“Is it working?” It sounded as though Minnie Mouse was talking, but I could see clearly that the person across from me was my mother, not an over-sized rodent in polka dots. The phrase was not as dramatic as Alexander Graham Bell’s, “Mr. Watson—come in here,” but for me, it was just as momentous. I was thirteen. As my cochlear implant was activated, those three words were the first I had ever heard clearly. I had just entered high school and this was the crossroads in my journey towards independence in the world and a critical impetus toward pursuing a career in a STEM field.
My cochlear implant coupled with sound field technology were key components in my achievements in mainstream schools. This was particularly important because my academic interests naturally gravitated to science and math. My local high school was known for its strengths in those disciplines and offered AP classes both in calculus and computer science that I was able to take advantage of. For me personally, my implant demonstrated the power of technology to create access to sound, accessibility to educational opportunities, and the prospect of a fulfilling career. During high school, I took the most challenging classes available, participating in math and computer science honor societies, and looked forward to a career in technology.
Attending college at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) served to further define my interests in web and mobile app development. The summer after my freshman year, I attended the AccessComputing Summer Academy for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at the University of Washington and took a course in programming for web development. The experience led me to choose a major in information technology with a concentration in web and mobile app development. My work in my major ultimately prepared me for a summer internship at Bank of America/ Merrill Lynch. I was excited to return to Bank of America as a technical analyst in the Global Markets group following graduation. I hope to continue to pursue my interests in developing technologies that promote accessibility.
How did you get interested in computing?
I didn’t know much about computers until I attended the Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing at the University of Washington in 2008. The Summer Academy taught me a lot about the computing world, and I started to understand how dynamic it is. I also learned that programming computers requires patience, teamwork, and thinking outside of the box. For example, during the program we separated into teams to create a computer animation. However, we only had access to lab computers, not a server farm, so we had to work during the day and leave the computers to render the animations overnight. We learned how to divide the work between the team members so that we all enjoyed our jobs and worked to our strengths.
What can I do while I’m in high school if I want to pursue a career in computing?
If you’re in high school and thinking about a career in computing, push yourself to learn about computing, whether it’s computing-related news, a programming language, computer hardware, or a new algorithm. I also recommend participating in the computing community—build your network, meet people in computing, be proactive, and contribute. There are so many ways you can participate in the computing community—you can contribute to open source software like FireFox, find a programming community that proposes challenges like TopCoder, experiment with the Arduino platform, learn about web design, or work with a local non-profit organization on a small project.
Why should I study computing?
Computing is a fun and challenging field, and it makes life easier for us all: it allows us to communicate faster, do repetitive tasks for us, save lives, and so many other things as well. I love having challenges thrown at me, and computing is full of puzzles that need to be solved.
Computing isn’t always the most diverse environment. You might look around and notice that there aren’t many women, deaf individuals, or other people with disabilities. This doesn’t mean that computer science isn’t for you. Having greater diversity among computer scientists means that there are more perspectives brought to the table and better products are developed. Greater diversity in the computing workforce leads to better understanding and insight into how real-world problems can be solved. The computing world is still maturing and amazing opportunities are waiting for you out there.