#WomeninSTEM · #WomeninTech · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Morgan Oh

Read Morgan’s previous Medium link!

I look around.

Current location: Charlotte, NC.

I finished my first year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This summer, I interned at one of the nation’s biggest banks. And now, I’m entering my sophomore year at Vanderbilt University as an engineer major.

As I reflect on this year, I realize so much has happened.

A little over a year ago, I returned to the United States from my gap year. For eight months I lived in El Salvador, mentoring female youths and exposing them to Computer Science (CS) through my program, the BeMe Foundation.

I stepped on Carolina’s campus as a CS major, holding onto the promise I made with my students in El Salvador: I’d continue pursuing my interest in CS. However, it wasn’t until my second semester that I felt like I had a sense of what CS truly was. If my gap year was the road that led me to the door to the realm of technology, I was only now turning the knob and taking my first step into it.

On December 17th, 2015, I published my first Medium article. I wrote it to reassure everyone, including myself, that it’s okay to be new to coding. What I didn’t write back then was how I was still hoping to pursue a pre-med track while remaining a CS major. Yes, at some schools and for some people, these two paths can be taken simultaneously. This wasn’t the case for me.

Medicine always piqued my interest and at the time, I wasn’t ready to let go of my dream of one day becoming a doctor. However, the ability to balance both tracks proved to be overwhelming. It became apparent that I was avoiding the ultimate decision I’d have to make by the end of the year. Should I continue with my new, exciting journey into CS or endure accumulating all the required courses for medical school?

During winter break, I decided that I’d try one more semester of pre-med and CS courses. I convinced myself that if planned strategically, I could find a good medium between the two. I was wrong. The semester progressed and like many college students, I found myself busy with several clubs and playing games of catch-up in my classes every week. On average, I would spend 80% of my time on chemistry and only 20% on coding projects. I’d frantically get my assignments done last minute due to all-nighters studying chemistry. I wasn’t investing enough time to learn my code material. Frustrated, I felt as if I’d let myself down. Although it was a heart wrenching and long overdue decision, I decided to drop my pre-med track.

While I never knew how to split my time for classes, it was my extra-curriculars that played an important factor on choosing whether to stay in medicine or to move forward into untraveled territories of tech. Specifically, it was my time at a lab that gave me more confidence in picking the latter road.

Beginning early February, I joined the Frohlich Lab at UNC. My objective was to study the brain from a CS/engineering perspective and to further develop my C coding skills from my previous “Robotics with Legos” course. The Frohlich lab provided me with an environment where I could self-teach myself C and code for microprocessors. My goal was to write programs that would simulate EEG models of the brain. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I was in peace as I put away my thoughts of chemistry to work with circuits and breadboards. This, along with a determination to remain in CS, led me to consider transferring to an engineering school.

On May 2nd, 2016, exactly an hour before my CS final exam review and less than 24 hours before the final, I received an email congratulating me that I was admitted to the school of engineering at Vanderbilt University.

My decision to transfer stemmed from wanting to have a firm foundation of both software and hardware development. Furthermore, I saw that attending an engineering school would be the optimal environment to engage in tech. I chose to further invest in the concepts and algorithms of programming. At most, I may know three languages and am intermediate in Java. That’s not a problem for me, though. I’m still in the stages of learning how to program and these CS concepts definitely don’t come naturally to me. Sure, I struggle and maybe more than occasionally find bugs in my code, but I won’t be giving up. I guess I’m always reminded of how rewarding it is to run a program I coded all by myself.

Everyone in tech has a different story. I started mine during the gap year and now, after resolving the dilemma of choosing between two different fields, I’m heading to a new school in pursuit of engineering. However, as much as I believe that I should be a woman in tech, I still don’t feel like I have the qualifications to be one. Maybe it’s because I’m too “young” in the field, but I’m hesitant to associate myself with the title. It almost seems to be given only once one has proven herself to be a master of code.

Initially, I didn’t know where to begin to talk about my journey. I was worried about crafting it into perfection to provide an eloquent description of who I am as a woman in tech. And so I fell into a loop of writing and deleting my passages. However, I’ve learned that it isn’t about how to be a “woman in tech.” In fact, there is no absolute definition. It is dynamic and refined through each woman’s unique trail she makes in the digital world. I wrote this post to contribute to the dialogue that had been initiated by female tech “noobies” and as a follow up from Ashley Huynh’s post, a dear friend whom I met during interview season last year.

To acknowledge someone’s achievements is important. It is even more crucial to recognize that person’s beginnings and challenges. And so, I encourage others who are reading this to share their stories – their mistakes, their obstacles, and their progresses. I was just one of the many who read Ashley’s story and found the courage to share mine. I hope that if this post doesn’t motivate others to speak up, it will at least provide another insight for those working in tech. There’s been a notion of who a woman in tech ought to be and how she should look like. We can only diversify and mature this definition by bringing up our stories. I ask then, of the fellow female tech “noobies”, the experienced, and even those who haven’t realized their potential in tech, speak up. It’s up to us.

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