Hanamariam Tefera didn’t have a lot of opportunity to explore technology growing up in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, but she always wanted to learn more about the world of computers.
Now a senior studying computer information systems and technology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Tefera recently received a scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest annual gathering in the world for women in technology.
This year, the conference was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Tefera was still able to attend a week of webinars and workshops with leading women in technology and women leaders such as athletes Serena Williams and Megan Rapinoe.
The Grace Hopper conference was founded in 1994 to highlight the work of women in technology and encourage collaboration, networking and mentoring.
Tefera said she attended sessions that went beyond technology to helping young women get a foothold in the world of technology by addressing how women have kept their careers moving beyond the entry level and negotiated salaries.
“They brought up a lot of important issues,” she said. “It’s important to see a lot of successful women. There’s no such thing as a man’s job and a woman’s job.”
During free times in the conference, Tefera could meet individually with women in the field. “Everyone was really open to having a conversation,” she said. “One of the best things about the conference was to get me out of my shell. I think I need to push myself.”
It is unlikely that Tefera would have made her way to the conference if she hadn’t first made her way to Pitt-Bradford.
Her mother is a certified nursing assistant, and her dad is a customer service agent at Reagan National Airport in Northern Virginia. It was important to her parents that she and her brother study in a field that will provide them with good jobs.
“My parents wanted us to go into something medical,” she said. “Being successful is a big influence for me.”
When she first arrived on campus as a first-year student, she wasn’t 100% sure about a medical field and knew that computers and technology are growing industries and job markets. She took her first class during the second semester of her freshman year with Dr. Ken Wang, director of the CIS&T program.
“He knew that I had no experience in technology and made sure to go through everything from scratch,” she said.
“I got to try working with technology, and it drew me in. The professors were very good and made the topics very interesting.” She liked her classes and began working on more hands-on projects with the campus’s in-house tech department, where many of the program’s adjunct instructors also work.
Working alongside her instructors, she found another woman mentor in Emily Parana, a technical analyst at the university.
“It is nice to have a small campus and interact one-on-one with your professors,” she said. “I can talk to Emily about any issues I might have, not just computers.”
Tefera hopes to one day help her native country. “My dream job would be working for a nongovernmental organization to bring more technology to Ethiopia and other countries in need.”
Tefera is the second CIS&T student to attend the conference. In 2016, Nnedimma Ugochukwu ’18 attended and used the conference’s job fair to secure an internship with Google.
Wang said, “Over the decade since I joined Pitt-Bradford, young female students were always a super minority in our computer technology classes. Nationwide, only 12% of software engineers were female.
“Such a gender gap has to be closed. This is why we encourage our female students to attend events like the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, where they could find passion, excitement, support and opportunities.
“This kind of exposure makes them more confident and ambitious about choosing a promising – while historically male-dominated – field as their major of study in college.”