“You were not made to fit in a box. We are built to break the boxes.”

As young ladies, you already have so much strength. More strength than you know and you truly have the voice and capability to bring change to those around you and this is especially true if you are considering a career in STEM. STEM needs us to bring new ideas, to be a part of innovation and our voices are important. These fields are amazing and open so many doors for your future. You will never be bored in these fields, trust me!

 

Who is Jennifer Opal?

I was born and raised in London, England but my family are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have three amazing younger brothers and I am the eldest and only girl which is fun!

I am currently a part of the BT furtHER Digital Intensive Program as a Trainee where myself and 28 other women are being taught how to code in Front End Web Development and Python in just three months. At the end of the program, I will be presented with the opportunity to become a Junior Software Engineer at BT. BT, formerly known as British Telecoms, is one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies in the world and the largest in the UK.

Although I graduated with a Certificate of Higher Education in Counselling in 2014, I went back to university in 2016 to do a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and French Language which I am currently still doing.

 

 

Special Awards

Code First: Girls Beginner Web Development Course Certificate (and winning Best Project with my partner-in-programming)

 

 

How did you choose to pursue this field?

I first discovered coding in July 2017 after a YouTube video popped up on my feed from Code.org talking about the power of coding and what it was.

I started to learn more about it and tried to find out about women or women of colour that worked in the field. I came across Code First: Girls in October 2017. They are a social enterprise in the UK teaching women how to code and trying to get more women into tech. I got a place onto an 8 week Front End Development they were offering to university students and I fell in love!

I knew that from that moment, I wanted to be a coder! I wanted to work in tech and be a part of it.

 

 

Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?

My mother has always encouraged me to always pursue what my heart was passionate about. She came to England from the Democratic Republic of Congo to give us a better life than what we could have had back there; it’s a sacrifice I will never forget and she encourages me to take every opportunity that comes my way if it leads me to grow in a positive way.

The CEO of Code First: Girls, Amali de Alwis, is my ultimate inspiration into getting into tech. She took a step to build a social enterprise to encourage more women into tech careers and I am one of them. I admire her for believing in her vision. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn how to code.

 

 

Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?

At first, I wanted to work in fashion. My parents originate from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is in Central Africa, and we are known for expressing ourselves through our love for fashion. I thought about starting my own business in shoe design and maybe I will one day but fashion is also an industry built on exclusivity. You can’t be a part of the club unless you know someone that’s already in it and has a strong reputation.

 

 

What do you love most about your job?

I’m not officially a Junior Software Engineer yet but by January, I’ll find out in January whether myself and the other women on the course will be hired as junior software engineers at BT.

I will say that as I learn and build my coding skills and knowledge, I love the openness of the BT organisation; being able to connect with other experienced members of the Technology departments as well as learning about the other many different roles involved in what makes BT Technology what it is and what it involves. It has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities in the world of tech.

 

 

What things would you change about your current job?

At this time, I am enjoying my experience and being a part of a diverse group of women and non-binaries learning a future-proof skill and contributing to changing the gender imbalance. More women in technology roles would be a welcomed change in any company and more in senior roles. The challenge of bringing diversity to tech is also something I would like to see.

 

 

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

I would say working with women in the same boat as me. All of the different ethnic minorities, ages, and faiths coming together to learn a valuable skill. We are a representation of a few in the tech industry and a representation of change which is really exciting!

 

 

What are the most difficult things about working in your field?

I think the difficulty is staying motivated. On a project we worked on recently where we were pair-programming (which is working with someone), we would enter a line of code, take it out, correct it and wonder why it isn’t working and it can be frustrating but the end result is always rewarding.

 

 

What are your future goals related to your career?

Ooooooo!!!! I would love to transition into Data Science or a career involving Robotics. I am the type of woman that loves to try different things before I can fully confirm what path to take but with tech, all doors are open unless you close them so you are never limited. I would also love to use my experience to inspire people, particularly people of colour and faiths to consider what a career in tech has to offer.

 

 

What tips would you offer to anyone thinking about entering into your profession/field of study?

I would say “Take the plunge!” Tech is an amazing industry to be a part of and a very welcoming community that encourage and uplift one another as well as learn from one another. Don’t get me wrong, coding is the hardest thing I have had to learn but it has been worth it and it will be in the future. For those that are not interested in coding, you can still work in tech! The possibilities are ENDLESS!! The opportunities are never-ending!

 

 

How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?

I, personally, have never felt that stigma face-to-face but I have online. Because you are a woman in tech suddenly you have men correcting you on things that you post as if you are not smart enough or you get a private message from a man in tech trying to be flirtatious but I have never been one for confrontation so I either ignore or respond kindly to avoid confrontation but also maintain my honour so I don’t stoop down to their level but rise above it.

 

What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?

I would say “Don’t be limited by the imagination of others”. Growing up, it was normal to be encouraged to work for someone else or work for an industry that was safe and high-paying. For example, be a doctor, a lawyer, a banker but to be encouraged to work in technology, IT or even working for yourself was never encouraged but it was believed it was out of our reach but now I know it’s not!

 

Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?

 

“You were not made to fit in a box. We are built to break the boxes.”

 

 

As young ladies, you already have so much strength. More strength than you know and you truly have the voice and capability to bring change to those around you and this is especially true if you are considering a career in STEM. STEM needs us to bring new ideas, to be a part of innovation and our voices are important. These fields are amazing and open so many doors for your future. You will never be bored in these fields, trust me!

 

What is your favorite Quote? How do you apply this to your life?

 

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

 

This is my favourite scripture and the only one I’ve ever memorised, to be honest but when you decide to pursue something no matter what it is, you step out on faith. You don’t know what the end result will be but you believe in what you are doing. That’s the journey I am on. I’m taking that “leap of faith” learning something completely new for a career not knowing what doors are about to open but confident the next step in my journey will be exciting. It already is!

 

Fun Facts

I speak 3 languages being English (obviously), French and Lingala which is one of the five native languages of the Democratic Republic of Congo but officially, there is around 250, I think and unfortunately, I don’t know them all or speak them either! I play the piano which I absolutely love! I love wrestling. Random I know but I hope one day to watch it live. Goldberg and Naomi are forever my favs!

 

My Family Influence

I am the eldest and only girl with three younger brothers. Although, we were all born and raised in London, England, our family hale from the Democratic Republic of Congo from a tribe called “Mongo”.

 

We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.

 

 

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