A few years ago at a PTA meeting I attended, there was a request for a volunteer to help sponsor a SMART Girls Club for fourth and fifth grade girls. The club was run by the YWCA and promoted Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to young girls. Despite having two boys, I found myself immediately raising my hand. While only four girls signed up for the club, it was a worthwhile experience to see their enthusiasm for each activity.
I vividly recall in one club meeting helping them build a bridge with Tinker Toys. The girls were truly engaged in understanding the importance of good design to ensure a sturdy structure. When a part of the structure fell, they didn’t give up or lose interest. They discussed solutions to solve the problem. It offered me an opportunity to talk to them about different career options in the STEM industries and how those same skills – design, development, problem solving – are valuable and can help them succeed in a career of their choice. I am grateful for that opportunity, and I think it was worth it — even if I influenced just one girl to take an interest in STEM. When those girls are making decisions on high school courses and college applications, they may remember the satisfaction of building that bridge.
My Journey to a Career
If you asked me in middle school what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you a writer. Ironically, that is what led me into engineering. Reflecting back, my interests in early childhood were well-aligned with being an engineer growing up: puzzles, Legos, Transformers, Tetris. I loved taking things apart and putting them back together. I would recreate experiments at home after visiting the science museum. As I moved into middle and high school, I explored more of my creative side — perhaps because it was more gender appropriate to write poetry and draw pictures than it was to build pine derby cars.
In high school I wrote for my school paper. Prior to my senior year, I attended a journalism camp at Michigan State University and fell in love with the campus. A year later, I started my freshman year at MSU and was certain I’d major in journalism. About midway through my first year, my dad sent me some articles related to the job market and top jobs for graduates. Journalism wasn’t exactly on the list, but computer science was. Because I used computers for writing, my dad encouraged me to take a computer class. I agreed to take an intro computer programming class, and never looked back.
At MSU, the computer science program was in the College of Engineering and I got to do some really cool stuff. I remember programming a robot to score a goal in soccer and recycle cans. Prior to my senior year of college, I worked as a summer intern with an online banking company and helped develop a parser for a new standard format used to exchange financial information. My senior year project was related to developing code for improving how anti-lock brakes work. As I approached graduation, job offers were plentiful and I selected a software developer position with a Midwest consulting firm.
My Job Today
While my coding days were short-lived, my career has always been centered on using technology to solve problems. As a product manager for an e-commerce company, I was responsible for ensuring the business requirements of future product versions met our customer’s needs. As a solution specialist early in my CDW career, it was important to understand the customer’s business and technical objectives and align the right Microsoft solution and CDW services to help them realize their desired business outcomes. As a software solutions manager, it is important to ensure the offerings we bring to market will meet our customer’s needs and help support them in making a successful journey to the cloud.
There is something truly satisfying about tackling a problem, implementing a solution and seeing the value realized by your customer at the end. I’m proud to be a member of the STEM community and I hope sharing my experience here – and with the little girls in the SMART Girls club – makes it a little easier for young women to see the possibilities and explore opportunities in the science and technology fields.