A few months ago on Facebook, we shared an article about A Florida Computer Science Major and a BBC trending topic: Feminist Hacker Barbie in an effort to start a discussion about women in technology (and the sexism that often accompanies it). The subject, is, of course, nothing new, but has been getting more attention in recent months. We (not IT Freedom specifically, but everyone) have seen it in preschool age girls who are often praised more for their wardrobe than their aptitude for math, and we’ve seen it in women in the tech industry (though, very proud to say it, never at IT Freedom) whose credibility is questioned based on their gender alone. It’s something we take seriously and we wanted to continue the conversation, so we sat down with Raven Wiggins--IT Freedom’s talented, badass, and incredibly patient Helpdesk Technician--to get her perspective and personal experience on the topic. What Raven shared with us gave us some optimism and it’ll hopefully do the same for you. We also just wanted to give the world a little insight into Raven’s work. Read our whole conversation below:
What does a typical day look like for you?
I arrive in the office and join the phone queue by 8 am which is when we go live. I like to go through the tickets in my queue and check in with clients who have not responded to me in a few days. Throughout the day, I get calls as they come in and will grab tickets out of the general email queue when I am able to. We do the majority of our support remotely, but if an onsite visit is necessary, we check in with all of the other technicians and see who is the most available and make sure there is plenty of coverage for the phones before heading out. The issues we deal with can range from simple password resets, to computers not functioning properly, to entire networks going down. Every Friday, we have a lunch meeting where we get a sort of “state-of-the-union address,” each week covering a different department. The service staff also has little seminars about how certain client's networks are set up, current ongoing issues with any clients, or about how various internal systems work. Both meetings are great for keeping everyone on the same page and helping us have the best and latest information for resolving issues.
What other tech positions have you held throughout your life? How did you get into the tech industry?
My first job involving any tech was as a bank teller. While that position did not strictly involve tech use, I did implement a system using excel to predict how much cash we would take in and out so I could adjust the cash shipments I would send to more accurately hit vault balance goals.
This led to a job with the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). I started out as just an administrative assistant, processing paperwork and entering data into a database, but once they figured out I was handy with computers, I was given more tasks. My main responsibility was designing and maintaining an access database used by the whole department, which replaced the one that existed when I first started. I was also unofficial IT for the third floor, helping many users with little issues that didn't require any sort of administrative access. I really loved my job there and the people I worked with, but being young, I really had to think about where my career was going, and I felt the job I was doing could easily be automated within several years. People had long suggested to me that I work in tech support, and I was finally ready to pursue it as an actual career. I liked the security of that field, knowing that no matter how technology advances in the future, someone will always be needed to fix the machines. At first, I was intimidated, since I knew I had no formal training, but then I found the listing for an entry level help desk position with IT Freedom. It worked out even better than I had hoped.
Were you interested in technology as a kid? If so, how was your interest viewed by your peers, family, teachers, etc.?
Not just technology, but all the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. My maternal grandfather was a computer engineer going back to the 1950s. He never really got my mom or her siblings into computers, but when I was born, he decided it was finally time. Grandpa first set me up on an old DOS computer at the age of 3. He had a directory set up with educational games installed for me, and all I had to do was type my name and select the number of the game I wanted to play. It was because of him I could type my name before I could write it. We were among the first people I knew who had access to the Internet pre-AOL, and he quickly instructed me in how to use it. I would also take apart old electronics whenever I could find them -- though I never did put them back together.
Architecture has also been a big hobby of mine since a surprisingly young age. My paternal grandfather is a structural engineer and would pore over floor plans with me and take me around to interesting sites he was working on. He and my grandmother always indulged my endless love of museums, taking me every time I visited them in Houston. In middle school, I did a "Women in Engineering" day camp at UT which my Mom had discovered. I also had a cousin of my Mom's who lived with us briefly who was a true scientist and jack-of-all-trades. He held positions in mathematics, astronomy, archeology, aerodynamics, and other fields I’m forgetting. He would give me fossils, show me stars through a telescope, give me sci-fi books, and teach me about anything I had the slightest interest in. In early high school, I was given my own computer by my Dad and Grandparents. Pretty much every person in my family has had some involvement in encouraging my interest in all sciences and technologies.
What is your reaction to this recent controversy with Computer Engineer Barbie?
I'd like to believe that it was just a ridiculous amount of oversight versus something more unethical, but the author's comments about bowing to Mattel's ideals were disheartening. It's very hard to believe in this day and age that not a single person involved in the development process thought to maybe mention how it could possibly be misconstrued. Just indefensible all around by Mattel.
How do you feel that our culture responds to young girls who are interested in technology?
I know that my viewpoint is skewed since I have had an incredibly supportive network growing up. I feel that good strides are being made with my generation to get women involved in STEM careers. While the numbers of women in these careers is still rather low, I like to believe it just is going to increase with the next generations. I'd also like to believe that sexism is just not a thing with my generation, but all the controversy involving gamergate shows that the area is still a very sensitive topic.
How do you feel all of this should change?
The idealist in me really wants to believe that doing your best and ignoring the small minds and pushing for what you believe you have earned will overcome the adversity. The pessimist in me says it will be a while, and women will still get a raw deal in certain environments for some time to come, but just persevering HAS to lead somewhere eventually. Overall though, as long as women keep pushing at it, and everyone reinforces how gender has no correlation with performance other than offering a different useful perspective, I think we are on the right track. I also love the strides that we are making in changing up the structure of traditional educational environments. Manor New Tech High School is at the forefront nationally in changing how not just girls, but all children are being educated by fully embracing all that technology has to offer in ways that more naturally aligns with how kids learn.
How has your experience been, in your words, being the “lone girl doing actual support” at IT Freedom? Do customers treat you any differently than your male coworkers?
Shortly after I started, I jokingly put up a chart on my whiteboard tracking different stats of interest. I often get comments about my name, so most of the fields cover that subject. There is, however, a "surprised-to-get-a-girl" category. I have faithfully marked each field each time they come up since I started here just over a year ago, and "surprised" still only stands at 3. If I remember correctly, it has all been women who have commented in a sort of pleasantly surprise tone. The only time it is brought up with clients really is when they are trying to remember which tech they were talking to last; being the "lone girl" helps a lot in that sense. I honestly forget that I am the only women at this end of the building (the support end) much of the time, though it does give me lots of great joke opportunities. Again, I know not every woman has this experience, but I have been very fortunate here that it just isn't a thing. Also important to note is that Carla (IT Freedom's director of finance) has an engineering degree and has worked in the aerospace field previously. So while I may be the only woman in the service department, there is a woman in leadership here who has helped develop our great environment since the beginning.