Oh....so YOU'RE the engineer?
Very few know, I went to a high school that was about 2% black. Growing up in a traditional West African household, I definitely felt like an outlier even within my own community. I graduated high school top of my class, was selected senior student of the year (my school’s version of Valedictorian), and received a full ride academic scholarship to the University of Washington. Throughout college I was an anomaly, as most were surprised to find out I didn’t hoop, play football, or run track. Instead I was interning at the EPA during college, and even working as a Nuclear Engineer in training doing structural analysis on the hauls of nuclear submarines. I wish I was saying all this just to brag...
While working professionally as a Civil Engineer, some of my first projects with my engineering company included building multi-million dollar data centers for Microsoft. Time after time going into meetings I would either not be given the time of day or overlooked as a person of authority. “Oh...so YOU’RE the engineer?” This would be the reaction and surprise on people’s faces when they realized I was the one leading a specific critical phase of the design process.
It made me question my years of academic investment, credentials, accomplishments, and the work that I put in to get to where I got to in my career. Mind you as a person of many interests, I was also extra-curricularly working on my music career so I clearly didn’t “look the part” either. But regardless of how many suits & ties I wore or put on a proper face during work hours, I was always reminded that I would have to put in twice as much work as my professional peers to receive half the credit.
All in all, the work I do now is an example of the transformative power of life experiences. These stories aren’t unique to me, but are the stories I look to tell and continue to share in order to show the work that still needs to be done to break the mold.