21Mar

From CA to DC: Lesbians Who Tech to President of the U.S.A.

One week ago, I had no idea that I’d be shaking hands with the President of the United States.  My trip to D.C. started with an unlikely trip to San Francisco.  I had planned to attend the Lesbians Who Tech Summit after a friend suggested that I try out for their scholarship months before I started at MasterCard.  After my first few weeks, I found out that I had been accepted and the founder, Leanne Pittsford, loved the LaunchCode video that I included in my submission.

My partner, Seanna, joked that I would probably end up speaking at the event, next year.  I told her that it was not likely, but I thought that maybe if I tried to get a chance to go, that I’d at least meet up with Pittsford and the Chief Technology Office of the United States Megan Smith, for an ad-hoc photo shoot.  Little did I know, I’d be running into these same ladies again.

I returned back from the trip, unable to take a photo with anyone (other than just one of myself in front of the marquee), but still hopeful and excited about the possibilities of networking with other women like myself.  The next couple of days flew past.  I sat on my couch and glared at the TV, glanced down at my phone, noticed that I had no messages, and then walked away.  I returned to see that I had been called by the office.  I listened to the voice mail and could not believe my ears!  I had been asked to visit the White House.  I had been invited.  Something I never thought would happen in a million years.

I ended up readily accepting the invitation by calling back to the office, and apologizing and saying that I would do whatever I could to make it there.  The next day, I met with MasterCard executives to go over the details of the visit.  I was still excited, and my voice had returned mostly, so I was ready to talk about any and everything that I needed to do for the trip.

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My name tag from the National League of Cities Conference.

I stayed up that night, packing just about everything I could think of.  How exactly does one prepare to meet the President?  Be on TV? Meet the press?  I had no idea, so I stuffed as much as I could with the help of my partner, and I was off to the airport the next day.  But first, I had one stop to make.

Rebecca Dohrman with the National Center for Women & Technology (NCWIT) asked for me to attend as a keynote speaker for their annual St. Louis Aspirations award ceremony.  The group focuses on bringing out recognition of young women in high school who have made achievements and strides in the STEM fields, and she was hoping that I could provide some words of encouragement.  I was lucky to time my flight for just after the presentation, so I rushed to the event, bubbling with excitement for my next endeavor.

I took some time to talk about the importance of women in technology, and how glad I was to see so many young women doing such awesome things at their age.  And I told them that my hope was to be there as a beacon of trust, honesty, and an example of what they could achieve when they strive to go even further.  Before I ended my speech, I remember an exercise that I had seen on a TedTalk about Power Poses.  One of them, in particular, was called the “Wonder Woman” pose: standing with feet shoulder-length apart, hands on the hips, and looking straightforward with confidence.  I asked each young lady that was a recipient to stand up and perform the pose while I did it with them.  They giggled and laughed, but did the pose, proudly.  The mothers there smiled and I could see that they would ask their little girls to do the pose every day to instill confidence in themselves and each other.

I rushed out of the event as soon as the next speaker was announced and shook the hand of Rebecca as I left.  I was brimming with excitement to get on the plane.  I had changed my seat during Check-In, as I thought it would give me a better window view.  I watched as Washington, D.C. came up through my window, and I was eager to get off the plane and make my way to the hotel.  My taxi driver was one of a few women drivers in the city.  She explained how she decided to make the leap to being a driver and how she was glad to do so even though many encouraged her not to.  I told her that I was there because of the same thing: stepping out into an area typically dominated with men and striving forward even when I was suggested not to.

I checked into the hotel, and then made my way to my room.  It was a gorgeous hotel room, and the customer service was excellent.  I met with my accompanying MasterCard representatives the next morning for a quick briefing of the day, then on to breakfast.  We were quickly whisked from one meeting to the other.  Our first event was at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel to hear President Obama’s speech on the importance of the TechHire initiative and how it could benefit cities like it did for St. Louis.

As I sat down in the audience near the front of the stage, I waited for all the remarks to take place.  And before I knew it, the President was about to walk on and I was asked by various people where I was sitting and to make sure that I was ready.  I sat at the edge of my seat during the speech.  Finally, my name was presented and I stood up, looking around at the group of people that overflowed the enormous ballroom.  Everyone clapped as they saw me stand and I even got a high-five from a nearby attendee.

After the speech, I was whisked away to the backstage area where I met Jim McKelvey and Brendan Lind, founders of LaunchCode and great guys, overall.  I was approached by a woman who smiled at me, and it instantly dawned on me that this was the Chief Technology Officer of the United States – the same person that I drove over 2,000 miles to California to see.  And now, I was shaking hands with her.  Before I knew it, a slender tall man walked up to me, thanking me for attending.  It was the President.  I remember smiling and thanking him for inviting me, and the next few seconds were a blur as he reached over to hug me and took a picture.  It was the greatest moment for me, thus far, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing next to someone that I had only seen on TV!

Next, I ran to have a meeting with a senator to discuss the logistics of the TechHire initiative and sat with the MasterCard representatives as they explained MasterCard’s role in programs such as LaunchCode.  I had a chance to give a short speech on how LaunchCode works and was told that it was something that they would definitely be interested in learning more about for their state!

We had lunch and then we walked a couple of blocks to the White House.  I remember my mind racing as I stepped closer and closer to the large stone building.  We checked in and walked briskly to the discussion room, where I watched Vice-President Biden talk more about the initiative and his passion behind such programs.  He talked about how his wife was looking at similar nursing programs to fill in these gaps, and how something like this on a medical level could help increase the number of available healthcare professionals in the industry.

 

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Me and Leanne Pittsford, Founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s Indian Treaty Room.

 

I ended the evening with a reception, where I introduced myself to leaders in the technological world and grassroots organizational efforts to make programs like LaunchCode a success in their neighborhoods.  I had a fantastic time meeting everyone from the CIO of a major banking institution to a small organization working to train individuals in the STEM fields.  A woman walked up to me and introduced herself.  It was Leanne Pittsford, the same woman who had given me the scholarship to the Lesbians Who Tech Summit.  We chatted a bit, and she was ecstatic to hear about my story.  As I left, I turned around and saw Megan Smith smiling and thanking me for “staying stubborn”.  She hugged me and I left gleaming with excitement for having met the two women that I tried to meet just barely a week before.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m glad that I got to share it with MasterCard, LaunchCode, and everyone in my life that made it possible!  Also, I was invited to speak at next year’s Lesbian Who Tech Summit… so I guess my partner was right 🙂