Aliya Rahman, 'Tech Woman of the Year,' wants to fix education's 'broken code' - DC


Sep. 16, 2014 11:54 am

Aliya Rahman, ‘Tech Woman of the Year,’ wants to fix education’s ‘broken code’

The Code for Progress program director thinks tech diversity starts with educational equality. "One of the most powerful industries is completely segregated and very, very white," Rahman said.
Aliya Rahman receives the DC Web Women’s Tech Woman of the Year award, Sept. 13, 2014.

Aliya Rahman receives the DC Web Women's Tech Woman of the Year award, Sept. 13, 2014.

(Photo courtesy of Aurea Martinez)

Updated 9/17/14, 2:01 p.m., to correct Rahman's course of study in college. She started as an aeronautical engineering major.

Aliya Rahman, 32, won DC Web Women’s first-ever Tech Woman of the Year award on Saturday. More than anything, the Code for Progress program director considers herself an activist. Community organizing is how she got started — and that “continues to run through my through my tech work,” she said.

When Rahman set out to study aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, she wound up teaching coding as a second-semester freshman. “It wasn’t so much about the coding,” she said, “it was about the teaching.”

Soon enough, Rahman made the link between teaching, community activism and coding. As a high school science teacher in Northern Arizona, she connected with her Navajo students by relating isotopes to some of the injustices their tribe had weathered. “Uranium was mined by Navajo workers for the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” she explained.

“Educational equality [is] a harder problem actually than how to get to Mars [because] the system is not properly configured,” she said. “We’ve got broken code.”

To fix that, she believes improving diversity in the tech scene is essential. “It’s inexcusable for this country … to have a situation where one of the most powerful industries is completely segregated and very, very white,” said Rahman. “Coders like to break down problems … I believe that we can.”

That’s precisely the type of engagement DC Web Women was looking for in its first award ceremony, which followed its Code(Her) Conference. The one-day conference drew 200 technologists to Chevy Chase, Md.

“What we’re looking for,” said Jeanna Ray, DCWW co-director of communications, “are people who are not only good at what they do,” but also “who have really been giving to this community.”

For more from the Code(Her) Conference, check out this Storify.

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