The cloud presents an opportunity for women of color to benefit from higher-paying and enriching careers in tech.
For this year's Black History Month, we honor the incredible innovators from the Black community whose work and passion are changing the future of technology. Join us all month as we profile emerging leadership in tech for our Black Future Month series.
Cloud Computing Technical Specialist Susanne Tedrick has amassed an enviable list of accolades throughout her career in the tech industry including the CompTIA Diversity in Technology Leader Award, Rising Star Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner, and being a member of the Executive Council for CompTIA's Attracting Tech Talent and Diversity Community to name a few. She’s also an author. Her book, Women of Color in Tech: A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators is a comprehensive guide to increasing the participation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) women in STEM.
Perfecting the Pivot
Perhaps her most impressive accolade is that she has managed to accomplish all of this in only five years. Tedrick spent 15 years in the financial services industry before making a u-turn into tech. But her decision wasn’t completely random. The seeds had been sown in her childhood when she and her father, a warehouse manager for a tile company, would tinker with the electronics he brought home. “I'd always been interested in computers and electronics in large part because my dad would bring stuff home for me to play with and experiment with and there were times when I would take things apart to see how they would work,” Tedrick remembered. “He didn't study it in school, he was just more of a hobbyist. It just happened that we shared that hobby.”
But her mother’s illness and financial constraints forced Tedrick to press pause on furthering her education and eventually she found herself in an administrative role. Despite this choice, Tedrick admits she didn’t enjoy the work that much and longed for a greater sense of satisfaction.
“I just made the conscious choice to say why not try and leave and see where that leads you in your career versus just always wondering if you could do it.”
The first step was enrolling in a communication systems program at Northwestern University. Tedrick was drawn to a degree that focused not only on information technology and information systems but also communication skills. As she explained, “What I found was that while it was very helpful to learn all of this technical knowledge and acumen, being able to share your ideas with people and to articulate them well was just as important if not more so.” In addition to the curriculum, Tedrick threw herself into volunteer work, hackathons, boot camps, and “just getting every educational and professional opportunity that I could get my hands on to figure out where exactly I do belong in tech and how do I succeed.”
“Just understanding the basics of cloud computing will help alleviate some of the fear that you may have about it. ”
The Importance of Demystifying the Cloud
Her efforts paid off with a technical sales internship at IBM. A year later she began working there full-time. While this position allowed her to combine her love of relationship building with her love of solving complex problems, cloud computing was where she really found her footing. Now, part of her job entails demystifying this still relatively new field,
“Most of my current work is helping my clients understand [the cloud] and understand the implications of it. How do you use it to satisfy whatever your technical needs are but also meet your financial goals and security goals? I give high-level presentations on cloud security because that actually is a very important part of cloud computing. I think getting people comfortable and giving that education about what it all means and what the level of responsibility is between you, the consumer, and the cloud provider that you're using and making sure that you understand where the delineation is, is critical.”
She continued, “So just talking through that and looking at use cases where things went wrong. I think that use cases are very good teaching tools to show people this is what you want to avoid if you're thinking about this kind of deployment model. I think it's important regardless if you're a consumer business. Just understanding the basics of cloud computing will help alleviate some of the fear that you may have about it.”
Cloud computing has become the norm for many enterprises and Tedrick believes that everyone should at least develop the basic skills and knowledge of what it is. As an added incentive: as cloud technology adoption picks up steam, opportunity is abundant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 531, 200 new computer and information technology jobs will be added between 2019 to 2029. This is an 11% growth rate which represents a faster average than all other occupations. Part of this demand is attributed to a greater emphasis on cloud computing, in addition to the collection and storage of big data, and information security. Cloud computing was the backbone of remote workforces during the coronavirus pandemic and is expected to remain a critical cog in the business strategies of organizations targeting cost efficiency and scalability.
“I encourage everyone to learn as much about cloud computing as possible. And there are a number of opportunities for women in cloud. There are actually several professional organizations developed for women who are looking to advance in the cloud computing industry. One is called the Women in Cloud Network and another is called Cloud Girls. I have some involvement with those organizations but a lot of my interaction is through CompTIA, the professional organization and a contributor in thought leadership for cloud computing.”
Tedrick is passionate about advancing women in tech in part due to her own formative experiences.
“I didn't see many women and specifically women of color in my community, my neighborhood, or my family in the technology field. And I do wonder if I had seen that earlier would I have consciously believed that this was a career field for me,” she mused. “And so I try to be as present as I possibly can be to show young girls of color and for women who are potential career changers that this is a field for you and you're desperately needed.”
In writing her book, Tedrick wrote everything she wished she had known before entering the field, at a time when she suffered from imposter syndrome and the “mental anguish” of feeling like she wasn’t good enough permeated her thoughts.
“I didn't see many women and specifically women of color in my community, my neighborhood, or my family in the technology field. ”
“We talk about support in the academic work environment and professional environment. But for women of color to be successful in tech, and quite frankly most other male dominated careers, there needs to be consistent support... It really does take a village of people to help not only build the pipeline but to keep the pipeline intact.”
Tedrick has turned her attention to completing a Master’s degree in Information Technology at Virginia Tech that she previously put on hold to complete her book. For the next couple of years she will also lend her expertise to CompTIA's Diversity in Technology Executive Council. She envisions a career in teaching at some point but that’s a long way off. For now, her focus is singular, “I'm really going to use all of my resources and time to really drive home, not only for larger corporations like the IBMs and Microsofts of the world but for small technology businesses, the need for diversity equity and inclusion.”