My STEM Journey + 4 Nuggets of Wisdom

Career and Finance Gaming Reflections

I recently saw the #SheCanSTEM campaign going around and felt inspired to share my journey in technology, although it’s a bit of a wayward one. The campaign has been showcasing prominent women in STEM careers with the goal of inspiring girls 11-15 years old. This hits home with me since I was around that age when I started competing in video game tournaments. However, my journey begins a bit earlier than that.

My STEM Journey

I was around 7-8 when I became interested in technology…but it’s all a little blurry. Twenty years can do that.

You’ll never guess what kicked it off – Neopets! Yes, a virtual pet simulator sparked my interest in web design and online communities. I started a guild on Neopets and quickly learned how to build a website around it – I absolutely loved learning and coding HTML, CSS, Javascript, and using Paint (yes, MS Paint) to create graphics! I became slightly addicted to it and spent most of my evenings in elementary school on the computer, making my website better and better so I could convince more people to join my guild. It was so much fun (p.s. I convinced a lot of people to join and had a super awesome guild, just for the record). I think people can have a narrow definition of what “tech” involves, but the reality is that it manifests in a variety of ways – including as an adorable, little virtual pet.

A Pig-tailed Menace

Then came gaming. I had two older brothers that loved shoot ‘em up games and they insisted on getting an Xbox for Christmas, despite my cries for a Gamecube. Lucky for me, Santa brought us an Xbox and Halo. Also lucky for me, I had two great older brothers who included me in their games and were, for the most part, patient with me. We began competing in Halo: CE against other people through an online platform called Xbox Connect. From there, we learned about tournaments, local and national, and started attending (and winning) them! We ended up traveling all over the US as a family team competing in Halo: Combat Evolved, and signed contracts with an organization called Major League Gaming as “professional gamers.” I was 11 years old and living the dream as the first female professional gamer for the organization!

After a few years, my brothers decided to put the controller down, but I continued competing with my own team and a new, awesome female teammate who was my age (15/16), Smiley. Together, we were the first girls to break into the professional bracket for Halo 2. I still remember playing on the stage, winning the game, and her giving me a great, big bear hug! It was a very cool moment, one we had practiced and hoped for.

College life is the life for me!

After five years of competing, I hung up my controller and moved onto college. I majored in Communications for the first two years, but then took an Intro to Programming class with an awesome professor who strongly suggested I change my major to Computer Science since I had a “knack” for it. After much thought, I decided to switch because I realized I enjoyed it – I liked the instant gratification of the output from my code, the puzzle this new language created, and the doors a degree in tech would open for me.

In my new department, it was common to be one out of the two or three girls in a twenty-something person classroom, but that never really bothered me. I made friends with another gal (Hi, Alicia!) that took all the same classes as me and it was just fine. I never really had an issue in the classroom or throughout college with being a female STEM student.

Honestly, I loved college. I innately love learning and loved the freedom that college brought with it. I was still working and attending gaming industry events like E3, so I kept my foot in the gaming industry’s door while I studied my little heart out.

I worked a ton of gaming events for ASTRO Gaming! <3

Before leaving for college, I remember my friend and I talking about an older, really cool girl who graduated with a 3.96 GPA. We were SO amazed by this achievement! I didn’t really think that I could achieve the same thing, but I knew I wanted to try. So I did. The semesters rolled by, and so did the A’s — eventually leading me to graduate with a 3.94 GPA, Summa Cum Laude. I’m very proud of this accomplishment, mostly because it was a secret goal that was all mine and was accomplished without the help of anyone else.

A little blonde in D.C.

While in college, I knew I wanted to have an adventurous summer internship and heard that D.C was the intern-capital of the world. I found a program, applied for it, and was accepted as an intern for the Department of Veterans Affairs (also paid, YIPPE). After a few weeks, I was hired as a full time employee. I worked in D.C. for the summer, helping to bring to life an app for the VA.

One thing I always tried to do, especially in my teenage and college years, was to seek out exciting opportunities and say yes to them! You never know where they will lead you. It is not always comfortable. It requires you to push outside of your comfort zone. But once you push pass that initial discomfort, you’ll be amazed at the adventures that will unfold before you.

A dose of reality

After graduating with my degree, I began looking for jobs but really struggled. I found out the hard way that life after college is not just about ticking boxes and that it can be difficult for a young, fresh-faced woman to convince an employer that she knows what she’s doing (especially when impostor syndrome kicks in). Previously, whether it was college or competition, I could easily prove my competence by winning a game or acing a test, but real life was different. People entered into the equation, which meant biases also came into play. I reached out for a lot of “big, sexy jobs” (as my sister described it), and while I was close to landing some of them, I always fell short. My self-confidence really took a hit during this time. I re-adjusted my sights and decided to try out a contract position at Bungie as a tester! The contract was only for 3-4 months, but I decided to give it a go and make the cross-country leap to Seattle. I didn’t know what would happen or how it would unfold…but nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

My first day at Bungie!
Bungie Bonnie

It’s hard to believe that was almost five years ago! I’m now a QA/Test Project Lead at Bungie where I lead a lot of the live updates on Destiny 2. I work with our all-star QA department to ensure our players have the best experience possible. Before becoming a lead, I was a Test Engineer and worked on the Crucible which meant I was embedded with the designers and engineers, assisting in day-to-day development, and also writing and creating scripts to automate testing whenever applicable. I’ve learned so much, and yet still have so much more to learn.

My Bungie introduction picture when I became a full-time employee!

While I’d like to pretend it’s been a piece of cake, it hasn’t. I’ve navigated many tricky waters, as we all have, and at times I wanted to walk away (but that’s a blog post for another day!). Part of the process is learning how to persevere when things get rough, though.

Now you know a little bit about my journey, and while no two are the same, perhaps it will help or encourage you in someway. I’ll leave you with a few nuggets of “wisdom,” or mottos that motivated me throughout my endeavors. 😉

Four Nuggets of Wisdom

  1. If they can do it, you can do it.
    • A friend told me this right before I took my driver license test, and it stuck with me ever since. Whenever I get nervous now, I think about all the other people who have done something similar and remember that if they can do it, then surely I can do too because I am just as capable as them!
  2. Opinions have no power over you.
    • One of the downsides of being a young girl and well-known in the gaming community was reading some pretty terrible things about myself online. While people love to filter their faces on the internet, they often don’t do the same with their words. I had to learn and accept that what other people think, write, and say DOES NOT MATTER. I could be down and out that Joe Schmo thinks I need plastic surgery or Susie Snowflake thinks I shouldn’t have worn this or that, but why would I let an individual’s opinion affect me, especially when they don’t know me? Choose to not let it impact you. Build up your armor and let those naysayers bounce right off of you! At the end of the day, it simply doesn’t matter what others think because they don’t have to live with the consequences or repercussions. You do.
  3. Make yourself proud.
    • I always come back to this. This was the mantra that motivated me through college and beyond. To me, it means staying true to yourself. It means motivating yourself to do better, and better. It means aligning your goals with your values, and putting in consistent effort to achieve them. And there’s no better feeling when it comes to fruition.
  4. Get after it!
    • I recently adopted this mantra from a colleague and I love it for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a simple kick-ass phrase that inspires me to work hard. Second, it reminds me to chase after new possibilities instead of waiting for opportunity to knock. Be proactive! And finally, it helps me push pass that initial hesitancy that causes doubt, and propels me into whatever I’m doing at the moment.

*Editor’s note: I was very blessed to have the support and help from my family, friends, and awesome colleagues every step of the way. Could not be more thankful!

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