Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m featuring a fierce woman on the rise in STEM, who also happens to be a woman of color. Tammy Buckner is the founder and chief technology strategist at Techquity Digital, a tech firm based in Kansas City, Missouri, that helps business owners scale and grow using smart technology and innovative marketing strategies. I recently caught up with her as she returned from the Women Techmakers Summit in Silicon Valley held at the Google Moffet Park Complex (keep reading to learn more about this invitation-only, women in tech event).
April Boyd-Noronha: Has technology always been a part of your life? Or did you fall in love with STEM as a career choice later in life?
Tammy Buckner: Yes, technology and engineering are the only two industries I have ever been interested in. As a young girl, I use to watch my father fix on things, my uncle fixed any and every electronic device, and my mom was an electrical assembler. I think all of that played a role in prompting my interest and love of fiddling with machinery, electronics, and circuitry. When my parents purchased our first computer, I was excited about creating new commands to play various games. I had no idea that at that time, I was coding. I just knew I wanted to play the video game and tell it to do what I wanted it to do. I became just as intrigued with opening it to see what made it work on the inside as I was playing with it. I started getting more into teaching myself various programs and I was hooked.
Boyd-Noronha: Where/What industries have you made strides in STEM in your career?
Buckner: Mainly in technology and arts industries. In hindsight, I really wish I had pursued more mechanical engineering and math. I know it’s never too late, but I wish I had made a stronger effort as working in virtual reality (VR) now requires a lot of algorithm and math concepts.
Boyd-Noronha: What is your role in STEM today as an advocate for marginalized girls and women?
Buckner: I feel my role is to share my amazing journey in technology and the benefits of staying in a male-dominated industry. Most importantly, being a STEM advocate by fostering events where I can provide innovative education, exposure, and empowering girls and women to becoming whatever they want to become. My role is to express the challenges they are likely to go through but also to advise them on how beneficial it can be; being a mentor and role model to nurture girls and women to “stick it out”. It may be hard work and it takes times, but it has its rewards.
Boyd-Noronha: I just want to say “You rock!” Recently, you were invited to an exclusive fireside chat in Silicon Valley with other women of color who are coders. Tell us about that exciting experience.
Buckner: OMG … speechless, motivating, and inspiring! The Women Techmakers Summit was sponsored by Google and was held in 16 various locations. The Mountain View locations spearheaded the kickoff and I was a travel grant recipient, so Google paid for the entire trip. Being in the midst of over 350 women in technology on the Google campus in Mountain View was such an inspiration for me. Hearing their journeys, how they overcame various obstacles, but continued. We were all on the same playing field, inspiring one another to continue the path and start new beginnings or learnings. I finally met my mentor from a far, Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code. She didn’t know she was my mentor — but she does now!
Boyd-Noronha: What’s next for Techquity Digital in 2018, this summer, and beyond?
Buckner: There are no barriers at this point! Currently, my firm’s bread and butter is my role as a technology strategist offering services such as analyzing daily business process and procedures to implement a solid strategy solution. Also, advocating responsible Agile, as a certified scrum master, we help build functional tech teams to deliver value and successful projects. Additionally, we are creating partnerships, working with organizations in STEM to continue to bring awareness in various sectors of technology. We are not only offering tech bootcamps, courses, and project-based lessons for underrepresented youth and women in various community centers, but have created a partnership with a company to also offer work from home opportunities using 100-percent virtual technology and high-speed internet connections.
Techquity Digital was a part of an alliance in 2016 in which we created a VR experience. We’re excited about showcasing the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) at the US Ignite Digital Summit March 27-28 in Kansas City.
This summer, we are working on a youth STEM conference during the Kansas City Developer Conference (KCDC) in July. Recently, we’ve started tech blogging with a local training institution. Personally, I’m focused on expanding my expertise (and trying to get up the nerve) to do more speaking engagements regarding tech topics. So, stayed tuned for these and more exciting things to come!
Boyd-Noronha: What’s the buzz/local scene like for women of color in STEM in KC?
Buckner: At a time where there is so much discussion regarding diversity and inclusion, women of color are still not being called upon to participate in innovative events and speak on topics and represent on tech panels. There are so many of us available to be a part of collaborative teams yet we are not being recognized, which can sometimes led to an internal feeling of am I not good enough (otherwise known as the “imposter syndrome”). I personally know many women with tech degrees, but they’re not using their knowledge to its fullest potential. Some women are not even working in a tech role. It’s tough. I know, because I’ve always been that unicorn going against the grain, but there is still a lot of work to do.
Boyd-Noronha: Kansas City was recently ranked second for the best city for women in tech. But what steps need to be taken relating to diversity and inclusion?
Buckner: We need to focus on true inclusion — but that’s on both ends, right? We ranked well because the wage gap is not as wide between men and women. But let’s face it, you can’t call it a true diverse organization when most factors are excluded; factors such as ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation, gender, age, and religious beliefs.
Boyd-Noronha: What areas do you see current and emerging STEM/IT/Tech female leaders in KC?
Buckner: Women are rising in many tech industries. I see women-led teams that are getting involved with mixed technologies, cyber security, and machine learning. Other women are producing virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) or artificial intelligence (AI) platforms. Women that are changing their careers from education to tech are a strong force. They have the best of both worlds because they already know how to teach, connect, and inspire kids and then are obtaining a new career in tech, too. These women are the new rising leaders.
Women of color in the tech industry continue to be the new rising stars. Regardless of which industry (AI, VR/AR, etc.) or career (educator, technologist, advocate, etc.) girls or women may pursue, they will rise. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I salute Tammy and all the other women in tech who are blazing trails and empowering girls in STEM everywhere, especially those in under-estimated populations. This month (quite frankly, each month) I challenge new aspiring and every established female STEM enthusiast to encourage herself, by speaking into existence the infamous words of Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I rise!”
April Boyd-Noronha is the STEM parent advocate, diversity thought lecturer and author behind Lee’s Summit-based The STEM Broker, a boutique training and consulting firm focused on empowering girls, women, and minorities to succeed and advance in STEM careers. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on twitter at @thestembroker