Thought Leadership: Millennial Women on the Mainframe

By Jenna-Shae Harris, mainframe systems engineer II at First Citizens Bank, and Ashley Jones, associate software developer at Delta Airlines

Jenna-Shae Harris (pictured top right), mainframe systems engineer II at First Citizens Bank, and Ashley Jones (pictured lower right), associate software developer at Delta Airlines, are part of the incoming generation of women in IT. Hear from them on their experiences so far, and how to attract more women to information technology.

How did you get involved in technology?

Ashley Jones: My career in technology started a year and a half ago when I realized that the industry was in need of people who can think critically and love to problem solve. I had taken a few courses in college that led to my interest in technology, but it was not until I was given the opportunity to learn mainframe coding that I actually saw myself building a career in this field. In training I received my first project in which I had to use my critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to solve the puzzle, and it was this project that led me to the conclusion that I wanted to start my career in technology.

Jenna-Shae Harris: From my early years, I’ve always been deeply interested in technology. My sophomore year in college I enrolled in my first programming course, which sparked my interest in programming. During my second semester, I enrolled in my first mainframe course. After taking both courses, I then had the opportunity of accepting my first IT internship, which gave me a totally new perspective of the importance of IT in businesses. After my summer internship, the interest in technology grew more profound and passionate with every new encounter. 

Why do you think women are underrepresented in technology?

AJ: Women being underrepresented in technology in my opinion is because many women are not exposed to STEM from an early age. I remember growing up and loving to go outside and catch lightning bugs, for example, which sparked my interest in STEM subjects when I reached school. Many women are intimidated by the curriculum, not only because it is known to be hard, but also because they have lacked the exposure to it. Women should be able to be successful in STEM just like men and also have leadership figures to look up to in various STEM fields.

JSH: I believe technology is interpreted as a male space in which women don’t belong. Women sometimes feel they just don’t have what it takes to thrive in the technology fields that are dominated by men. 

What would inspire more young women to pursue a technology-based career?

AJ: Exposure to STEM at a young age as well as having good role models would definitely inspire young women to pursue a career in technology. Showing young girls that it is OK to explore their imagination in STEM at an early age would definitely peak their interest in STEM and ultimately would lead to more young women taking these courses in school. Having a role model in STEM who can relate to you and give you advice that will help inspire your career is also a great inspiration for young women. For instance, growing up, I had several examples of women who have STEM careers in my family and they motivated me to excel in a STEM curriculum, giving me the foundation necessary to excel in my technology career. With exposure and role models, I feel that more young women will be inspired to have a career in technology.

JSH: We need to educate young women about technology careers, while encouraging them to participate in programs that have young women studying STEM majors. I have found that having a female mentor in the technology field allowed me to see the endless opportunities that information technology has to offer.

What advice would you have for incoming women in technology?

AJ: If you are a woman coming into the technology field, my advice to you would simply be to just enjoy and have fun. Learn as much as you can and absorb it in order for your presence to be felt at your company. Do not be afraid to have a voice and always maintain your confidence. Allow yourself to take advantage of every opportunity offered to you. Always maintain phenomenal leadership traits and lead by example in order to stand out amongst your coworkers.

JSH: Technology careers are lucrative, creative and very important to the society. There is no better time than now for young women to get into technology. Women are capable of doing well in the STEM fields that are dominated by men and should not be hindered when pursuing careers in such fields.

What’s a piece of advice that you’ve received and has stuck with you?

AJ: Within this field, the one piece of advice that I have learned that has stuck with me is to make sure that I am constantly familiarizing myself and learning what is new in our field. There is always something you do not know that you can learn, and it will help you on a day-to-day basis, as well as maintaining an understanding of everything else you have learned as technology builds upon your foundation. Another thing is never be afraid to ask a question. I have learned that there are different ways to do the same thing and you want to make sure in technology that you are using the most effective and economical way for the benefit of your company.

JSH: You will experience challenges as a female engineer technologist; however, don’t be intimidated.  Learn as much as you can and be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. 

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