Before Jade Burnham began her career in tech, the industry intimidated her.
Jade only signed up for the computer support tech program that led her to the career she has today because it was the shortest of all the programs she was looking into.
“I was a single mom with 3 young children. It was the quickest thing that I could do to make a living and support my children,” she said. “Before then, my understanding of computers was that you needed to be good at math and I wasn’t a good math student so it intimidated me. But I still did the program and I got into it and quickly it grew on me.”
She soon learned that she enjoyed helping people while working as a Help Desk Coordinator and Systems Analyst, and working with computers was a perfect fit.
As Jade progressed through her career, she relied on teaching herself new things. There weren’t any internships or mentors guiding her along the way. But now she has the chance to give young tech workers the mentorship she didn’t have.
Facilitated through the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition, Jade is mentoring NPower interns to staff a help desk that distributes devices, increase access to internet connectivity, and connects Baltimoreans with digital skills training and technical support.
The Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition (BDEC) connects committed organizations and individuals to coordinated efforts that seek to advance digital equity and close the digital divide. As a cohort of over 50 member organizations, BDEC works to address both the urgent and long-term need for increased digital access throughout the city of Baltimore. Initially formed as a “rapid response” effort in the wake of COVID-19 closures and shutdowns, the Coalition acknowledges the deep-rooted and systemic history of digital inequity and aims to close the digital divide in Baltimore
“This is the first experience I’ve had with interns, but I do like the idea that I am starting with them at the beginning of their journey,” she said. “I didn’t have this opportunity to have an internship or mentors to show me the challenges and how to overcome them. I am trying to mold them to be the best version of themselves.”
Working with the interns has shown her that there is still work to be done in the tech industry with diversity and equality. She sees it every day in how different interns are treated on the phone when they try to troubleshoot and provide help.
“Diversity is more than just an ethnic background. It transcends everything. It’s gender too,” Jade said. “I have one young man and one young woman I’m mentoring and their perspectives are so different especially in terms of how they are on the phone and how they are received. When I listen to their recorded messages, the young man tells someone to do something and the client is ready to do it but it’s harder for the young woman.”
Besides helping her interns do their job the best they can, Jade is committed to building up their confidence and exposing them to as many potential mentors and role models as possible.
“Had I had this opportunity early in my career then maybe it would have been a lot easier knowing how to deal with issues and people,” she said. “What I would say to my younger self is, ‘Reach out to people who are experienced,” and that’s what I’m trying to do now for these young people.”
Fearless is working to highlight technologists of color in our community to inspire the next generation. We know how hard it can be to see yourself in an industry if you don’t see anyone who is like you.
We want to shine a light on the incredible people who can and should be role models for our future, more diverse tech workforce. Is there someone you think we should feature? Get in touch!