I met Nakeema in December 2016 as part of the developers mentoring her students. During this time I was interested in who Nakeema is, her journey, her struggles and what motivates her. After numerous chats online, I asked her to write a post so that her story could be read/heard by more than just me I think her story is a powerful one and her initiative, FrauenLoop is beyond amazing.
Where it all began:
My interest in Technology started in the late ’90s, when I found myself without the ability to land a job, after having gotten an expensive education – I had loans to pay. Literally everyone I would run into at that time was either talking about joining an “internet company” so they could get stock options and become rich, or they were complaining that they hadn’t already joined a tech company (so that they would already be super-successful). For myself, I saw that no one was hiring academics in my specialty and everyone seemed to be hiring at technology companies, and I kept reading interviews and profiles of tech people who would say that they’d learned most of what they were doing on the job, through trial and error. I thought, “well, I definitely know how to learn, so let me see if there are roles around these websites and whatnot that I could learn to do.”
Early on, I got hooked on the problem-solving side of technology: this dogged attitude of “if this doesn’t work, what other ways can be tried?” I loved this even when the options were all bad…like, getting code to run beautifully on Netscape and Internet Explorer bad. You had to think creatively, try all kinds of workarounds, and never give up.
The biggest challenge in this field was, luckily for me, the same one I faced in all the other well-paid, professional fields that I had considered before: an over-abundance of men in the managerial roles, and usually very few black people. That made it really stressful, to feel, as I moved up, as if I always had to be better-prepared than everyone else. But I think it also helped me to excel at leading projects, especially when it came to negotiating between technical teams and less technical clients. I was lucky to join the eLearning industry back when online courses were still being invented, but the really great thing about the tech industry generally is that it’s always changing: right now, machine learning and virtual reality are the next frontiers and this is all still being mapped out by practitioners and researchers – a lot of the technology and applications haven’t yet been designed. To me, that’s the kind of industry I want to be part of, because it’s so focused to tomorrow, on adaptation, on dynamic skills and less on theory and the past or book learning.
I often faced situations where I was either overlooked or not considered for growth opportunities by male managers, simply because they weren’t interested in developing me – or anyone else, for that matter – there are lots of awful managers out there who are too selfish, or too insecure, or too immature to guide anyone else in their careers. That’s just a fact. So I had many work evaluations that told me nothing, gave me no “road map” and didn’t match the things I read in career magazines about active mentors and active management. Usually I’d just hear that I was average or just above average, and only when my teams or clients were consulted would I hear any compliments or acknowledgement. This really taught me to care more about how I felt doing my work, and to focus on the personal satisfaction I got from working, because working only for a paycheck is just not worth it. You think, “if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, what will I have learned? What will I have accomplished?” You never want to answer only that you helped some other person to make more money.