s last full day in office, I can’t help but to think back on the last eight years of progress he’s made to encourage STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics) education, especially for minorities. There are dozens of organizations, such as #YesWeCode and Black Girls Code that are encouraging young, African-Americans to ignite an early interest (aka passion) in STEM related fields. While I’d love to have been in a company of other kids who looked like me and were different like me during my teenage years, I am happy those organizations exist today.
Thanks Obama for letting the world know that it’s cool to be a Black girl nerd.