CHARLESTON, S.C. (courtesy charlestonsouthern.edu) — As an undergraduate student at Charleston Southern University, Napiya Nubuya was taken aback by the lack of women, and especially women of color, in the computer science program. Once she was in the workforce, she realized how serious it really was.
So, she set about to change it. In August, Charleston Southern hosted the inaugural Charleston chapter of The Next IT Girl. No one is prouder of Nubuya than Dr. Valerie Sessions, chair of the computer science department.
The Next IT Girl’s mission is to educate and mentor women and girls of color in the IT field. The nonprofit began in Indianapolis and has chapters there, Atlanta, and now in Charleston. “The turnout was incredible – 15 young ladies – as well as S.C. state house representatives, J.A. Moore and Krystie Simmons,” said Sessions.
Nubuya identified with Sessions, the only woman in the computer science department when Nubuya attended, as someone who had blazed the trail.
Nubuya graduated in 2014 and began looking for a job and applying to grad school. A year went by, and she was told in interview after interview that she needed more experience. She was about to head to graduate school when a company in Indianapolis reached out to her. She had written out her goals in 2014, with number one being finding a job in her field. The Indy company sent her an airplane ticket for July 15, 2015 – a year to the date she had written down her goals. “I said, God is that really you?” said Nubuya. “It scared me to death.”
On her tour of the company, she was excited to observe it was a diverse company. The company hired her as a data analyst and within a month she was living and working in Indianapolis. The company has given her opportunities to grow and promotions. She still works for the same company but now lives in Atlanta.
Once on the job she learned that although the company was diverse, the IT department was not. Until just recently, she was the only woman in IT.
Nubuya said her college friends seemed to have things they were doing outside their professions, so she decided to give a fashion blog a try, since that was one of her interests. She called it The Next It Girl, but it never really got off the ground. She found she wasn’t interested in posting pictures of fashion every day.
About that same time, a coworker’s daughter asked her what it was like to be a woman in the tech world, specifically a black woman in tech.
“I started wondering if a lot of girls were wondering the same thing,” said Nubuya. She said African American women make up just 3% of the tech field. She also noticed that women came into the tech field but didn’t stay.
All of those experiences led to The Next IT Girl. “If you can see it, you can be it,” said Nubuya. She set out to let young women of color know that there are thousands of opportunities in the tech world. “There’s more to tech than coding,” she said.
The Next IT Girl will celebrate four years in December. The nonprofit hosts summer workshops and works with girls ages 8-22. “We started with eight, because at that age kids start understanding the concept of careers,” said Nubuya. “And, we went up to 22 because they are looking for mentorship about jobs, and negotiating salaries, etc.”
Bringing the Next IT Girl to Charleston feels to Nubuya like coming full circle. “It was awesome holding the workshop at CSU because it was a great opportunity for the girls to be on a college campus and to see Dr. Sessions as the chair of the computer science department,” said Nubuya.
She said, “When I started at CSU in 2009, I didn’t know if tech was for me. Pursuing computer science has been well worth it. It has helped me get where I am today.” She said what she loved about her time at CSU was being exposed to everything in the tech field, not just an emphasis, and the fact that the program is faith based. “Seeing the fruits of the labor now is really cool,” said Nubuya.
She said starting a nonprofit is about facing your fears. “Face your fears and give it multiple tries,” she said, “And have faith.” South Carolina Representative JA Moore serves on the nonprofit’s board and has been an advocate for The Next IT Girl. Charleston Women in Tech and the CSU computer science department have also been advocates.
“We are always looking for supporters through donations and partnerships,” said Nubuya. She would love to see fellow alumni get involved with The Next IT Girl. Learn more at thenextitgirl.org.