Meet The Role Models is a technology community series which highlights the stories of The Ada Lovelace Initiative role models. The success of the Ada Lovelace Initiative is down to the continuous participation of technology professionals across Ireland and since September 2015, voluntary speakers have reached over 5000 secondary school students between them.
Our latest interview features Vicky Twomey Lee, coder, tech event organiser, mentor, and advocate for diversity in tech. By day, she is a Maker Advocate for the Dublin Maker team.
MEET VICKY TWOMEY LEE
Hi Vicky! How would you describe your current role?
I have many hats, and mainly it boils down to engaging and helping the community, be it in my own initiatives advocating diversity in tech, sharing local and national tech-related events, to advising folks new in the tech event organising side of things to connecting amazing people in the community, right up to my day job as a Maker advocate bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together making things with their hands, machinery, and other crafty tools.
What attracted you to this type of career?
I fell into it to be honest. I got into computing as a career after I graduated from college. I actually wanted to study Graphic Design, but my Cantonese (Chinese) was not the best and I couldn’t get past saying “art” to my parents. Even though I got into Graphic Design in Limerick Art and Design, I was whisked away to re-do my Leaving Cert. As you can imagine, I was not happy, but I saw Graphics in a 3rd Year module in Computer Systems and that’s what drew me towards studying it. I’ve always had an interest in computers and especially video games thanks to my father who’s been tinkering with computers since the early 80s. He let me play around with the computers, and as I got older, I upgraded them, and he was always supportive on letting me experiment and try new things. The Nintendo Famicom he brought back from Hong Kong in 1984 kick-started me falling in love with video games. Even now, besides playing video games, I’m also very much following the Irish independent games industry, ran community game jams, and am getting to know the amazing Irish game dev community finding out how they make games behind the scenes. Plus, my best job so far (current one withstanding) is being a curator and researcher for a games exhibition for Science Gallery Dublin called GAME back in 2012.
What did you study in college?
Spoiler alert from previous question, I studied Computer Systems in University of Limerick for my undergraduate course. I really enjoyed my work placement in 2nd year where I experienced QA and development for 8 months.
I went back to study a Masters in Multimedia as a mature student after working in the industry for a few years as I wanted to get back to my creative roots, making art, animation, and graphics. That was with Dublin City University, and it was an amazing experience.
What were your favourite subjects when you were in school?
Art, Physics and Applied Maths. I realised that I was a very visual person, so sketching out problems and solutions was something I really enjoyed, plus I was into creative technologies before it was a thing.
What were your favourite hobbies when you were in school?
Art (hehe, of course), tennis, learning to read and write (Traditional) Chinese by myself.
What would you say is a common misconception about your role type?
I haven’t thought much about this as I’m so active in the tech community and maker community space. I would like to hope that people still think I’m technical, but as I’m more of a hobbyist coder now, I wouldn’t call myself an expert anymore. I’m a person with many hats and skills – a generalist.
What would you say is the best part of your work?
Chatting with the community, making them feel welcome to the group, mentoring via tech workshops, and giving people a platform to showcase themselves and their projects. If what I am doing helps people to advance in their career, figure out what area of tech to get into, make that decision to study a particular course, and gets the right people talking to each other, I’ll be well satisfied.
What motivated you to get involved with The Ada Lovelace Initiative?
Hearing the amazing work the initiative is doing, it’s great to have something like this to inform folk on areas of tech and showcasing all of the various roles that are not normally associated with coding.
How important do you think it is for young girls to have the opportunity to meet female role models in the stem space?
It’s very important – as a person who grew up going through school always looking for someone like myself, then found myself in the same position again in college, and again during my career, it doesn’t have to feel so lonely as there are others out there. There is someone like you working in many different areas of technology. Plus, it’s a chance to ask lots of questions, and not be afraid in doing so.
I always tell young people that they will have roles in the future that don’t even exist right now. It’s all very exciting in the world where things evolve so fast, and seeing the new generation taking over and being even more inventive and innovative.
Who is a role model in history that you look up to, and why?
Besides Ada Lovelace, I would pick The Amazing Grace herself, Grace Hopper. From the first time I saw the video of her explaining how fast electricity can travel in a nanosecond to a bunch of generals with a piece of wire, and her quip when she gave out about programmers throwing away microseconds and why it’s important. She also has a supercomputer named after her, and said “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”. An amazing, strong woman with so much respect from so many. That’s why we named an initiative I co-founded after Grace Hopper as an homage – Coding Grace
Who would you say is your own role model in your career today, and why?
There are so many, and I want to include my mom in there; she was a Maker before I knew what a Maker was, from a soldering genius to a trained seamstress. I wish I could do all of that with confidence.
With regards to the technology side of things, I would say Martha Rotter. She was an evangelist for Microsoft and ran the very first Girl Geek Dinners in Ireland. Back then, I wished I was as confident as her speaking about tech in front of so many coders (mostly made up of guys) at a conference that I attended. When she hosted Girl Geek Dinners, I was so excited to see lots of other ‘techie’ girls like myself! I would say Martha for definite made an impression on me early in my career in the tech community. Who would have thought that 20 years later I would be the one running technical events, standing in front of people speaking about tech, and helping others in the community? I have to shout out that Ireland’s tech community have been very kind to me, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
What advice would you give to any young girls considering a tech / stem future?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I didn’t get to study graphic design in college, but I did do a lot of design as a hobby when in college, and during my coding career, especially for my own websites. Nowadays I’m my own graphic designer for all the work I do on social media, live-streaming and so on.
It may feel like the end of the world if you don’t get the choice you wanted, but you will get there in the end. There’s always an alternative path, and it will change as you walk it. If you are outside of your comfort zone, that means you are learning something new – Life would be very boring if we knew everything.
We would like to thank Vicky for joining us to share her inspiring story.
If you would like to learn more about The Ada Lovelace Initiative, please visit our A.L.I page.
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