Tag Archives: Engineer

Natives in Tech | Erin Spiceland

Erin Spiceland’s challenge to NextGen Natives: “Google “[Natives in] tech…; and see Native people in every field, no matter how much of a walled garden exists. They did it, you can do it.”

One of the goals for NextGen Native is to connect Native people across a variety of professions, and to tell the story of these people to place their experience in context i.e. being Native person in the 21st century. Perhaps no one best exemplifies this to date than Erin Spiceland.

Erin Spiceland is Choctaw, and grew up in South Georgia. Her family ended up there after her grandfather settled down in the area after serving in the Navy. She is a software engineer  working in for a technology company in Huntsville, AL. If there is one area that every community needs to be part of in 2016, it’s technology.

Natives in tech

Erin Spiceland, one Native in tech

Specifically, preparing people to work in technology by teaching them to code. Erin has worked hard online to promote Natives in tech, and she has done so by example. But even more, in the same conversation Erin talks about the importance of coding, she talks about learning her language, and teaching it to her kids.

Erin’s journey is about more than just coding. Erin lost her mother at a young age after a battle with Leukemia. It was difficult for her to move on after the loss, but she found strength in her faith and realizing that her life did not have to be defined by what she lost.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Math and music: the connections between the two.
  • How Erin wanted music to be a major part of her life and influenced her academic future.
  • The benefit of having a support system that allows someone to challenge themselves.
  • How studying computer science in college is behind the curve when it comes to what actually occurs in the real world.
  • What is an algorithm (never be afraid to ask questions).
  • How Erin ended up at Nodesource.
  • Different resources for learning code: Khan Academy; Code.org; Coursera;
  • Erin’s perspective of being a woman and being a Native person in a technology company. And how she enjoys surprising people when she tells people what she does.
  • Natives in tech, what a variety of Natives are doing in different industries.

I learned a lot from Erin, and she pushed me to understand things just a bit beyond my grasp. In addition to learning my language, I think I’ve been inspired to learn some kind of coding program, too.

For more background, here is Erin’s bio:

Erin Spiceland is a Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Choctaw and Chickasaw classically trained musician living in Huntsville, Alabama. She works as a backend software engineer at NodeSource. When she’s not hard at work writing code, she can be found under a pile of beadwork or practicing the Choctaw language with her two daughters. She also loves kayaking and Star Trek.

Aaron Yazzie | Navajo at NASA

Aaron Yazzie is Navajo. He is currently a Mechanical Engineer at NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Anaheim, California.

Aaron Yazzie

Aaron Yazzie’s journey began on the Navajo Nation where he excelled as a student. His mother, a teacher, and his father, an engineer, emphasized education from an early age. Aaron knew that college was in his future. But even as a gifted student, he doubted whether he was “good enough” to get into the schools he wanted to get into.

In high school Aaron attended College Horizons (and Upward Bound, too), a program for Native American high school students. The organization exposes Native students to college and vise versa. Aaron met someone from Stanford University, who encouraged him to apply to Stanford. Even with good grades, a drive for school, and encouragement by university staff, he was not confident he would be admitted. Thankfully, Aaron was only suffering from imposter syndrome, and was able to enroll at Stanford.

Aaron Yazzie studied mechanical engineering while at Stanford. He also lived at the Native American house on campus. Although gifted academically, Aaron found he had to work harder at Stanford, and that the competition was stiff. Continue reading