Empowering Women in Tech: Celebrating Their Contributions during Women's History Month

Empowering Women in Tech: Celebrating Their Contributions during Women's History Month
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As we celebrate Women's History Month this March, we are reminded of the countless contributions women have made throughout history. Women have fought for their rights and the rights of others, broken down barriers, and made significant strides in various industries, including the field of technology.

As a cybersecurity company, we understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity in our industry. We recognize the immense value that women bring to the tech world and want to take this opportunity to celebrate their achievements and contributions.

Women in tech have been instrumental in shaping the industry as we know it today. They have made significant contributions to software development, data analysis, cybersecurity, and many other areas. Their creativity, problem-solving skills, and technical expertise have helped to create innovative solutions and drive progress in the industry.

As the month of March comes to a close, we would like to conclude this series with an interview from Charmaine Thompson, Chief of Instructional Technology for Charles County Public Schools in Southern Maryland.

Thank you so much for joining me. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, how you got started in the industry and what inspired you to pursue a career in technology.

"Certainly, my name is Charmaine Thompson. Currently, I serve as the Chief of Instructional Technology in Charles County Public Schools. What started me in this field, I have to go back to when I was a little girl. My mom bought me my first computer, a Commodore 64. Many people may not even know what that is. Even at that young age, I just fell in love with technology. I was a little girl. I didn't care about the Barbie house. I was infatuated with everything, technology. And back then, there wasn't really Internet, so the most I could do on my computer was just play around. That's when I really knew. I will never forget my third-grade teacher asking what I wanted to be when I grow up. And I told her, I want to work with computers, and I want to teach people. For undergrad, I went to East Carolina University. I got my bachelor's in Information Systems. Even then, what I'm doing now wasn't even a job. Instructional technology wasn't even a field back then. So, I was kind of thrust into the field of help desk and computer analyst. I learned how to help support people with their problems on a computer. So when I graduated from Undergrad I moved here to Maryland, and I got my first job as a Helpdesk Analyst. And that's what I did. I provided IT Support. It wasn't really what I thought it would be and I would never forget my boss told me one day, he said, “you would make a great teacher.” So with that, I did. I applied to Montgomery County Public Schools, and I got hired as a Computer Science teacher and then I started teaching students how to use technology. "

What are some of the challenges that you've encountered?

"I led a one-to-one laptop program at Sidwell Friends and a lot of big technology initiatives there so, one of the challenges I faced initially as soon as I stepped foot in Charles County was, I did not realize how rural it was. I came in with bright eyes. We're getting a learning management system, we're going one-to-one, and they're in the room telling me, “Do you know some people don't even have Internet down here?" I literally felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I started driving around Charles County, visiting some of the areas and I was in complete shock at how rural some of the areas were. They didn't even have the infrastructure to support wireless or broadband Internet. Another challenge during the pandemic when schools were shut down, trying to partner with companies to get internet service to families who may not be able to afford it."

What are some of your key responsibilities?

"I'm responsible for executing a technology vision for our entire school district. I oversee a team consisting of an Executive Director of IT strategy, Help Desk Administrator, Network Engineers, Instructional Technology Specialists as well as a business Systems Administrator.  So, it's kind of the whole gamut. I'm ensuring that our school system has the infrastructure that it needs, the network, as well as the instructional design and the business operations side of anything technology. Anything as it relates to technology in our school district, other than our security systems, passes through my office. So, the team here is amazing! There is not an I in team. I can't take credit for everything. My team really is the pillar of the school district and all that we do. If we need a new business system, my team is involved. If we need a new learning system, my team is involved. If we have to enhance our wireless network, we have engineers that manage that. We have computer analysts that support the IT needs in the schools. So, everything from IT infrastructure all the way down to supporting teaching and learning, is what falls under my office."

With regard to the advancements of technology over the last five years, what are some of the things that you've been real excited about? Also, what are you least excited about?

"When I got here, a lot of our core systems were on file servers. So, I was very excited to help push us to cloud management systems. So, for instance, our student information system is now hosted in the cloud. We're moving to Oracle Cloud for our finance and HR system so I'm really excited about that as well. Also, we're pushing a lot more of our core critical systems to cloud computing.

My worry, obviously, is cybersecurity. What I'm also still not sure about, as you realize, because we're so dependent upon technology, our teachers and our staff are constantly finding new tools they want to use every day, or they're just using them, so a lot of times we find out things after the fact. My other concern is data privacy. Yes, you may have this cool new tool that's free, but what information is it collecting from you and sending off or sharing with third party vendors? So, that's another part. Just because something is free and cool to use behind the scenes, what are you really sharing? We had the United States Attorney's Office come out and facilitate a session on Internet safety and the dangers behind it. While technology is amazing, there's also the dangers that come with it. So, I try to help our school districts find the balance. Let's be safe. Let's not put ourselves in compromising situations. So that's probably the area where it's difficult for me. On one hand, I'm championing the use of technology and embedding it. However, on the other hand, I'm like, be careful, be safe, and be mindful of the data that you're sharing with some of these tech vendors. "

Lastly, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (ChatGPT), have you seen teachers having to tweak their teaching methods?

"We went ahead and blocked ChatGPT just because the terms of use age requirement is above our students’ age. So, we blocked that. But regardless Al is definitely something taking off and ChatGPT is just one of the many tools that are now coming out. I do know the, College AP board recently updated their student use policy, banning students from using ChatGPT or any artificial intelligence tool to help prepare them and or utilizing it to take state assessments. I just started having this conversation with our Instruction department that we needed to enhance our Student Code of Conduct to includes prohibiting Artificial Intelligence tools. There are some folks that I have spoken to who are on the opposite side. They're like, "well, rather than banning them, why don't we look at ways to have kids to use it, but just use it responsibly." It's an amazing tool. I play around with it just to see how it works. It's scary almost. Its next level. You could easily just search with a tool to see if a student plagiarized their work. But it's unique to every user, so it's hard to grab. I do know they're trying to come out with tools to help figure out if students are using AI. Just like when I spoke about banning TikTok, you ban ChatGPT, there's going to be ten more alternatives coming out. As we speak Google is beta testing an AI tool and there's others out there as well. There's good and there's bad uses of it. But I think with our kids, a lot of times they're not emotionally mature enough to sometimes make those decisions. Kids in high school or college are probably thinking, "oh, this is going to help me, I'm going to use it". So, it's really figuring out how to better educate our kids because, yeah, we could go and stand in front of kids right now and say, we've blocked ChatGPT, don't use artificial intelligence. That is only going to make their curious minds want to explore it even more. The media was doing inquiries with school districts about it. They asked if we were blocking it and what is our stance on it."

In closing, we celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in tech during Women's History Month. We thank the many women who contributed to the development of this series; Empowering Women in Tech, and trusted us to share their story.  We hope many young girls and women have been inspired by their stories and want to pursue a career in technology.

We are proud to work with women in tech. We recognize that there have been many obstacles and challenges faced along the way, but through perseverance and determination women have inspired us all. We are grateful for their trust and their commitment to excellence. Lewis IT will continue to encourage and support women in technology. We strive to be a part of the solution by providing a supportive and inclusive environment that fosters growth, innovation, and collaboration. We will continue to elevate the voices of women in tech and work together to create a better future for all.

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Jamie Larson
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