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Pay IT Forward

The air was cold, my fingers were hidden in my knit mittens, and I was bundled up tightly. I sat huddled around other children to stay warm on the open trailer filled with hay. We traveled from house to house belting out holiday carols until it was time to head home for hot chocolate by the fire.

Being a native Floridian, I wasn't particularly fond of the cold, and while my body may have been cold, my heart was warm and filled with joy.

Activities such as caroling, visiting retirement homes and orphanages are some of my earliest memories. I have been involved with community service for most of my life.

One could even say, helping others is part of my DNA.

AITP scholarship awarded last fall.

Little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of that help one day.

By the time I had my first child, unfortunate circumstances left me as my child's sole caregiver. As a single mother, I realized I needed to invest in myself to provide the life I wanted for my child.

I made a very daunting decision to quit my stable advertising job and go back to school. I was betting this short-term financial sacrifice would eventually pay for itself in the long run. Bartending and office jobs could hold us over until I found something more permanent, but I wanted to hit the ground running. I wanted to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could. Ideally, I wanted a technical position that would foster this goal.

I wasn't sure I would be able to find a tech job as a student, but I had to try. I found a local tech group and began to network. Luckily, some of my new contacts were already acquainted with mutual contacts and friends I had met throughout my community charity events and organizations. With the help of some great people and the Florida Economic Development Council, I was able to secure a grant-based paid internship with a networking and managed services provider company.

The owner of this company was female, she was kind but driven. She expected quality performance and that is exactly what I needed. She took me under her wing and shared advice from her years of experience. She warned of the challenges of being a female in this industry would bring. Up until that point, I hadn’t given much thought to that dynamic. However, my naïve outlook melted away with every negative interaction I encountered along my journey.

Now several years later, I now understand her demeanor and the message she was trying to convey. I would often find individuals underestimating my capabilities, but I learned being underestimated is not always a bad thing. While this can be extremely frustrating at times it also forces me to reflect on my progress.

I will often self-analyze to make sure I am continuing to push myself to be better and meeting MY definition of success.

I found I would often have to prove my worth before anyone would even take me seriously. I was lucky, someone (several someone's) along the way believed in me and allowed me to prove myself.

At that point in my life, I still wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to specialize in. To be honest I never aspired to become a teacher or public speaker. I am 100% an introvert. I am most comfortable in complete solitude and thought working with computers would be perfect for that. Oh, how things have changed! You can plan out your life but ultimately life has a way of finding its own path. I attribute my current career to a sequence of serendipitous events. If you want the details, check out this video.

Teaching proved to be emotionally taxing for me, but I realized I was good at it. I was able to connect, relate and empathize with my students because I recognized the desire and unfortunately sometimes the desperation driving their growth. It wasn’t until I learned about the impact and importance that comes with sharing of knowledge that I fell in love with teaching.

A while back I wrote a blog post detailing my latest Microsoft Ignite conference experience. You can read more about that here. The year prior I had also attended the same conference. That year I happened to take a photo at the event. In the photo, I saw hundreds of people walking the corridors and riding the escalators of the Orange County Convention Center. I noticed the people in the photo shared a lot of physical similarities. I didn’t see many people that looked like me. This observation made me wonder why a particular demographic was dominating the industry. The embedded inequities within this field are no secret but remain a mystery to me.

For once, the men's line is longer. Photo taken at Microsoft Ignite 2019.

  • I started asking myself, why aren’t more young women entering tech?

  • Why are established professionals leaving the field after several years of investing?

  • Is it because they never had the special someone’s to believe in them and give them a chance?

  • Could I give them a chance?

After having a conversation with #WomenITPros founder, Cathy Moya and I realized this was a systemic problem even large organizations were trying to combat. Cathy wanted to create a judgment-free platform for women and allies to learn and grow together. I had always wanted to find a way to contribute back to the tech community.

Championing a study group seemed like the perfect opportunity. We started planning Windows 10 modern desktop deployment sessions to start the fall of 2019. With demanding workloads, parental duties and trying to maintain sanity, we decided to postpone to the beginning of 2020.

Luck has it, our schedules didn’t let up, but we realized there would never be a convenient time to do something like this. Although I had many questions and doubts, I felt the potential outcome outweighed those negative thoughts. I decided it was time for another risk.

The group launched on February 24th with the help of many generous presenters from around the world. I hope this experience will be a positive one for everyone involved. While this is just one small contribution, the men and women I have met have been nothing short of wonderful. If we can help just one person, I believe it is worth it.

So, I ask you...

  • Is there something you can share with the world?

  • Is there some problem you can help solve?

  • What are you passionate about?

Even if it seems insignificant, go for it, pay IT forward. If we all contribute a ripple effect will take place and make the tech community a better place. If you are interested in joining the group or know someone who could benefit feel free to register or share via link.


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