I owe my comfort with technology to my older brother Eric, As a Network Administrator, Eric brought home a lot of informative books and towers that needed to be fixed and shared any tutorials that he came across with me as I was growing up. I navigated my way through DOS, manipulated photos and animated digital characters. I didn’t see it as work. It was fun. To me it was natural having a computer in my home. Other kids in my neighborhood weren’t so lucky.
It wasn’t until college that I realized I could make a living out of doing something that I loved. After four years at Ohio University, I graduated with a bachelor of science in Visual Communication. I was lucky to get a job straight out of college where I learned the basics of front end development, refining my HTML and CSS through trial and error.
I found a career through hard work, a little bit of luck and some good advice from a few people along the way. Sometimes I wonder if I would be where I am if it hadn’t been for those chances I took and the people I met.
It’s no secret that the web industry is currently male dominated. It never really bothered me probably because I was already used to my classes having only a few females in them. But when I did come across another female web professional I would just get so excited and feel this immediate bond. I never really understood why there aren’t more females in my industry. I really do think that if we familiarize young women with web development, technology and sciences at a young age, they will have more options when they get older.
That is one of the reasons why I started to volunteer with HER Ideas in Motion last year. HER Ideas holds workshops and tech clubs for young women. These workshops and tech clubs are aided by women in the technical and creative industry. The two web workshops that I’ve attended had the girls work through creating a basic web page from concept to finished live product. Girls’ knowledge range from no experience to some familiarity from a knowledged family member. Usually one other mentor and myself get assigned a group of girls and we help them with their web project.
I can’t even describe to you how awesome it was to see a girl successfully figure out that her layout was broken by a couple of unclosed elements and then fix it herself. I knew exactly how she was feeling after being so aggravated at a problem and then getting that moment when it just clicks and you finally figure out the solution. Maybe this will spark an interest in her to pursue more knowledge. Maybe it was just a fun Saturday. Who knows? I am just happy she got the opportunity to try.
I also spent an afternoon at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center for the IT’s For Girls Career Day. Middle school girls get to spend the day learning about the different fields in IT, meet working professionals and have lunch with them. When I talked to my group over lunch I got to know a few young women a little better. Their interests ranged from computer programming, to architecture, to digital arts, to playing volleyball. I was surprised to hear that even at such a young age, they had concerns about not being “good enough” to have a career in science or technology. They were already creating mental roadblocks for themselves. What if this could be something they are great at doing one day but were just too afraid to try?
My mentoring experience has been very short, but very rewarding. In the beginning, I was scared that I wouldn’t know what to say. That they would think I was a weirdo or that my jokes were lame. But it has ended up being something that I look forward to now… lame jokes and all. I’ve enjoyed it not only for the chance to work with these young women, but also for the opportunity to meet other female professionals in the Cleveland area. The sense of community and support I get in return for my time is priceless.
There was something that Rachel Wilkins Patel, the founder of HER Ideas in Motion, said during one of the prep meetings that has kinda stuck with me. She told us when we introduced ourselves, not to mention that we may be one of the only women in our department or company, because right now the girls in the workshop don’t know that is the norm. Maybe by the time they grow up to be professionals themselves, the gender gap in technology will be a thing of the past.
I encourage any professionals that love what they do (male or female) to give their time to mentoring someone. There are many organizations like HER Ideas in Motion in Cleveland and all around the US. HER Ideas just finished volunteer training but to my knowledge there is another opportunity in the fall. Although I have never worked with them, Ladies Learning Code also has had some great successes. It would be a shame for someone with potential to never get experience doing something they might love.
Nicole Domanski is a founding partner and the Chief Design Officer for Envalo, Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio-based eCommerce solutions company.