Herstory: STEM Advocate and Leader, Camille Eddy
Being inspired is one thing, but being able to lead by example and inspire others is a whole new level. Camille does just that through her work with different diversity organizations and STEM groups. She is working in mechanical engineering with an interest in machine learning, all while finding time to volunteer with programs like Girl STEM Stars to inspire a younger generation of girls in tech. Here is Camille’s story.
What was the first thing that peaked your interest in programming?
I started a website when I was 12 using templates and then became interested in making my own changes. By the time I was 15 I was using WordPress, and at 17 I opened up a small web design business that I used to pay for my first year of college housing.
How did you learn to code and what one tip would you give to women wanting to learn?
I learned to code through books from the library and trying to copy what I saw in the industry. If you aren’t learning to code in a classroom don’t force yourself to. I think I gained a lot by inserting myself into a coding community, and trying to find something that interested me. So if there is a project that interests you, learn what you need to complete the project and then move on to a new one. This requires a lot more dedication and commitment than a class and it depends on you exploring a lot more than a class would often give you the option to. As someone who has both taught myself and taken programming classes in college, I think starting on your own could give you the inspiration you need and the perseverance to take a class later if you want to.
What was your biggest inspiration to get into programming?
I have always been a fan of Star Trek and it introduced me really early to the idea of problem solving and engineering. So when I began discovering programming and design I, of course, used space as my inspiration for a lot of the projects. I think one of the things we tend to do, as women and women of color, is take a look at the context of technology and society and that has always been an important part of my tech journey. I am also really inspired by the story of Hidden Figures and the Black computers who worked at NASA.
Any advice for women wishing to get into the field?
A lot of women might feel intimidated starting in the field and I want to let you know it doesn’t matter what your age is. I was intimidated when I started at 12. But between the comfort of the library and conversations with friends I was able to overcome that. And specifically in the case of those that do take classes, its not easy for everyone else, it is the difference of how much you have been exposed to and when. So the best recourse is to gain knowledge and understanding which will definitely benefit you in the long run.
“It is still possible to design for people first with the diverse stories and backgrounds we each bring to the table”
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman in STEM? How have you overcome that?
My first internship was in robotics at HP. This was an amazing opportunity but I had never worked in robotics before. I gained my confidence the first year with a lot of design work, but the next summer I was tasked with a new project in research for the machine learning, which is where I learned that there are cultural blindspots in machine learning technology. Examples I found were computer vision software not picking up or identifying the faces of people of color or mistakes made in search results that result in sexist classifiers.
As a newcomer it was hard realizing that this technology is not made for people who look or live my way and it is hard to understand how one person can make a change. What I did was seek to understand the problem more. And I learned there is a lot of cause for hope not just from the idea of increased numbers of women of color going into the field but there are also other ways we can support the industry growing into something better. For example, there are new technologies investigating the blindspots in machine learning, there are more diverse stories and representation appearing online and more people are becoming aware of the problems that exist. I myself have put together a speech that I have been able to give to multiple audiences across the the country on cultural bias in AI.
In your opinion, what makes a great programmer?
Programming is such a technical field that with any amount of time you can become an expert programmer. But it’s not the technical skills that will make someone memorable or important to history. It is how those skills and technologies interact with the users and their communities. Even though technology in general is created in a lab or isolated tech building, it is still possible to design for people first with the diverse stories and backgrounds we each bring to the table.
In what ways do you believe we can interest more women and girls to join the tech industry?
I don’t think we need to worry about compelling girls to more interested in tech. They are and will continue to be. What we need to do is compel more people in power to not create harsh work conditions that include harassment, isolation and abuse. If you think about it, this is a harsh almost despotic reality for all to experience. I maintain that from Madame Curie to Mae Jemison, women have the interest in tech, but to break open the floodgates of participation in tech by women, we need to do better in general about hospitable working environments and inviting atmospheres.
Anyone, regardless of gender, is going to go somewhere they feel they are drawn to, and today we are forcing the conversation about why the tech world has stayed the same and benefited one type of personality or type of person for so long, and I think the conversation is progressing! The longer we do that the more representation we will see in the tech field.