Episode 9 of the Maven Do It Better Podcast features three of the Microsoft Ignite Diversity and Tech Student Ambassadors.
Elizabeth Kiernan of Valencia College @ElizabetKiernan
Pia Nelson of University of Central Florida @PiaNelson7
Rachel Sera of University of Central Florida @RachelSera
Listen in as Heather Newman talks with the student ambassadors about:
Their experiences at Ignite as part of the Diversity and Tech programming
Moments that inspired them while at the event
How they feel diversity and inclusion is addressed at their schools
Heather Newman:Hello everybody, we're here with the Mavens Do It better podcast with some experts on what it's like to be a student reporter at Microsoft Ignite. I'm your host, Heather Newman, and I have got three wonderful folks sitting with me and I'm going to let them introduce themselves and have them tell everybody a little bit about the student ambassador program inside the Diversity and Tech Program at Microsoft Ignite. So who wants to go first?
Elizabeth Kiernan: My name's Elizabeth Kiernan. I'm a student at Valencia College and I'm studying computer science, most interested in software development and mobile app development.
Heather Newman:Awesome. Welcome. And you're going to hear a little noise because we're in the expo hall, but that's all right. So bring it. Come on!
Rachel Sera:My name is Rachel Sera. I am a student at the University of Central Florida. I am a senior majoring in computer science and I was invited to be a student ambassador for the Diversity and Tech track and all of the content so far has been so inspiring. And we've just been having an amazing time here so far at Ignite.
Pia Nelson: Hi, I'm Pia Nelson. I'm also a student at the University of Central Florida. I'm a junior and I'm studying computer engineering and psychology. I want to help make technology that helps people with mental illnesses get through their mental illnesses and potentially eradicate those mental illnesses. So, I'm really glad to be here at the Diversity and Tech conference to learn about what other people are doing with technology so I can like get a feel of what could be in the future. It's been great so far.
Heather Newman:Awesome. Wonderful. Well first of all, thank you and thanks for playing. So, has anybody ever been to a conference this size before?
Elizabeth Kiernan: No.
Pia Nelson: I think this is easily the biggest conference.
Heather Newman:Yeah, or any festival or anything maybe like a music festival or anything like that?
Elizabeth Kiernan: No.
Pia Nelson: Not this big.
Heather Newman:Coachella, right? No? Okay. It's kind of like Coachella for tech people, but yeah. I guess first impressions of just coming into a conference like this?
Elizabeth Kiernan: A little overwhelming but really fun so far because you get to be around people who share the same love and passion for technology as you do. So it's nice to hear their ideas and be able to interact with them.
Heather Newman:Yeah, absolutely. How about you?
Rachel Sera:Yeah, I mean, I agree, overwhelming, because there's so much going on. My first impression though was how well organized everything is for how big it is and everything is just running so smoothly, at least from my side. You know, everyone else I'm sure is working really hard. But yeah, just being surrounded by technologists and it's a unique experience. Just so many great discussions and ideas going around and just being around my fellow tech nerds has been really great.
Heather Newman:That's awesome. I know we're all a bunch of nerds, it's fantastic. How about you?
Pia Nelson: So initially coming into this I wasn't really sure what to expect. And then the first thing that I got hit with was the scale of just how big this venue actually is. So, I was lost for a while coming in and trying to find where I was supposed to be, but I mean, once I found everyone, then it was just like immediately… words, oh my God.
Heather Newman:You got acclimated fairly quickly. Is that right? Or.
Pia Nelson: Yeah. Everything kind of just fell into place.
Heather Newman:Fell into place for you
Elizabeth Kiernan: It's a very welcoming environment.
Heather Newman:Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well that's cool. So, tell us about your job while you're here. What's your job while you're on set?
Elizabeth Kiernan: Jobs are kind of all over the place. We have specific diversity sessions that we have to attend. We've gotten to introduce speakers at their talks and we'll be getting interviewed and interviewing people.
Heather Newman:Everybody is, I know you're all in the Diversity and Tech programming. So, you've been to the lunches?
Heather Newman:Okay, all the lunches. And then pre-day?
Heather Newman:Yup, I did too. I was running in and out. I'm a Microsoft MVP as well, so I was running from MVP to Diversity and back and forth. So, I didn't get to see everything, but luckily, we're recording everything. So anybody that wants to watch later. So let's talk. I like to talk about like nuggets, right? I always feel in this realm of diversity and inclusion that, you know, there's at a technology conference, first of all, you're drinking from the firehose. Even on the diversity and inclusion side, there's so much that you're trying to take in. And to me, I feel that if, I was talking to a friend of mine today, after the lunch, he came in and I'd met with a bunch of friends this morning and had some space to hold space with them, like friends I hadn't seen in a long time and we got to talk about life and it was kind of like we got to. We got really excited and then we cried a little bit. I was like, "I haven't seen you forever!" It was like one of those wonderful things about like eight, 17, 18 years in this community. Right? And it's just such a strong community that I have friends over decades. So you will have friends that you walk away with from this week that you will know in 10 years,
Elizabeth Kiernan: Wow!
Pia Nelson: Looking forward to it.
Heather Newman:You will. Because now, we're all welcoming each other in, we're going to be friends. So I get to watch your careers, which I'm totally excited about. Isn't that amazing? Right. So, it was kind of one of those moments where I was like, okay, you know, holding space for each other. And with the diversity, inclusion, intersectionality and belonging, I feel like if somebody walks away with a nugget or they feel happy or they learn one thing coming out of it because you're like, "Oh my God! There's so much!' Do you have a nugget? I mean, you know I'm going to ask you about what your nugget is, or at least a couple of them are things that you were like, that was on point, you know, anything come to mind?
Pia Nelson: So today we talked a little bit about the imposter syndrome. I feel like a lot of people can relate to that feeling. Like you don't belong because everybody around you is like, on the outside, they seem to have their stuff together so well. So, I'm really glad that people are talking about that because I feel like it's something that a lot of people can relate to and it's not something that people are like actively, like going out of their way to talk about. No one's going around being like, "Wow, I do not belong in this room", or maybe they are and I'm just not hearing it.
Heather Newman:Well everybody raised their hand in the room almost, right?
Heather Newman:I mean, you know, I just told you a story about being a theater major, right? So, I didn't realize for a while when I was talking about myself, I would say, "Well yeah, I'm JUST a theater major", right? And I use my learning about empathy, walking in somebody else's shoes, every day. And if you're a decent actor, that means you can sell stuff and you can market to people, which is kind of what we're doing here. Right? We're selling software at the end of the day, right? So, like I didn't even realize that that was my language about how I felt about my degree, which I'm really proud of. So we all do it, you know. How about you? What's your nugget?
Rachel Sera:So, one thing that I found was really inspiring today at the session that Dona Sarkar lead. She said something that really, well she said a lot of things that resonated with me, but one of them was someone asked, how do we build our brand, how do we do that next, like do all the things that we want to do. And so that's one thing for me, I tend to maybe over analyze or over prepare for things and she said you figure out what you want to do for this year, just one year. It doesn't have to be everything you want to do forever for the rest of your life and all the things just pick what you want to work on for right now. And that's so much more manageable. And I think that's just really great advice. You pick a scale, learn it, do it.
Heather Newman:Absolutely. I love that. And it's about knowing your stuff, you know, like it's on each one of us I think to, you know, when you do a presentation, when you're doing your job, you know, like people are like, oh, I don't know, the imposter syndrome. And it's like, well, you know what, at the end of the day it's all of our responsibility and choice to really know what we're doing. You know, you all are going to school because you want to know more about computer engineering and computer science. And so I feel like that is absolutely true. You know, and with YouTube or LinkedIn learning or you know, you can pretty much learn how to do anything on the Internet these days. You know what I mean? It's usually about two minutes, you know, and maybe not master it, but you can definitely get there. So I love that. What she said. How about you?
Elizabeth Kiernan: I also enjoyed hearing people talk more about imposter syndrome because it's not, I feel like, as Pia said, it's something that a lot of people relate to, but it's not something that people want to openly say, and say like, "Oh, I don't feel like I belong here because this person's done this and this person's done this and what have I done?" But really we've seen that everyone feels that way, just a little bit. So it's nice to hear a discussion about that.
Heather Newman:Absolutely. So do you all have a voice in your head?
Heather Newman:Is that voice in your head super nice?
Pia Nelson: Not all the time, no.
Rachel Sera:Not all the time.
Heather Newman:No, I'm not going to swear on this, but I am from the Midwest, I sometimes have a sailor mouth, that voice is a (implied expletive), you know? I think that the imposter syndrome is deeply connected to that inner voice and that inner voice is deeply connected to fear and the lizard brain which has been around for 2 million years, which is that fight or flight, right? We don't have to run from saber tooth tigers anymore, but when I sit here, and I am with you, amazing lovelies I, you know. Maybe it's that I'm like, Gosh, do they think I'm fake? Why does she want to interview me and what's going on with her and does she have some wrinkles because she's in her 40s and ba-ba-ba-ba-ba. I don't know, but you know what I mean? I'm running a dialogue that is not really actually going on in my head. But the thing is you know, we do those things to ourselves, right? And it's all based on sort of weird brain chemistry and psychology that is inside of us. So, I kind of feel like if we can actually talk about these things, like you're saying, and we can say yes, imposter syndrome is real, lizard brain is real, the fear is real, that inner voice in everybody's head sucks, you know, then maybe we can start to get past that. So, do you do any sort of diversity stuff in school? I mean, and I don't mean to say stuff that way, but do you feel that that's part of your college? Is it just there? What's going on there for all of you?
Pia Nelson: I mean, there are clubs that you can join that are separated into different categories. I'm a member of NSBE which is the National Society for Black Engineers, so I can connect to that group of people because I am black and an engineering major. But there's nothing that I know of that's like specifically for diversity, like in general to like embrace diversity. I mean I guess specific clubs do, like embrace certain aspects of people. But I don't know of anything that embraces everyone as a whole.
Heather Newman:All the myriad of things that we might happen to the be, right?
Rachel Sera:Yeah. Like they were, during the pre-day, talking about the employee resource groups and how there are usually lots of those. But again, there isn't necessarily maybe what about if you are in a couple of groups or whatever? What do you do with that? As far as with our school? It's there if you look for it, but we're a huge, a huge school. And so, it's not necessarily there for everyone, but if you look for it, it's there. I'm President and co-founder of our ACMW chapter, so we're a women in computing chapter and so we definitely have a very strong diversity focus with that. I volunteer and teach Python to high school students and a lot of those students are students who wouldn't otherwise have such an opportunity. So I try and give back as much as I can like that. It's there if you look for it, and one of my goals is to try and get the knowledge out there more, get people to know, “Hey, there are these things. Maybe you should check them out?”
Heather Newman:Yeah, that's awesome. How about you?
Elizabeth Kiernan: My school is much, much smaller than UCF. We don't have, nothing comes to mind that focuses really on diversity. There are a few specific clubs that you can join if you do fall into various category. But there isn't really a lot at my school.
Heather Newman:Do you feel like encouraged? I also feel like with your generation, kind of in the political climate or the cultural climate we're in right now. We're in an interesting time. We're in, I think there's always been a revolution going on. It's just depending on if you're paying attention or not and I think things are coming up to the forefront with Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement and Women's March and lots of things that are going on. We're seeing much work of hundreds of years of work standing on the shoulders of giants, you know, coming up. And uncovering history isn't all that and that kind of stuff for women, women of color and religions and all of that stuff, which is lovely. I don't know. Do you, how do you feel about diversity sort of in your classes and sort of with your teachers and all of that stuff? Are you like, I'm encouraged to be here. I'm not encouraged to be here, or you know? I’m not asking you to like, your schools are all awesome and all of that stuff. But you know what I mean, like real talk.
Elizabeth Kiernan: I have felt very encouraged in my environment since it's smaller. They're smaller class sizes and to be honest, I don't think I've had a bad professor. Even if it's not in the computer science field, everyone's been super encouraging and it's been really nice. Unfortunately I don't see very many other girls in my programming classes, but hopefully that'll change soon.
Heather Newman:Sure. Well there's always a pioneer. There you go. Right on. How about you two going to the same school?
Pia Nelson: Yeah. I agree with the fact that you don't see a lot of girls, in coding classes especially. Right now I really do only know probably five girls that I've met outside of a ACMW. ACMW is a community for girls who code. It's really helpful to meet other girls because you don't see them in your classes. They're not there. Our classes are like few and far apart, in terms of time and when they are in. So, they are primarily male, very heavily male dominated and that's kind of intimidating sometimes. But I do feel motivated by that because if there are no girls then I mean it's because there aren't girls that are seeing that hey, they can do this. So, I mean, being able to be one of the people that they can possibly look up to one day. That's motivating.
Heather Newman:Yeah. Yeah. That's one moment where they say, "Hey, that person is there. Maybe I can do that too. Oh, maybe I should consider that." You know, maybe I am a communications major that really has the desire to be a computer science major, but just didn't do it. What do you think?
Rachel Sera:That's part of the reason why we founded ACMW is because you might have a few girls in your class, but maybe you're sitting on the left side of the room and they're sitting on the right side of the room. We're in these huge lecture halls and you never crossed paths. I mean, because there were a few in the classes but you may or may not interact and, so we did that to kind of be, hey, here's one space, here's where we're meeting this week and, you know, meet other women and share those experiences. As far as feeling included and well, I really do for the most part. I actually didn't start off as a computer science major I started as a physics major. And at our school, all engineering and STEM majors have to take at least a few coding classes, computer science classes and so I took my first coding class and I just fell in love with the problem solving. And actually my professor at the time was a woman. She was actually a woman of color. I don't know if that subconsciously was inspiring you know, seeing a woman or not, but she was also just a great professor. I learned a lot from her. And so, I started thinking I wanted to switch and then I took the next computing class and then that, I met another professor who runs the high school program that I volunteer with. He teaches to high school students and so I met him, and I thought this is just such a great thing that this person is doing something that I want to help out with and I just saw this really great sense of community being built by people at the school. And from there then I just started building community and more.
Heather Newman:That's awesome. So, I just realized that I was like, oh, I have to go to a meetup for Diversity and Tech. So I should probably go do that and wrap this up with you ladies. So first of all, again, thank you so much. Will you say your names again?
Elizabeth Kiernan: I'm Elisabeth Kiernan, Valencia College.
Heather Newman:How do we find you on twitter?
Elizabeth Kiernan: Elizabet Kiernan, the H in my name was too much. So it's my name without the H. And then Kiernan, my last name.
Heather Newman:Okay. What about you?
Rachel Sera:I'm Rachel Sera. It's Rachel R-a-c-h-a-e-l, Sera S-e-r-a, just my name is my handle.
Heather Newman:Right on.
Pia Nelson: And I'm Pia Nelson and mine is PiaNelson7 P-i-a-n-e-l-s-o-n 7.
Heather Newman:Right on. Okay. Well, so great. Thank you so much. So y'all, that was your Mavens Do It Better experts podcast here with Heather Newman. Have a lovely day. We did it!
Elizabeth Kiernan: Wow!
Rachel Sera:It was really fun.