You don’t have to wait until you’re a full-fledged working adult to start making your passions come to fruition. Read below for our interview with Terri Burns, where she talks tech, tampons, and making change as a full-time college student.
For readers who may not know, what is [email protected], and why is it awesome?
Terri Burns: [email protected] is New York City’s largest student technology organization. We host events and unite students to ship products, be that a computer program, a cool design, a startup, or anything else. We’re based out of New York University, but our events are open to any student in NYC who’s excited to learn something new. We’re awesome because we’re just a scrappy group of students excited to hang out and learn from one another.
Everything from your career to your speaking to your hobbies shows that you are extremely involved and passionate about building inclusive spaces for people in tech. Tell us more about the work you do and why you think it’s important.
TB: Oh I can talk about this forever. Diversity and inclusion (in tech, and in general) hits home for me because I’m a black woman and have seen firsthand just how destructive exclusivity can be. I just try my best to make sure that I am being inclusive in every aspect of my life, which takes a lot of time and effort.
With [email protected], I’ve stressed to our board members how to consider diversity when recruiting for more candidates and hosting events. I work part-time at Venmo, an awesome mobile payments company, and I did a talk there on ways Venmo can think more about being inclusive. I’ve also spoken on diversity panels and attended conferences that aim to increase diversity. It’s important because everyone can bring something unique to the table, but systemic bias hinders minorities from having opportunities to express that.
Is there something specific that sparked your interest in your field?
TB: I hadn’t written a line of code until after my freshman year of college. I spent a few days at Google’s HQ in Mountain View for a program geared towards non-technical minorities, and Megan Smith (now CTO of the United States) spoke about the power of technology to change people’s perspective of the world. I thought it was cool and I needed to pick a major, so I just decided to do computer science.
What are your hopes for your future and the future of [email protected]?
TB: I want [email protected] to live on for years and years. I want our community to continue growing even more robust, exciting, inclusive, and of course, I want us to always be shipping products!
Can you describe one of your proudest moments as a budding developer or computer science student?
TB: Hm, I don’t know about proudest moment, but I can tell you something fun! This past summer myself and two other women from [email protected] (Dana, who leads Freshman Circuit, and Yelly, who leads Design Days) went to a hackathon at the United Nations.
We ended up making The Periodical, which is a fun infographic that’s meant to “normalize” talking about periods. We didn’t win, but when the three of us went up on stage to present our webpage I was like wow, I’m here at the United Nations talking about periods in a room of mostly men, accompanied by two incredible ladies who I worked with to build this webpage with hilarious animations of bloody tampons and facts about menstruation around the world. It was so fun. And really humbling.
Why is it essential for underrepresented demographics in or entering the tech industry to have a supportive community?
TB: It’s essential because underrepresented demographics are just as valuable as any other demographic. Without a supportive community fair and equal opportunities will continue to be denied to people who could otherwise do really great things for the field of technology. It’s an injustice for everyone.
You regularly reach out via Twitter to connect with people in your industry from around the world. Why is social media a great resource for finding online communities and making meaningful relationships?
TB: Some of the people I look up to the most in this industry are people who I know only through Twitter. Some amazing people I wouldn’t have met were it not for Twitter. The platform has taught me so much about the world, about myself, about technology. I think it’s one of the best ways to quickly and efficiently receive pertinent information while also building communities. And it’s also fun.
Do you have any advice for young girls interested in computer science?
TB: Two things. 1) Give it a shot. It’s okay if you don’t like it, or end up doing something else. But you never know unless you dedicate serious time and effort to trying. And 2) If you do like it, share that with others. You have no idea how many wonderful communities exist for supporting and encouraging women to keep it up, and that’s so empowering.
Cover image courtesy of Jhishan Khan.