Making Women’s History — Every Day

“Since I’ve become an instructor, I have surprised many of our trainees when they start the class. I don’t think they’re expecting me, so it makes me happy that they seem open to being taught by a woman of color who didn’t have a tech background. Many of our female trainees relate to me as they realize that I was once in that same position and look at where I am now.”

Courtney Walker

Connecting and Conversing with Courtney Walker, Technical Instructor

Student Turned Instructor

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we had the chance to sit down with Courtney for an in-depth conversation on her journey as a woman of color in tech starting as an NPower trainee and now paying it forward and encouraging the youth of St. Louis that what they have to offer is desperately needed in the tech industry

She shares where she draws inspiration from, the importance of representation in tech, her new hobby she’s tapping into during the pandemic, and much more! 

View this engaging conversation below: 

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Tell us a little bit about your journey as a woman of color in tech?

I had a slight interest in tech, but not much knowledge aside from the basics. My interest increased in college, but I didn't really do much with it. I went the teaching route. But once I started student teaching, I realized that teaching wasn’t the best field for me. I had my teaching degree, but didn’t try to get a job in the field and started job hopping. From lifeguard to retail to babysitting, I had a wide range of odd jobs. A family friend shared NPower’s impact with my brother and I and we both decided to give it a try.

While it was a lot of information to absorb very quickly, I was motivated, had a thirst for knowledge, curiosity, and wanted to take everything in. My instructor, Brett, gave us as much knowledge as we wanted. After graduation, I decided to come back as an instructor. Even though I was new, I went over the lessons I learned and knew that if it made sense to me; I could make it make sense to someone else. I started becoming more comfortable with the material and didn’t have to Google as much. Even as an instructor, I still have that thirst for knowledge and information and can share what I have learned with people. That is what is special about the NPower program. It cultivates a good environment to learn, network, grow, and thrive in.

What does a typical work day look like for you? 

My typical work day now that we’ve gone virtual consists of much screen time as we are conducting virtual classes with lectures and labs. I also hold extended office hours for study sessions for students who may have had questions or just want to come in and talk about their career or something that may be a barrier for them to learn. We are able to create a plan of what study methods may work and what I can do to help them better understand the concepts.

I also stay connected to other staff members in the region and other NPower instructors around the country to discuss any tips or tricks to enhance my instruction. I also ensure to connect with our Social Support Manager to check in on students that may need more support from me. In the free time I have, I enjoy creating review games that help make virtual learning engaging and interesting. This helps trainees retain the information and not become bored!

Who is someone that inspires you? 

My dad, who is also in IT, is the main reason I knew about the basics of tech. He is so knowledgeable about different software systems and regularly would use databases. Now I understand and appreciate our tech conversations. He was in the industry when it was just taking off and now I am working in the industry and inspired by all that he has accomplished. Michelle Obama inspires me to believe I can achieve anything I put my mind to and to push forward. Seeing her thrive in what she does makes me want to strive to do better both personally and professionally.

What are some of the biggest challenges women of color in tech face and how can we support each other in overcoming some of them? 

A common challenge that many of my female trainees face is feeling ostracized at times at their places of employment or feeling overlooked for opportunities because they are a woman in the tech space and viewed as unqualified to handle certain situations. I think as women in tech, we can help bolster one another’s confidence and encourage each other. Be a confidence booster for one another.

Why is representation in the tech field so crucial? 

Since I’ve become an instructor, I have surprised many of our trainees when they start the class. I don’t think they’re expecting me, so it makes me happy that they seem open to being taught by a woman of color who didn’t have a tech background. Many of our female trainees relate to me as they realize that I was once in that same position and look at where I am now. Representation in any form is ridiculously powerful because it always makes it easier for you to follow your dream and accomplish your goal if you see someone like yourself that has been there or on their way to reaching that goal. It makes it more attainable and makes you more determined to push through to get there.

What advice would you give and a first step to young women of color who think they don’t belong in tech?

It may seem difficult and as if tech is not for you - but there’s always a place for you, if you make one. If this is something that you want to do, no one is going to be able stop you because you are already making the moves to get there. A first step would be to do some research and gain exposure and insight into the industry. Also joining a program like NPower can help with the basics which can be built upon. But you have to just start!

What is one moment or transformation story that has stuck with you and impacted you?  

As a technical instructor, I have come across many trainees especially female trainees that have lacked self - confidence. Over the course of the program and at the end, they have increased their confidence from the combined efforts of our staff encouraging them to go on. One trainee had anxiety with group projects and would shy away from public speaking and felt that she may say something wrong if she spoke out. We provided coaching on various strategies including some articles to read to bolster her confidence and worked with the Social Support Manager to uncover where these feelings were coming from. She pushed through and graduated and passed her certification exam, something she did not think she would pass. And has now secured a tech job and is thriving in the field. I was so proud to be able to witness her transformation.

During the pandemic, has there been a lesson learned, new skill developed, or hobby discovered? 

The pandemic has given me a lot of time for self- reflection and time to invest in hobbies and interests. Music has always been part of my life through my parents. Singing is something I have always enjoyed. During the pandemic, I started networking with people interested in singing and joined a few groups and look forward to pursuing that passion.

What is one of your favorite quotes and why? 

A quote that really resonates with me is one by Gandhi, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” If you want to see change, it is not going to happen overnight. We have to be proactive if you want something to happen and usually you have to start it yourself and put in the effort.

What motivates you to get out of bed each day? 

My family is my biggest motivation. We may not be able to do all the things we were able to do before the pandemic, but we are still able to be together in this moment. My students also are a big motivation. When I receive emails with them thanking me, I know I am impacting them in a positive way and am making their journey a bit easier and providing direction.

Three things you would tell your younger self? 

Don’t settle - never go with what is easiest because it may not be fulfilling.

Speak your mind - if there is something you need to say, don’t hold back. That is one that I continue to practice.

Go with your gut and don’t give up - listen to that feeling especially if you get it more than once, even it if is scary.

Most used app on your phone?

Twitter! I love to “Tweet” and use it mostly for keeping up to date with news. It’s fun and very interesting!

Can you share any podcasts, books, or social media influencers you follow that inspire you?

I love to follow Michelle Obama and Serena Williams. Serena Williams has such inspiring content with so many videos of her journey and how she is motivated to work hard every single day. I also love seeing her posts about her daughter and how she balances her career. She makes me want to go out and do something!