In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to share some of my journey as a black woman becoming a software engineer. I’ll also tell you about triple threat Meredith Gourdine, whose story I found while researching bootcamps and preparing to take a risk and follow my passion for technology.
Back when I was considering joining App Academy, Meredith’s path reminded me that I didn’t have to settle for just one passion.
When we are children, we’re often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This seemingly innocent question carried a lot of weight for me as a young, black girl. I knew from experience that there were right and wrong answers; I knew that when I said I wanted to be an author, a chef, or a software engineer – my real passions – I’d be talked out of it, encouraged to strive for something else instead. I also knew if I said I wanted to be a WNBA player, it’d make a big smile appear across the questioner’s face, they’d pat my shoulder, and say “it’s possible if you work hard enough.”
That positive reaction to my WNBA dream is probably why I prioritized sports over academics as I went through my adolescence. I was a three-sport athlete throughout high school with a dedication to basketball. My focus on sports was also fueled by the perpetual idea that ‘sports are the only way out of the hood.’
When I went to college and realized the WNBA was too big of a dream for me, I fell back on the other professions people pushed onto me. I majored in Education so that I could become an English teacher like my grandparents encouraged me to be.
Luckily, I was honest with myself and daring enough to drop Education altogether and become a full time Creative Writing major. I chose my passion, ignored the naysayers for once, and come graduation day, I had established myself as a poet with 9 publications.
Side note: I still write poetry and intend to publish a book someday.
Something my mom said the day I graduated college was, “I always thought you should be a software engineer, you’re so good with computers.” Great… Thanks for telling me that now, Mom! I was frustrated because I felt she should have told me something like that when I started college, not when I finished – it was obviously too late to do anything about it now.
Fast forward 3 years, I’ve been at Lowe’s Home Improvement for 2 of those years. I’ve been promoted to managing the new in-store pick up department, I’ve become the point person for the integration of a new IBM software used for managing online orders, and I’m not using my Creative Writing degree at all. I’ve successfully taught the entire store how to use this software on a minimum wage.
What is my life?
With that question, my mom’s words ring clear in my head: “I always thought you’d be a software engineer…”
Wait, why can’t I be?
My best friend from high school got a degree in Biology then went to a coding bootcamp and is now a full time SWE.
Can’t I do that, too?
Thus, I began the aforementioned research on bootcamps and App Academy. I looked up prominent black software engineers because representation is very important to me, and I wanted to read about other black engineers so I could feel like this was a viable path for me. While researching, I found Meredith.
Meredith Gourdine, also known as ‘Flash,’ is a great example of someone who didn’t settle for just one of his passions. Gourdine was an American athlete, engineer, and physicist. He won a silver medal for Track & Field in the 1952 Summer Olympics, received a bachelor and a doctorate in Engineering, and went on to found several engineering companies.
When I was reading about Gourdine, I realized that the age-old question of what I want to be didn’t have to be one or the other. I didn’t have to choose being a poet versus being a SWE: I could be both!
Meredith Gourdine found success in both his passions, and so will I.
Jay Higgs is a Career Coach at App Academy — and an alumni of the program! You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram.