“What do you want to do when you grow up?” It’s a question we get asked frequently as children, and more and more as we near graduation from high school and college – when life starts closing in on the real world.
My answer may not have been too romantic, “Pay my bills.” But that was my reality – and is the reality for many other kids trying to escape poverty.
I was painfully aware of how expensive college would be, and that even with scholarships I would probably have to take out student loans in order to attend. With that in mind, I focused on trying to find a career I enjoyed that would still pay my bills and be rewarding. I had no idea that it would lead me to Cisco.
When I was growing up, there was a huge focus on STEM fields. As technology exploded and became a defining part of our way of life, the need for kids interested in STEM became apparent. However, it was also clear that STEM was being geared towards boys and not girls. All I heard growing up were the reasons I didn’t belong in STEM: girls aren’t good at math, girls aren’t logical enough to be programmers, and girls don’t like to build things.
To try and fit in with this idea of what I thought I needed to be to belong, I became more tomboyish, rejecting anything I thought was too pink or too feminine. As the years went on, it became evident that it didn’t matter how I dressed or talked, people out there would still think I didn’t belong in technology solely based on my gender.
I never saw myself represented in STEM and it felt impossible that I’d ever belong – until I attended an event put on by the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Central Florida. For the first time, I was in a room full of women and girls building and coding, and, most importantly, having fun. I spent the entire day programming a robot to go through an obstacle course, went home and immediately applied to the College of Engineering and Computer Science as a Computer Engineering major.
As I progressed through my degree, I realized I had fallen in love with programming and decided to change my major to Computer Science. Even though I thought I had come to terms with being a woman in technology and what that meant, I still spent the next four years struggling to feel like I belonged. My classes were overwhelmingly male, as were my professors. No matter what I wore or did, it was always assumed I was lost or someone’s girlfriend.
This sparked my reclamation of what it meant to me to be a woman in technology – my “unapologetically pink in tech” phase. I rejected the idea from my childhood that I had to be a tomboy to fit in and started to dress how I wanted instead of how I felt I should. I started integrating femininity into my tech setups – from a pastel terminal theme and a pink water-cooled computer to a sparkly pink “I look like an engineer” design on my graduation cap.
While I was in college, I landed my first internship and from there was recruited out by a previous boss to work at Cisco. After I graduated, I accepted a full-time Software Engineering position at Cisco and have been loving where I work ever since.
I have never once felt like I didn’t belong on my engineering team, whether or not my tech and I are decked out in pink.
Getting young girls and women interested in technology is one thing – making sure we aren’t recruiting them to a harmful environment is another. Cisco recognizes that, and not only does the work to get young girls interested in tech but ensures that once they enter the workforce they will always have a place to “be you, with us” – and not just as a catchphrase, but a true mantra of our culture that feeds from the diversity that cultivates our growth and innovation from new ideas and the experiences of others.
Want to be you, with us? We’re hiring. Apply now.