Why We Started Natives in Tech

Hesci! s’@gaê’lA.

It has been brought to my attention that I should write about the reason we started Natives in Tech so here goes. Before getting into the why, I first want to discuss my background and the history leading up to Natives in Tech. I was born and raised in St. Pete, FL. My father is Muscogee (Creek) and Yuchi/Euchee from Sapulpa, Oklahoma. My mother is English Canadian from Toronto, Canada. My Father did not learn to speak his Native languages and was not exposed to traditional ceremonies because his parents did not teach him, possibly to help him live a better life. I knew I was of mixed background but I never got the opportunity to express my cultural identity on my Father’s side. Fast-forward 18 years and I am graduating St. Pete High School and going on to attend the University of Florida. At the University of Florida, I had the opportunity, through the support of mentors like Dr. Robin Wright and the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs Office, to organize the group 500 Nations. For four years I was President of this organization and it allowed me to learn about pan-Native issues across the world and host events to educate the student body. We had some great speakers and performers come through like Winona LaDuke, Vernon Bellecourt, Bobbie Billie, and Bill Miller. I also had the opportunity to learn about my cultures, Muscogee (Creek) and Euchee/Yuchi. During the summers in college, I would go out to the ceremonial grounds in Oklahoma and spend time learning my languages, dances, and songs. After college, I moved out to Oklahoma and worked for my tribes and other non-profit organizations. It was a great learning experience and I was able to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for my cultures. I worked mainly in the field of education and that was great because I enjoy that so much. Unfortunately, after living in Oklahoma for four years my health started to take a turn for the worst. I won’t go into the details but I needed to head back to St. Pete and get back on my feet. It’s hard to explain but I felt that is where I needed to be to get better. I continued to work in the field of education as a trainer and instructional designer but in 2014 I became disenchanted with higher education and started my journey into web development. I remember even then having a goal of getting into web development and applying for a remote job that would allow me to live anywhere. In the back of my mind, I wanted to spend time in Oklahoma whenever I felt like it even if I didn’t move back but I knew it would take time. I took several online classes but what helped me the most was freeCodeCamp. After about 8 months studying and getting support from the freeCodeCamp community, I was able to land my first developer job at ValPak in St. Pete. That job lasted for a short time and I moved on to another partly remote position. Then I left that gig and found a fully remote job. Now I am working with another company and it too is a fully remote job. I do mainly front-end development using the React framework. What interests me is functional programming and how I can write more resilient and safer programs. I have now been developing for about 5 years and it has been great. Of course, there are ups and downs, that is how life is. But I have persisted and I am fortunate to be where I am today, living in Tulsa, Oklahoma and working entirely remote.

So now that you have some background we can get into why we started Natives in Tech. When I first started getting into web development there weren’t a whole lot of Native people that I knew who were developers. It was great to connect with and meet Erin Spiceland and other Native tech people on Twitter. There was still more I wanted to do. I wanted to create web applications that were specifically for Native peoples. That was the original idea. However, I also realized that more things need to be done infrastructure wise. We need more Native people to get into software development while at the same time elevating the status and visibility of Native peoples who are developers right now. We need to be seen and invited to the table when we talk about tech because Native peoples have specific needs and interests. We need something recognizable and that represents Native peoples as a whole. Two years pass and it was in 2017 when I was in Nashville, Tennessee for Nodevember eating dinner at a restaurant when I read a Medium article about Native people in STEM. I was incredibly inspired after reading that article. I thought to myself that it would be great to have all these people in the same room together helping and inspiring more Native people to be involved in tech. That night Natives in Tech was born and we created a Slack group where we could all get together and collaborate. I was incredibly happy. This was just the beginning. After we created the Slack group we went on to create the Natives in Tech GitHub organization, a Twitter account, and a Medium blog. After a few years, we created the Natives in Tech website and over time even more people started to get involved. Now, two years later, we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are having our first annual conference in November of this year (2019).

There is still more work to be done though. We need more Native people in tech building web applications that serve their communities. For example, some communities have a difficult time connecting to the internet. In those situations, progressive web applications, also known as offline-first applications, are better suited than traditional web applications that require an internet connection. Another example is having web applications that assert Native identity and culture. There should be news applications on the web that display the news entirely in Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, or Euchee. Web applications should take into account localization depending on which Native territory the person is accessing the content from. There is so much more but these are just some of the questions I have and things I want to work towards. I am not a computer wiz by any stretch of the imagination but I do try and work hard. We at Natives in Tech are building and growing and I hope we can become a force in the tech field. We are strong, resilient, and smart Native people and we can use technology to help our communities. That is what my goal is. But Natives in Tech is more than just myself. It is about everyone who has, is, or will be involved with Natives in Tech well into the future. My hope is that Natives in Tech will grow to become a self-sustaining organization that features some of the most talented developers in all the world. I invite anyone and everyone who is interested in furthering the cause of Natives in Tech to join us. Come be a part of something that is greater than you or I. Something that WE can all be proud of.

Mvto! @lA k’ayasOTa!