Hey Girlfriend!: Camille Eddy
Last month I interviewed Monica, an accessibility enthusiast who is also going to be a bridesmaid at my wedding – this month I’m interviewing Camille Eddy, a lover of space and machine learning, and above all, a young woman supporting other black women in working in tech.
Camille is a total superstar. I’ve known her for many years through blogging, and we both happened to choose to pursue careers in tech. I always knew Cami to be a dedicated, hard-working and ambitious person.
Cami is currently studying at Boise State university and working as a machine learning intern at HP Labs. Over the years, she has become involved with public speaking, a team lead for an undergraduate research NASA program, and a mentor for organisations such as Black Girls Code.
Hello Cami! That’s also the name of your blog, haha. First I want to ask you about your experience introducing President of the United States, Barack Obama. It was almost two years ago, but undoubtedly a defining moment in your life! Can you tell us more about how that came to happen and what it was like, even now that it’s many months down the track?
It was definitely a surprise, I got a call from the Dean of the College of Engineering, Amy Moll, and she asked me if I would be willing to introduce the President. This was three days before he was scheduled to come to our school. I remember being in the green room with many community members including senators, former governors, and student leaders. And I got to shake President Obama’s hand and talk to him backstage. He said that he was proud of what I was doing and I really appreciated his words. It was an amazing day!
You’re already well on your way to defining your career path – or I guess you have an idea of where you’re headed now. Where do you see yourself in 2017 and the near future?
In the near future I will be completing a new robotics internship and hopefully making new connections across the world. I will also be one year closer to graduating with my degree!
As a woman of colour, I am sure you find the small percentage of women in tech to be more of an issue to bring attention to, rather than to ignore. You’ve done quite a bit to increase awareness and joined groups that support women of colour. Can you tell us more about that?
I am really passionate about the idea of representation. I firmly believe I would not be an engineering student if I hadn’t seen a documentary about Mae Jemison, who was a Black woman in engineering and was also an astronaut. Seeing someone who looked like me, looked like my mom, or another family member, versus another white male, captured my attention and set me on this path. When there is a dominant demographic like there is in tech I think we can be inspired by women from all over the world and people who are different. There is something to be said about bringing in more diversity and representation to recruit more women in this field.
What is one of your favourite ways of learning new skills when it comes to programming? Do you have any go-to websites, do you like pair programming, can you share any tips for continuous learning?
I always use case examples to learn new programming. I never try to learn in an abstract way because I am often learning on the go. My favourite website to use is Stack Overflow and I think it is important to look for problems or projects that stretch your abilities a little bit. Don’t be afraid to take a steep learning curve to make something new.
I’m curious about your love for space. I love space as well, and recent developments in space travel are truly fascinating. How did you start becoming interested in space? What are your thoughts on the current technological developments?
I was really interested in becoming an astronaut at the age of 12. So it was something I carried with me for a long time. I went to all the space exhibits and science events and it led to being very space literate as young student. I am very excited for plans to create a base on the moon! I am all for that and would love to visit the moon myself one day.
You started a blog many years ago and that’s how we first got to chat. You really loved to read and write – is that still the case today? What book are you currently reading?
I do love to write and I still do once in awhile on my blog and also for LinkedIn as a part of their #StudentVoices section. I also will be starting to write for Vanguard STEM and sharing my travels around the country for STEM. I am currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
What, in your opinion, is the best thing about blogging?
The best thing is definitely being able to connect with many people outside of my local community. If it hadn’t been for blogging I would not be in any way as connected as I am today and I would not be traveling to places like MIT or Silicon Valley to check out the developments happening elsewhere in STEM.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face either at work or at university, and how did you deal with it?
At my university one of the things we are working to improve is representation of students of color. Our student government does not have a diversity or inclusion position so I have banded together with a group of students to create this position. A lot of students, including myself, have dealt with microagressions or some form of unwelcoming behaviour in the classroom or on campus. Microaggressions are often subtle messages that diverse cultures like my own don’t really fit. I have come to realize that this is at times because of an unconscious bias and also because there is a lack of education around diverse cultures. And I hope to help push through that by helping form this new position for our student government.
One of your recent achievements was giving a talk about cultural bias in AI. Can you tell us a bit more about that, and what inspired you to share your knowledge and learnings on this topic?
My experience at school really opened my eyes to cultural bias. This is not something that a lot of people are researching at this time. In the case of artificial intelligence which is being used increasingly in technology today people of color are sometimes not detected by facial recognition systems or even mis-identified. Women searching for jobs might not see job listings with the same pay rates as men on a job site. These cultural biases are sometimes caused by how we use websites. If there tends to be a different trend of which jobs men or women apply for, a search algorithm might reflect that bias. We have to learn how to design our AI with better intention for long term use.
What is something you enjoy doing that not many people know about?
I enjoy organizing events. Especially ones that canter around diverse culture. I recently helped the Afro Black Student Alliance at my school put on an event called Taste of Nations that had over 200 people attend to taste food from all over the world. It was a great night!
What country would you go to right now to visit if money was not an issue?
That’s a tough one! I would like to visit England because it has the most landmarks I want to see in person overseas including 221B Baker Street. And it is also a tech hub and would be a great opportunity to meet up with other influencers in tech.
What is your morning routine like?
I am very much a get out of bed at the last possible second kind of person. So I rush through everything to get out the door to my next class. But I am trying to run at least a mile everyday so depending on my day that might happen early or later.
You’re a busy person – what are your favourite ways to relax?
I listen to the podcast The Read a lot. It is the only entertainment that really makes me laugh nowadays. I enjoy the hosts’ take on Black culture and their snarky attitudes.
What is one of your favourite hacks or tips related to staying organised?
I keep it simple. I try to take as little stuff as possible and continuously get rid of stuff. It is so much easier to be organized when there isn’t a lot to clutter your space up in the first place.
Who is one of your idols or someone you look up to?
I actually just met her in person this week! Dr. Jedidah Isler is the first Black woman to get a Ph.D in Astrophysics from Yale. And she is an amazing advocate for diversity in STEM and intersectionality. I hope to follow her shoes one day to graduate school and make an impact like she has on the STEM community.
I’m sure that you have felt you were judged and given less opportunity because of the colour of your skin, yet you have achieved so much to date. As a final question, despite all prejudice black women experience – what does it mean to you, to be a black woman in 2017, and what can you say in support of other black women out there today?
I think it is important to be comfortable with myself. If I can’t accept myself for who I am, I don’t think others ever will. I really have relied on those people who have similar stories to mine like the women in the book and movie Hidden Figures. If they could push boundaries I too can push boundaries and come out on top. My advice to other Black women is if you have no choice to be the first Black woman to accomplish something you are interested, or the first family member to get a graduate degree, or the first in anything, stand proud and go do it! It is crazy that as Black women we are still asking and fighting for equality and equity in 2017 but it is what we are doing now and we have to continue to recognize the struggle and continue doing well in our fields for the future of others.
You can find Cami on Twitter at @NikkyMill where she regularly tweets about women of colour, inspirational stories from women in tech, and live-tweets the events she attends. You can also add her on LinkedIn or visit her blog where she often writes about her experiences and learnings.