Over the course of the summer, my classroom has met numerous employees, including interns and CEOs, of numerous tech companies in San Francisco. All of these people have helped me understand the effort and skills needed to succeed at a tech company but one people, in particular, helped me on a personal level. I was fortunate enough to have met some of Autodesk’s Diversity and Inclusion leads and reached out to one so I could learn how she entered into this field because it’s something that I care about.
Originally I believed that in our meeting we would discuss her education and the jobs or careers she held before entering this role but our conversation turned personal very quickly as we realized some similarities in our backgrounds. We are both children of immigrants so we discussed how our cultures are often not well represented and how we have dealt with the expectations of our parents and of other people. She is well aware that her parents don’t understand what she does as a diversity and inclusion lead but she can understand their confusion as her job didn’t exist years ago. Up until this point I have only spoken about my challenges as a first-generation American with a handful of people, most of who I have known for years, but I am grateful for having the opportunity to open up with a person who not only understands my fears and concerns but has actually lived through them and still followed their goals wherever they led them.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on other my identities too. For example, in July my classroom visited a startup so the girls could see the applications of computer science at a small company. During our tour, however, we noticed the lack of representation within the office as there were very few women and people of color. After the tour one of the CEOs joined us for a presentation and my students brought up the lack of diversity within the company. He took complete responsibility for the issue and explained that the computer science program at his university was primarily composed of white and Asian men so as a result, most of his friends and acquaintances shared the same group identities. When he started his company he sought help from those friends and they also reached out to friends who shared similar backgrounds and identities. Eventually, this led to a cycle and when the company was ready to expand, their efforts to recruit diverse employees failed because many candidates were deterred by the lack of diversity that already existed. As a woman of color, I can understand the concern but after meeting the employees and learning about the company’s efforts to create an inclusive community, I think that I would enjoy interning there.
Before my summer as a teaching assistant began I imagined a leader being someone who was able to direct a team or group in the right direction. As the summer has progressed, however, I’ve realized that one of the most important characteristics of a leader is that they should be able to receive advice and suggestions from others, especially teammates. I came to this belief after watching my students interact with each other. All of my students have served as leaders in some sort of capacity but I was surprised by the number of them who can sometimes be unwilling to hear and understand the needs of their peers. Projects and pair exercises were sometimes dominated by the ideas of one person while other group members simply followed directions and in some cases, students were unable to understand fundamental concepts because they were left out. As a student I usually only focus on the relationship between myself and my peers and I have the ability to work through these types of issues but as a teaching assistant to young girls, I can see how often these actions occur and how destructive they can be for young women who are interested in fields that are dominated by men. I hope that by the end of the summer my students will have improved their teamwork skills.