#WomeninSTEM · #WomeninTech · inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Kendell Byrd

“Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Keep fighting for your dreams!” ~ Gabby Douglas

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I am a senior at Swarthmore College studying Computer Science and Economics. I began my computer science and tech journey in high school though. During high school, we never had school on Wednesdays. Wednesdays were designated as “Inquiry Days” and were focused on doing research or independent studies. During my senior year, I got involved in a project focused on advancing communication for people with speech disabilities that was inspired by my principal who had ALS. This project focused on enabling people, who don’t have the use of their vocal boxes or hands and arms, to communicate more effectively.  During this project, we experimented with EEG (electroencephalogram) technologies that focused on the study of brain wave and we started constructing an eye writer using a Playstation camera to track user eye movements. As a result of my involvement with this effort, I became more interested in technology and how it could be used to advance the human condition.

Additionally, on some of our Inquiry Days, my advisor, who also chaired the school’s entrepreneurship program, would take some students with him to an entrepreneurial incubator/hub based in Chicago called 1871. One Wednesday, I went to the 1871 hub and I was really inspired by the energy of the environment.  It was filled with really talented and brilliant people (entrepreneurs, programmers, and students) working collaboratively on interesting projects and start-up efforts. It was like the people all around me had their own super power through coding. After spending the day talking to the people about the start-ups they were working on, I asked my advisor if I could be paired up with one of the companies so I could begin to learn about more about entrepreneurship, coding, and business.  I was matched with a start-up called Sixteen30 and in my free time and over the summer, I worked with them and started learning my first programming languages: HTML, CSS, and Python.

When I entered college I still knew that I wanted to continue to do more engineering and computer science projects. So, for my first semester, I reached out to the head of Swarthmore’s engineering department and did research in the field of Geographic Information Systems. During that same time, I began taking computer science courses, and continued to fall in love with the subject! During the past three years in college, I have been able to explore and go on a variety of other tech adventures and endeavors such as being a CODE2040 Fellow and interning as a software engineer at Jawbone, JP Morgan, and Facebook. I also got the chance to study computer science, design, and entrepreneurship abroad at Aquincum Institute of Technology in Budapest, Hungary Fall 2015.

A fun fact about me is outside of computer science I love doing comedy and theater. At Swarthmore, I am a part of a sketch comedy group called Boy Meets Tractor.

What # would define your life journey?
#Don’tBeGovernedByFear #ExploreEverything

Favorite website / app:

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
Devin Clark (my cousin) who has imparted me with the knowledge of remembering to always be caring, generous, and kind to others (everyone you encounter) as well as to never forget to smile and have fun (“Get Silly”). Also, he reminds me to not be governed by fear and to strive to live life to the fullest.

Also Ellen Degeneres for reminding me that people can be leaders in their profession and personal life by staying true to themselves and fearless about their beliefs. At the same time, she honors the humanity in people from all walks of life. Additionally, I love how Ellen surprises her audience and gives back to her guests and strives to make people’s life better. As a talk show host she values everyone whom she encounters. I also love that at the end of her show she always reminds people to, “Be kind to one another.”  I think that’s a great motto to pattern your life after.

Song that makes you want to dance:
“Electricity” (Billy Elliot The Musical), “Cut It” (O.T Genasis), “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”  and “Christmas Waltz” (Amy Grant)

Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
At Jawbone and Facebook, I worked on projects that required me to code in languages that I was unfamiliar with. Learning PHP, React, Jinja, and other languages while trying to keep up with all the tasks I was given was at first very stressful at times. In addition, at the beginning of both of these internships, I was afraid that the other engineers on my team expected me to know exactly what I was doing and that if I asked them a lot of questions they would think I was stupid or that I didn’t belong in these environments.  I believe that encountering this uncertainty and self-doubt made me a stronger person because over time I developed more confidence in reaching out to people for help and became more comfortable admitting things that I didn’t know. I learned that asking questions and being curious did not only enable me to build stronger relationships with my peers, but allowed me to accomplish my projects during the summer more efficiently and effectively.

Another challenge that I just recently faced was figuring out what I was going to do for full-time. I was so nervous at the beginning of my job search thinking that I was not good or smart enough to do full-time interviews. However, through working during my free-time and tapping into my resources and network, I was to able to see that full-time interviews were not that scary and that I had all the resources I needed to be successful in them. Now, I am very excited to say that I will working at Buzzfeed after college in LA where I will get to combine my interests in technology and entertainment. Buzzfeed was one of my dreams and I was able to attain it by coming to realize that when facing challenges it was not my struggles that defined me, but the ways in which I overcame them that mattered.

Ideal Job:
Either a talk show host or exec at a tech company.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Act like it’s impossible to fail and have fun!

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