This interview is in line with our last interview in that we have another Computer Science STEM story! This time, our interviewee is Laura Abbott! With a history of working in Open Source, this interview will be unique in more ways than one!
Links and resources
The Interview - Laura Abbott
- Name: Laura Abbott
- STEM Field of Study (or profession): Computer Science
Q: What was (or is) your favorite subject in school and why?
Laura: “In grade school, I liked all my subjects. I wrote lots of stories in my free time and loved math and science. As I got older, I still enjoyed everything but math and science were what piqued my interest. I loved learning about the world and how it made sense.”
Q: Describe the first time you heard about STEM, why was this an appealing thing to be a part of?
Laura: “I don’t actually remember the first time I heard STEM. The concept has always been there for me, even if I didn’t know that particular phrase. STEM for me has always meant having an impact on people and changing things for the better.”
Q: When was the first time you became actively involved in STEM? Do you recall a specific project or initiative?
Laura: “Growing up, the local Society of Women Engineers would sponsor an egg drop contest off the top of an office building. I think I was about five the first time I participated. I remember brain storming ideas with my parents and brother about what might be good packing material and containers. My egg did survive the drop!”
Q: How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a career in STEM become a priority or choice?
Laura: “I roughly always knew I wanted to something in STEM although what I specifically wanted changed. I thought about medical school for a while in high school but eventually decided on computer science. More recently, I’ve come to appreciate that communication and people skills are vital to be successful.”
Q: What is your dream job? Can you see any roadblocks or challenges which might be influenced by your gender?
Laura: “My dream job is one where I get to talk excitedly with others about what I’m working on. I’d like to say there would be no road blocks but I don’t think that would be accurate. “
Q: Are hobbies in STEM important? What about hobbies in general? Can you share some of your hobbies that may (or may not) have contributed to your STEM involvement?
Laura: “Hobbies are very important! Your hobbies do not have to be related to your work at all! I used to do a lot more programming in my free time. Now that I’m working full time as a programmer though, I tend to have hobbies that focus a bit more on my well being and get me away from the computer, such as skiing and biking. What’s most important is doing what makes you happy. “
Women in STEM Impact
Q: What does STEM mean to you?
Laura: “Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, I don’t have a more clever definition ;)”
Q: Can you recall any times when you questioned your involvement in STEM because of your gender?
Laura: “Some days it’s pretty depressing to read the news, especially over the past year or so with the stories of harassment. It’s kind of become “oh look it’s this nonsense again” whenever the next bad report comes out. It’s lead me to do a lot of soul searching about whether it’s worth it to continue. The answer at least for now is yes.”
Q: What are some of the personal experiences - or compelling arguments - that have influenced your thinking around gender and STEM, and have motivated you to get involved in being an advocate for change?
Laura: “The biggest thing has been getting older and wishing I could go back and change things. Be the support and positive influence you wish you had when you were younger. Tell your younger self “you’re doing great!” Tell your current self that as well!”
Q: Do you have a network of women in STEM around you to share knowledge and remind you you are not alone? If so, how did you go about creating that network?
Laura: “Networking is not my strong point and I’ve been trying to work on that. I’ve slowly gotten better about meeting other women, especially at conferences. It turns out “Hi, I saw your talk/twitter/blog and I think it’s really cool” is a pretty easy way to start a good conversation.”
Q: Are you involved/can you recommend any organization(s) that support Women in STEM (shoutouts)?
Laura: “Outreachy is a fantastic program to get involved in Open Source! (It started as the Outreach Program for Women but now involves many more under-represented groups in open source!)”
Q: Are there any (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc…) influencers out there who inspire you regularly? How/Why?
Laura: “Twitter is full of amazing technical women. They do such a fantastic (unpaid) job of articulating many of my feelings better than I could. They also make the best jokes and puns.”
Q: Top three changes which could make life easier for Women in STEM?
Laura: “hire women, pay women, don’t forget about other intersectional issues.”
Advice to the younger you and women considering a career in STEM
Q: Which achievement do you look at and think “I’d love to go back in time and tell younger me that this was possible”?
Laura: “I work for Red Hat as a kernel developer. Pretty sure high school me would be amazed I get to work on open source full time. “
Q: If you could go back and change one thing in your STEM path, what would that be?
Laura: “I’d have done my undergraduate degree differently. I have a BS in computer science which I don’t regret at all but I wish I had the chance to take some different courses and maybe study abroad. I’d also not run that rm -rf command.”
Q: What advice would you give to women who are 1) Curious about STEM, 2) Questioning their STEM related studies, 3) Questioning their STEM related career?
Laura: “It all comes down to doing what makes you happy. I talk a lot about programming because that’s what makes me happy. STEM can cover a wide variety of careers and areas. There’s room to use your unique skills.”
Be sure to check back on Monday for another interview! Yes, we will keep posting amazing stories each weekday for the entire month of May! Can’t wait to share the next one :-)
Stay tuned for everything that is next!