“She’s mad, but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire.” –Charles Bukowski
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
My excursion into computer science was somewhat fortuitous. I ventured into the computer science after grappling with physics and electrical engineering at the undergraduate level. Initially, I was captivated by physics because I am drawn to unlocking how and why things are. What drew me to computer science is reproducing through simulation how things are, how they could be and how they should be.
While growing up, I never considered science or engineering as having favoring a predominant demographic. I owe this to supportive parents, instructors and selective media. Starting at age 5, my parents would buy educational PC games like JumpStart. Through incessant prodding, I was the first in my primary school class to own a mobile phone. My favorite films were Hayao Miyazaki’s which I did not notice until later were female-protagonist driven films. I faintly remember passively watching Star Trek re-runs with Lt. Uhura and Cpt. Janeway and actively appreciating those same episodes at an older age.
Through mentorship, raising awareness and initiatives, I continually strive to make other women feel comfortable and supported in this field. I am an active mentor in Girls Who Code, Women in Computer Science (WiCS), and Graduate Resident Advisor for MIT’s Sorority Life. I look forward annually to reconnecting with all of the talented women I’ve met at the Grace Hopper Conference.
Fun Fact: I am an environmentalist and am mindful of technology’s ecological impact.
As a member of World Wildlife Fund, I have “adopted” several endangered animals and have an expanding collection of succulents.
What # would define your life journey?
Favorite website / app:
My favorite mobile app is Snapchat. While not the most active user, I appreciate the technology behind the Snap filters because it’s relevant to my current research. My current websites of choice are three.js and A-Frame because I reference the stunning examples made by other developers to assist me in developing integrated web AR/VR experiences. In terms of desktop apps, Unity3D, Maya and Illustrator are always running on my machine.
Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
There are many people from the past who have inspired me (authors, scientists, poets, family members).
People in the present who inspire me are:
My parents through their aforementioned love and support.
My younger brother Jonathan who is unwaveringly principled, relentless, and charitable.
Fellow millennials whose work and entrepreneurial endeavors inspire me are the works of Aaron Koblin (Within) and Evan Spiegel (Snap Inc.).
Legends the renowned roboticist Ayanna Howard, Apple inventor Steve Wozniak and the renowned computer graphics researcher Marc Levoy.
Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
My biggest challenge centers around the frustration of being continually devalued by my colleagues. When you are put in the unique situation of being black, female and pursuing higher education in STEM, your identity takes precedent over your research. Who you are gets confuddled with who you are representing. In the past when I have faced difficulty, I have had no one to rely on or advise me about navigating. There have been many times where I will tell a guy at a conference or event my interests, my field of study and my research affiliation with both Harvard and MIT and five minutes later he will gloss over me and address my male colleagues (some of whom are not developers, engineers or technologists) and will assume my role in the project wasn’t technical. While I don’t believe this is conscious, it does make me frustrated when these same people stress meritocracy and complain about diversity initiatives in Silicon Valley. I think what this teaches me is that accolades and university titles don’t matter as much as self-confidence and perseverance when you are a marginalized group in tech. I learned you cannot prove yourself to others, you can only set milestones for yourself. It was my my interest in AR and VR that helped me to overcome the sort of isolating experience I have in this field. About 3 years ago I visited Microsoft in New York City and I used an Oculus Rift to experience a 360 video of the life of students in Darfur. VR is always marketed as an empathy-building experience but that was one of the few experiences that leveraged that aspect. These cross-reality technologies have helped me create experiences to “show” how I feel as opposed to tell how I feel; it has been both a liberating and serene experience. There is a power in having the capacity to influence thought patterns through emergent technology.
After I finish graduate school, I intend to work a few years serving at a women’s college or an HBCU (Historically Black College and University). My ideal career is founding a research silo within a major tech company (like Aaron Koblin’s Creative Lab) while being an adjunct lecturer and professor. I would like to strike a balance between mentoring and researching. While representation is certainly stressed in industry, it is vastly understated in academia.
I believe undergraduate years are the most formative career-wise lack of underrepresented minorities and female professors. Students cannot envision themselves as teachers or groundbreaking researcher because the landscape lacks role models. In my ideal job, being myself would give inspiration to others allowing them to achieve their goals as well.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
First and foremost, surround yourself with a support group including friends, mentors, and sponsors. Remember you are not in this endeavor alone. There are people who respect you and want you to succeed according to your own terms. Seek mentors and do not be afraid to ask for help. Attend diversity conferences like Grace Hopper, Tapia etc to re-energize.