For those of you who are new to the Aspirations IT Connect Community, welcome — my name is Katherine Myers, I am the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Award Program Ambassador and host of the Alumnae Stories! 

While trying to cope with the impact the Coronavirus on you, your family and community, you may have missed the fact that March marked Feminist Day and International Women’s Day.   With around the clock doom and gloom coverage of the outbreak, we wanted to make sure we end the month, and start a new month, with a large dose of optimism.  

So we invited Salesforce MVP and Getfeedback’s Global Product Growth and Innovation Enthusiast, Shonnah Hughes to chat with us about finding the good in an otherwise challenging situation and the opportunities for young women to innovate during COVID-19.

ABOUT THE GUEST

Shonnah Hughes is a Product Evangelist with GetFeedback, Salesforce MVP & Technical Admin and Co-Founder of PepUp Tech — a nonprofit working to ensure students of color are prepared and available for STEM career opportunities.  

Hughes travels the world using speaking engagements, conferences, and workshops to coach and influence enterprises on how to augment their workforce. 

Follow Shonnah on Twitter at @saasy_sistah >>>

Connect with Shonnah on LinkedIn >>>

THE CONVERSATION 

Shonnah and I had wonderful conversation — it really felt great to laugh and find humor during this time of distress and uncertainty.  

When I first met Shonnah in April 2019, she was giving a workshop on “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome” at our 2019 Rising Star and Certificate of Distinction event as a representative from PepUp Tech, a nonprofit that works closely with underrepresented individuals to get them involved in technology.  Since then a lot has changed in her day-to-day! 

Since last year, Hughes has scaled back from her leadership role on PepUp Tech’s board to focus on reaching out to K-12 students via a new venture, to be announced. Shonnah believes by reaching students earlier in their educational journey, she can have more of an influential impact on their interest and future trajectory in STEAM-related fields.  She partners with MNAiC and organizations like the Minnesota STEM Partnership on speaking engagements at local urban schools where she inspires and encourages students to think deeply about what they are learning in their science and math classes and its relevance to their everyday lives.  

Often, when speaking with students, Shonnah finds herself clarifying misconceptions about what it actually means to be in tech, as well as helping them to appreciate the diversity of tech roles and how they fuel business success. She says many believe they have to already have coding or great math skills to be in tech. As a firm believer that anyone can gain the knowledge and skills to thrive in tech, Shonnah says, it's important to help students understand how what they are learning applies in the real world and in the tech space. This understanding will ultimately generate interest and influence future decisions on educational and career tracks.

MNAiC Alumnae Stories | LIVE Chat with Salesforce MVP, Shonnah Hughes

[WATCH]: LIVE Alumnae Stories Chat with Salesforce MVP,  Shonnah Hughes


Our conversation soon pivoted to Shonnah’s role as Product Growth & Innovation Evangelist and Salesforce MVP at GetFeedback, a SurveyMonkey solution purposely built for Salesforce. It was nice to get a better understanding of her work.  A lot of people (myself included), are usually confused by her title and often think she works for Salesforce, which she does not. While her title may leave you wondering who she works for, you can’t miss the brand power behind the names.  She loves her job and the title as it affords her a certain level of influence to elevate other technology and platforms within her organization and at Salesforce.  

Shonnah is not the only one leveraging influence to elevate desired outcomes.  During COVID-19, GetFeedback by SurveyMonkey and Salesforce have partnered to collectively support the needs of healthcare workers and others on the frontline.  They are donating technology, expertise, and resources to help people understand how to organize and utilize data that is used to inform critical decisions being made by healthcare and government agencies. 

It is inspiring and refreshing to see all these companies collaborating to support practitioners on the frontline. Abbott, my employer, is one of these companies working around the clock to develop and provide test kits and vaccines.  In the tech industry that has generally lacked diversity, Shonnah believes that the pandemic is proof of how diversity fuels innovation and change. All the companies, government agencies, and brilliant minds of the world are coming together to solve a problem that impacts all of us and not just a specific industry or group of people.  She says it's important to not only cultivate diversity but continue to grow it into the future and we can start doing so now with the way we collaborate, using diverse and sometimes divergent perspectives to solve problems. 

PepUp Tech Bootcamp with students and volunteers


Speaking of the way we work, Shonnah believes this is one of the areas we can expect to see COVID-19 having a lasting impact.  Many companies have been forced to rethink how they collaborate internally and deliver services. Businesses are also realizing physical office locations may be unnecessary or some roles can actually function perfectly fine, remotely.  This shift widens talent pipelines and even makes certain job opportunities and companies more attractive to diverse talent who may not want to relocate, or are hesitant about company cultures and spaces. Additionally, distance learning is another trend that has emerged out of the outbreak.  Much like remote work, distance learning may be a way to reduce disparities in education. I mean, what if the high school you attended wasn’t tied to the zip code you lived in? What if your parents were able to enroll you in a school with a focus and curriculum that interests you? Much like a language immersion school. And you could attend online from the comfort of home, the library, or your friendly local coffee shop? Obviously, I’m simplifying things a bit but the idea is with fewer barriers, more underrepresented students can get quality STEM education and improved access to in-demand careers. 

Since I am an essential worker (because I work in healthcare) I have still been going into my lab every day; it was great to get some insight into remote working because I haven’t had the opportunity to work from home before!   Shonnah and I talked about our renewed appreciation for essential workers: medical and healthcare staff, grocery store workers, delivery workers, janitorial staff, and all others that are often taken for granted. We are so blessed to benefit from their support. 

Because March was Women in History Month, I asked Shonnah if there was a particular woman in history that has had an impact on her life  

"There are so many, it is hard for me to choose!  But, if I had to choose one, it would be Harriet Tubman.” 

I loved her answer — what a great choice!

Shonnah, thanks again for helping us see the light in this season of uncertainty.  

In closing, I challenge young women in tech everywhere to think creatively and take action to address some of the day-to-day issues that you, your loved ones and others in the community may be struggling with.  And keep in mind, optimism has a way of lifting our spirits to heights where innovation and transformation are realized. Stay positive!

Don’t forget changes have been made to the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing 2020 programming in response to the pandemic. View changes here and subscribe to the Aspirations IT Connect Community to receive program updates.


WHY WE CHAT

Alumnae Stories is a syndicated Instagram series. This monthly LIVE Chat. is an effort to provide program participants an online opportunity to connect with alumnae at various stages of their journey as #womenintech as well as industry leaders and educators.

While the conversations are primarily focused on tech, there will occasionally be an integration of engineering, biology, and other sciences. Our goal is to cultivate a safe space for girls to exchange ideas, insights, ask questions, and connect with peers, educators, and future employers.

Guest alumnae, program partners and industry leaders who agree to chat with us are driven by the desire to pay-it-forward by lending their stories, experiences, advice and professional connections to help build equity for women in the tech sector.

ABOUT MINNESOTA ASPIRATIONS IN COMPUTING 

The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to inspire, empower, and honor young women of high school age for their computing-related achievements and interests. The program is supported by the Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence and numerous businesses and organizations. The powerful story of honoree accomplishments does not end at a recognition ceremony in April of each year, it’s just the beginning! Over 400 young women who have been honored since the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program inception in 2012-2013 continue to pursue life-changing education and career opportunities, becoming accomplished practitioners and leaders in a variety of Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.