Breaking down barriers for women in tech

February 13, 2018

Naomi See is committed to helping and supporting women in tech, mainly because of all the messages she got along the way saying tech was a path she couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue.

Naomi is a software analyst at West Corporation, where she has worked on everything from interactive voice recording software to automating internal processes and building mobile apps.

She is one of three organizers of this Saturday’s Django Girls workshop at Agape Red, along with Anna Ossowski and Sandi Barr. Naomi is also involved with Project 18, a movement to make Omaha the most tech-friendly city for women in the country.

Naomi says it is important to talk about the various barriers women in tech face. She says she began running into them at an early age.

“I was really interested in tech. I used to take computers apart, I would break OS systems on a regular basis, to figure things out and try to understand,” she remembers. “When I was young, I got told a lot that I shouldn’t. Any kind of interest I showed [in tech], I was just kind of shuffled on to something else,” she says.

She remembers a turning point, working at a job where she says her employers were condescending.

“I don’t want my intelligence challenged by these executives who don’t even know who I am,” she remembers thinking. “So I was like, I need to get to school.”


A tough place to break into tech

Naomi went on to get Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, and took the Java Specialization course at Interface Web School.

Despite her educational experience, she says Omaha was and still can be a tough place to break into tech. She says employers here tend to be less open to candidates without computer science degrees and multiple years of experience.

“It’s hard to get in that funnel if you are not going the traditional path,” she says. “It’s difficult when you meet people who have gone through a more traditional path and have their own career, they certainly have had their own struggles. But they don’t necessarily understand the struggle of literally not thinking you can do it, and then making the struggle to do it mid-life. It’s a different story to tell. I want to tell that story, and I want to help women to do that.”

Now, Naomi feels driven to share her experiences with people who want to shift gears. She says connecting with others in the tech community is crucial.

“Jump into the community as quick as you can. Find people who are willing to help you and latch on to them. It’s good to have people in the community who have been there, done that, who can not necessarily say ‘no, no, no,’ but can kind of guide you,” she says.

Naomi hopes the Django Girls workshop gives participants a taste of the power and creativity that comes with learning to code.

“I hope their interests are piqued and I hope they continue. The program has some additional learning steps after the class,” she says.

Related links: Project 18 Omaha | Django Girls Omaha | Tech Omaha

She is excited about the momentum of Project 18.

“What made me get involved in Project 18 is that I went to the second meeting and there were 50-plus people there. 50-plus people willing to do something. And that was huge for me,” she says.

Her goal is to have honest conversations about the hurdles women in tech face. She says when women approach her about getting into the field, her first question is, why?

“I also want to be very honest with them, this is going to be hard. This is going to take a lot of commitment, you are going to have to make sacrifices,” she says. “You have to go into it with a plan.”

But with enough hard work, she says a career can go any number of directions.

“You don’t necessarily have to work for a corporation. If you are motivated enough and you have the ability and the time, you can do your own thing,” she says.

Naomi says it’s all about helping people get to know and connect with each other, and build each other up.

“The stories of what women are experiencing haven’t been said enough. People have been shamed into thinking they can’t or shouldn’t share their stories,” she says. “I feel like that is a lot of what I experience in the Midwest, is a lot of ‘Nebraska Nice’ — don’t say anything negative. And it’s not necessarily negative, it’s the truth.The truth needs to be said in order for change to occur.”