In their most recent virtual Coffee Chat, LiveVox’s Women in Tech Co-Chairs Victoria Edwards and Dawn Fletcher explored the mindset and motivations of the upcoming generation of tech professionals. Students Missy Bridgwater, University of California, Los Angeles, and Reagan Meek, University of Southern California, described their journey into computer science as being driven by their love of math and physics, but also sparked by curiosity to learn more about how they could use technology to benefit others.
The undergraduates were also keen to learn from our WIT veterans how experienced women in tech have managed to remain motivated and committed to their career paths within a male-dominated field.
Their conversation gives us an inspiring look into the future of women in tech. Here are a few highlights:
Harnessing technology for the greater good
Q. Missy and Reagan, why pursue a career in technology? How did you get interested?
Missy: Something that always drew me to tech was my interest in math. I also wanted to learn how to apply math to the real world and use it to benefit others. Making a positive difference has always been important to me. Then I discovered the power of computer science, and I was hooked. Behind a single screen, there are so many opportunities for creating meaningful projects with machine learning — and infinite possibilities for doing good.
Reagan: I’ve always enjoyed math and physics, and learning the “why” of everything. When I got to college and saw all the majors where you could have a positive impact on the world and learn about what is fast-paced and innovative, I was intrigued. That’s when I started coding and I really liked it. It’s extremely inquisitive and allows me to learn something new every day. It’s definitely not easy. I’ve had to retrain my brain to think like a computer instead of a human, but I find it both interesting and fun. It definitely keeps me on my toes!
Tech has always been a rapidly growing and constantly changing field, so pursuing a career in technology can provide many opportunities for learning and growth, as well as the potential to make meaningful contributions to society.
Emerging trends are driving groundbreaking change
Q. What new trends have you noticed in the tech world that are driving innovation?
Reagan: I’m majoring in computer science and minoring in blockchain, which is only offered at USC. It’s a new concept with cryptocurrency, basically a systems engineering approach on a decentralized basis. I’m learning about the applications for it with NFTs and cryptocurrency, plus looking at how it can be used for government and hospital applications. There’s also this AI platform that you can ask anything, and it knows how to answer really intense, hard problems. It’s been so inspiring to see all the change and innovation around us. What we’re studying now will have a lasting impact on our lives. We’ll graduate with skills that we can take forward, and do anything from this point on.
Missy: I’m part of a research lab that is using machine learning to reduce health disparities within chronic kidney disease and patient care. It’s been fascinating to learn how we can apply ML to inform doctors’ decisions and how they treat patients from different areas with different backgrounds. And so, while I’ve seen all this work being done, I’ve realized that what needs to change in our world is not the software, as it is working in many cases, but rather the politics around it. As a society, we need to be more willing to find ways to integrate AI into our world to help others. There are a lot of AIs that can be frightening, but there are also many that go toward helping people in healthcare and other amazing work. Seeing this has been absolutely mind-blowing to me.
During their studies, computer science students are exposed to a wide range of leading-edge technologies that are driving change, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data.
STEM education unlocks limitless opportunities
Q. What opportunities will a background in computer science create for your future?
Reagan: Anything. What’s really valuable about our degree is that it’s technical and it’s really teaching us how to think differently. All in all, that’s what it is. We’re learning how to think and solve problems every day. Every day is an opportunity to solve something new. And so when people ask us what do we want to do, being a Computer Science major is kind of like that: anything. Do we want to go into a more technical role? Do we want to go into product or project management where we can manage people? And I think what’s so interesting is the more we learn about computer science and software engineering, the easier it is to relate it to real-world scenarios. That’s so valuable nowadays — the ability to translate from code into real-world applications. We can present a piece of code to a board of directors and show them how it can be used for good. That’s how we can change the bias against artificial intelligence or machine learning; more people being able to translate code into a language everyone can understand. The more technically savvy people out there, the more awareness we can help spread. That’s where I want my technical background to take me – being able to solve problems faster.
Missy: Absolutely. I really relate to Reagan in not knowing exactly where I want to go. Our generation is starting to look at colleges and say, ‘we don’t know what we want when we’re 18 years old.’ We no longer have the idea of ‘go to college, stay in one job your whole life and maybe just stay with one company forever.’ People want to do new and different exciting things. They want the flexibility to change fields when they’re unsure. So, when I went into college undeclared within engineering, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had never coded in my life, but then I realized that not only did I enjoy coding but it also gave me the most options. It’s similar to business. Business is something you learn once you’re in the field.
I want to come out of school with a skill, I wanted my hundred-thousand dollars going toward school to give me something tangible. I could go into business, law school, or medical school after coding. I want to leave the most options open, give myself a stable income after college but also do something I really enjoy that has flexibility. I could live anywhere in the world and work remotely. These are just things I wanted to start considering. Not just that I love the job, but also have work-life balance so I’ll be happy while I have the job.
Computer science offers a tremendous diversity of career paths. Technology is constantly changing and evolving, which allows postgrads the flexibility to explore a wide variety of career options without being confined to one particular path for life.
Overcoming challenges: Finding mentorship and championing women in tech
Q. Dawn and Vicky, despite the struggles and obstacles for women in tech, what motivated you to continue pursuing your career?
Dawn: I think that even if you take technology out of the mix, it has always been challenging for a woman in a business world. We’ve made great progress over the past 20-30 years, but when it comes to technology there is still a gender gap. A lot of women don’t know what courses to take or which schools to go to. Women are still not taught in high school what the next step in your life could be. It’s where are you going to college, who are you going to marry, when are you going to have kids. So how did we overcome this? We really haven’t yet.
Vicky: You are only responsible for you and how you respond to things. I always preach this: Find a mentor. Have a mentor and create a plan with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman. I have had male mentors most of my life, occasionally a woman mentor. For me, having a male mentor helps me to understand their line of thought, which is different from mine. I don’t want someone who thinks like me; I need someone to think differently and to challenge me. I’m also extremely competitive. So if I think someone’s making more money than me, I’m going to work hard to make that happen. I do what I can to change that gender gap. And then I’m going to support all the women around me. I’m going to champion other women, be their mentor, recruit, retain, and support women.
Despite the difficulties and roadblocks previous generations of women in tech faced, many were motivated to keep pushing forward because they knew that their impact on the industry would be significant. With the right support system, anything is possible.
View LiveVox’s Women in Tech Coffee Chat on our YouTube channel.