GDI Miami’s Inspiration Panel – Women in Tech

A few days ago I recapped Girl Develop It’s first Hackathon in Miami. Today I’m recapping another GDI event from last Friday which took place at Nova Southeastern University for one of two Inspiration Panels. Both panels, one in Miami and the second in Broward, featured a group of women in the technology field to share their insights, experiences and advice.

Disclaimer: It wasn’t my intention to recap the whole event prior to attending, so there may be inconsistent answers below. But fear not – GDI Miami was video recording the panel discussion and I’ll make sure to link to once it’s shared.

Upon arriving for the event there were GDI stickers, Citrix buttons and pamphlets, along with an updated GDI calendar of events and courses.

To kick the event off, Ibis Arrastia, lead of the GDI Miami chapter, shared a presentation on technology and proposed an interesting question to the crowd:

What if you don’t feel like you’re a techie?

Her response? Regardless of what we may think of our tech skills (or lack thereof), the adoption of smartphones in society has in many ways has made each of us techies. She went on to briefly discuss topics like robotics, 3D printing, computer programming, and wearables and how these industries are being used to improve our lives. Being the owner of a Fitbit device, I’m familiar with some advancements in designing activity monitors and wearables to be more fashionable but Ibis shared cuff.io, a smart jewelry concept created with activity monitoring, and safety notifications, which is definitely something I think would be useful.

As she continued, Ibis spoke to those who may think of themselves as being more of an artist and that they shouldn’t dismiss exploring technology. With the advancement of HTML5, web sites have become extremely more interactive, take the Van Gogh Museum web site, for instance.

And if anyone in the audience still wasn’t convinced tech is on the rise, Ibis shared a fun fact: app sales beat out movie ticket sales in 2014.

Before the panel started, a brief presentation by the event’s sponsor, TakeUpCode, was given. If you’re a local in the South Florida area courses are $97 with an option for a discount. To take advantage of the discount, you’ll need to work on the projects in progress by the organization. For more information visit takeupcode.com.

Next up, it was time to meet the panelists which included 5 women with various backgrounds and skill-sets in the technology field.

Girl Develop It Miami & Ft Lauderdale - Inspiration Panel
Pictured L to R: Rita Yanes (moderator), Michelle Leeman, Michelle Reagin, Stephanie Rosenblatt, Patricia Simes, Kitti Lakner

Michelle Leeman – Systems Admin
Michelle Reagin – Identity Access Management Specialist
Stephanie Rosenblatt – Software Engineer
Patricia Simes – Assistant CIO
Kitti Lakner – Senior User Experience Designer

As each member made their introductions, it was interesting to discover 3 out of the 5 women on the panel were self taught. Each shared stories of how they got into their field, in which some were by accident, and what their work history has been up to their current position. For instance, Michelle R., shared her story of gaming in which a guy sitting near her in class was able to score more points due to his knowledge of running commands and so she wanted to learn how to do the same. For Patricia, her goal was to move out of the poor household she grew up in, and as a result, enlisted in the armed forces in which she learned computer science — and would later work on projects for the Pentagon!

As the discussion continued, Rita asked what some of their favorite parts of their jobs are. Samples of answers included:

Michelle R. – Being a mentor.

Stephanie – Bonding moments with colleagues.

Patricia – Advising and working closely with someone who thinks they can’t do something on a project, but manage to prove themselves wrong.

Kitti – She resonated the bonding and helping colleagues sentiment but took it a step further by quoting Madeleine Albright:

There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women

I think regardless of the industry, this can unfortunately be a hurdle and really appreciated Kitti speaking to this point.

When it comes to being a woman in tech, the moderator asked the panelists if there were any advantages/disadvantages they have experienced being a woman in their field. Given many of the recent articles to come out about Silicon Valley’s sexism, I was curious to see if the panelists had possibly experienced any of their own. One panelist mentioned it was an issue she encountered at a previous job and she eventually left as a result. Michelle R. shared her advice which was to find common ground with those you’re working with. It may not seem easy at first, but doing so can go a long way.

Above all, I enjoyed how most of the women didn’t answer the question looking to bash the male-centric industry but rather focused on the strengths they felt women bring to the field, such as collaboration and diplomacy.

Last but not least, the panelists were asked for their advice to women interested in getting into technology.

Michelle L. – Read user groups. Get involved with groups/volunteer.

Michelle R. – When you’re learning, understand what you’re capable of. Have confidence and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Stephanie – There’s always something to learn. Make suggestions on projects. Don’t apologize for your opinion. Network.

Patricia – Know your passion. Be grounded, honest and truthful.

Kitti – When having ownership of a project, don’t take things personal. Don’t always feel the need to be right. Get involved in communities. Stay up to date on trends. Play well with others. Kitti further explained a mentor once told her you never want to lose your place at the table because others don’t want to work with you.

As the floor opened up for questions, a few other pieces of advice were given by the panelists: If you have an interest in learning something, don’t wait for your employer to send you for training. You have to rely on your own initiative.

Before the event came to an end, Kitti/Citrix gave out a few prizes to 5 lucky winners for attending the event.

Although I’ve only been to two GDI events, one of the things I’ve noticed so far is:

1) it’s not always women (in case you’re a guy wondering how strict the “girl” in “Girl Develop It” is) and

2) the ages and backgrounds of those attending are far and wide which I enjoy.

Many thanks to the panelists who took time to share their knowledge with the group and for Girl Develop It in creating events such as these. Although I’m currently enrolled in a Udemy course for web development, attending this event solidified my interest in I’m taking a GDI course, with my first one on PHP and MySQL starting next week.

Why not join me or find another course which interests you?

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