The Lesson He Left Me
Growing up, all I associated with computer science was hackers in movies that were trying to take down the world and lonely white guys who created billion dollar companies in their basements. In eighth grade I acquired a more comprehensive understanding of what computer science is. The ability to turn any idea you have into tangible product with a few lines of code.
Although I only started in CS by programming an Angry Bird to move in different directions, I fell in love with how effortless it was and how much fun I was having. So much so, that I barely noticed I was one of three girls in my eighth grade app design class and the only person of color. At the time, I don’t think I understood the societal aspects that factored into the meager number of minorities in STEM classes, and frankly I was having too much fun to even notice. In that way, ignorance was bliss.
Eventually, my bubble of computer science flavored bliss popped upon my entrance into my fantastically blue ribbon high school. After a coding filled summer of learning java and programming prosthetics I was ecstatic to join my high school community which, “strives to meet the social, emotional, academic, and special interest needs of each student… through providing a supportive and safe school atmosphere which is built on mutual respect, understanding, and compassion,” with my new skills.
I was immediately deterred from taking any AP Computer Science courses. There was always in excuse, I was either not in a high enough math course or ill prepared for a high level class. Yet no one ever asked me about my extensive coding abilities. I knew that taking an AP STEM course would be difficult, but I didn’t know that I would be banned completely. So I gave up. I gave up because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I gave up because I was intimidated by how few younger girls, or girls at all, were enrolled. I gave up because I thought I wouldn’t fit in and I wasn’t smart enough. I lost sight in my computer science dream for an two entire academic years because my environment taught me that I wasn’t enough.
This train of crippling self doubt quickly terminated at the end of sophomore year. I must have been surfing the internet or reading Teen Vogue when I came across it, Karlie Kloss started her own coding camp Kode With Klossy. I was familiar with Kloss from her career as a supermodel; she was taking over the modeling world with her striking looks and incredible stature. But now her empire had a entirely new meaning. She represented everything that being a woman in computer science could be for me. I could be pretty and stylish, but also intelligent, well spoken, unapologetically myself, and deserve to be taken seriously.
After that realization I really put the work in. I tested out of Algebra II and started on my school’s calculus track at 15 years old, because if I couldn’t enter the CS department on my own coding merit I would exceed the mathematics expectations.
At the completion of my pre-calculus course I marched into the AP Computer Science teacher’s room with my math schedule and coding certificate in hand, and asked to be placed in his next year’s class. When I finally popped the question, he laughed at me. Belly laughed. I felt so embarrassed I could’ve balled right in that moment, if I wasn’t already in front of a man who so obviously didn’t take me seriously. I didn’t move and I didn’t stand down. I wasn’t taking no for an answer again. I explained how he couldn’t turn me away considering my math placement and coding experience and eventually he obliged.
As a black woman in the United States an inevitable American experience is discrimination. Black men in America share a similar fate. We are constantly told ‘no’, we are deterred from even trying, we sometimes don’t even have the resources to start. Then we are faced with a choice. We can give up, fight back, or fight on. When I reflect on the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson time and time again he chose the high road. He did the work, and paved a path for those behind him. He could have slandered those who didn’t believe in him or given up all together but he chose to persevere. And from here on out I have one thing in mind: fight on, fight on, fight on.