This young technologist is making waves at a local university.
She’s from Darien, Illinois, and says that she has always been interested in technology, but she fell in love with coding after taking a web design class in high school. At Howard, Roper has her hands full, being a part of various organizations including Emerging Coders, Computer-Based Information Systems Society, 1867 Undergraduate Assistantship Program, the seventh class of the Freshman Leadership Academy, the Howard University Investment Group and the Team Leader Organization.
“From a young age, I remember being asked to figure out what’s wrong with the TV, connect the proper cords to something, or upload my mom’s music to iTunes,” Roper told Technical.ly. “I always felt so satisfied when I figured out how to solve whatever problem was present.”
Roper decided to attend Howard, a historically Black college, after attending a historically Black boarding school called Pine Forge Academy for high school. She said her experience was different, since she transitioned to boarding school after attending grade schools that had predominantly Caucasian students.
“The feeling of familiarity I had among my peers and the confidence I gained as a Black woman is why I knew I wanted to go to an HBCU,” Roper said. “One of the most important reasons I chose Howard was because of my brother’s transformation and the opportunities he had been afforded by way of Howard, but more specifically the School of Business.”
Since starting her higher education journey at Howard, Roper has been a part of Google’s BOLD (Building Opportunities & Leadership Development) internship program and its Tech Exchange program.
Tech Exchange is a domestic exchange program designed to allow students at HBCU’s and Hispanic Serving Institutions take software engineering classes and be immersed into the tech culture in Silicon Valley. The program was birthed from the pilot, Howard West, during the Summer of 2017. Roper said majority of classes were held on both Google’s Sunnyvale and Mountain View campuses and were either taught, co-taught, or assisted by Googlers. She spent a year away from Howard to be a part of this program from August 2018 thru May 2019.
Following Tech Exchange, Roper participated in the BOLD internship from May to August 2019, Google’s non-technical internship program that comes with many different functions and roles. During her time, Roper worked under the Research & Machine Intelligence organization as a program manager intern on the Machine Learning Fairness team.
“I knew it would be challenging, which is why I decided to participate, but I also knew I would grow immensely, which I did. This program exposed to me to new career paths, new people, and new experiences; something I will forever be grateful for,” Roper said.
Post-graduation in May 2020, Roper plans to either further her education with a master’s degree in African American literature or a doctoral degree in psychology. She also said she may just hop into the workforce and just figure it out as she goes.
Here’s more on Roper’s pathway into a tech career.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you find out about these Google programs, and what are some valuable lessons your gained while working with them?
I had known about the BOLD internship since I was a freshman in college. A recruiter, Corey Howard, came to the School of Business to give a resume workshop to the business orientation classes. Later, he held an information session where he talked about all the different opportunities Google had to offer. I was sad to see that I could not apply for the BOLD internship program my freshman year, but I never forgot about that opportunity. For Tech Exchange, I found out about the next cohort of Howard West being open to Information Systems via Dr. Curtis Cain, one of the faculty in the IS department, as well as one of the professors who had taught during the initial pilot. I made sure to keep my eye out for any other information, and when the application was released, I applied.
The biggest lesson I learned is that I limit myself. I took theory of computation first semester, and I will never forget hearing about deterministic finite automatons (DFA) and non-deterministic finite automatons (NFA) during my first day of that class. It immediately had me questioning whether or not I was crazy for doing a software engineering program with limited technical skills. However, I ended up doing really well in that class and earning an A. If you had asked me at the beginning if I would ever understand DFA’s and NFA’s, I would have probably said no, but I do understand and can even explain the concepts to someone else.
Has Howard contributed to your tech growth at all?
Oh, definitely. I would never have had the opportunities and experiences I have had if it had not been for Howard. I actually spent 15 months living in Silicon Valley. I lived in San Francisco, San Jose and ended my Silicon Valley experience in Oakland this past summer. This was possible because of the internships and programs I was exposed to at Howard. I have also gained a network of people who work in tech that I can lean on when I have questions or need advice.
Do you see yourself working with any other Google programs in the future?
Possibly! I was able to volunteer with one of Google’s programs called CodeNext. I was a mentor during their hackathon over the summer. CodeNext is this amazing program, based in Oakland, whose purpose is to teach middle and high school students how to code. I had so much fun volunteering with the program and definitely consider it a benefit of working for Google.
Prior to going to Howard, do you feel like your grade school experience prepared you to become a technologist of color? Why or why not?
I would say yes and no. No because I really did not have much experience with coding. My introduction to coding was the class I took my senior year of high school. At the same time, I think technical skills are not the only part of what it takes to be a technologist of color. My high school instilled in me a sense of pride in who I am. I learned to love my natural hair. I began to learn how to love myself. From these, I gained confidence in myself and my abilities; something that one will need being a minority in tech. I also learned the importance of giving back to my community whether that be with my time, money or resources. Being true to who you are and being a servant to your communities are important to being a minority in tech simply because in order for us to no longer be minorities, more of us have to work in tech. The lessons I learned in grade school are lessons I carry with me to this day and are what I use to encourage myself to keep going.
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