We are kicking off our Women Who Tech series with Cat Whitaker, a world traveling, adventure seeker trying to solve problems with tech. Each month we will share another interview with women who are in tech or tech adjacent.
Cat came to Eugene by way of Colorado, by way of Florida, by way of several other countries! Here is a little more on Cat’s background….
Cat Whitaker: I went to international schools my entire childhood, American and French schools around the world. I then attended Duke University where I studied Environmental Science with a focus on Marine Biology. After graduation, I moved to Florida and worked for a non-profit called REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) that does reef counts of fish before working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. It was there that I learned a lot about underwater statistic gathering, environmental science and sustainability of fisheries in Florida as well as interacting with the local fisherman about how the regulations affected their means of support. Even more than the science, I enjoyed talking to people about how to improve their livelihood.
When I decided Florida was too hot, I moved to Colorado. I wanted to keep connecting with people and learn more about the U.S. because after living abroad for my entire childhood, I wanted to see what the US was like. In Colorado, I was a snowboard instructor. It was great! I got to work outside with people who were trying to learn a new skill and it taught me a lot about how to interact with people who want to learn. I discovered a lot about myself and how to keep things exciting and fun. They don’t teach this in school so it was a valuable experience for me where I got to hang out with lots of little kids and “shred the gnar”!
After 3 years, I decided Colorado was too cold so I moved to Oregon thinking about what I wanted to do next. I had taken GIS classes but not Computer Science classes. I wanted to focus on more of a database approach to science so I started taking classes at Lane Community College to get more experience. I realized that I really enjoyed Database and Computer Science classes so I went on to get a certificate in Database and Mobile Development thinking how these would compliment my Environmental Science degree with new Computer Science knowledge.
RWIT: So why take tech classes?
CW: When I was working for Florida Fish and Wildlife I worked in a database every day collecting fishery statistics on sheets on paper in the field. I would touch fish, measure them, dissect them in the field and then physically write down the relevant information on my sheet of paper that would need to be re-transcribed from one paper to a clean paper. This second sheet would be looked over by my manager and then they would send all the sheets weekly from the Florida Keys to the St Petersburg HQ where the paper would be scanned to be entered into a database. So lots of paperwork involved and duplication of work.
RWIT: That sounds exhausting just thinking about it!
CW: Yes, a lot of us talked about how inefficient it was and how it would be nice to have a different way to do that especially with the expansion of iPhone and iPad at that point. We were trying to figure out ways to integrate technology into science especially at the state level. When I came to LCC that was my goal, to figure out ways to fix that problem, hence those certificates. I want to help scientists, not just government scientists, but any scientist or individual or non-profit or group to have the applications to help them make the world more sustainable.
I got some exposure to that at Hack for A Cause this last year. I worked on a team trying to reduce waste in Eugene using web and phone applications to try to solve a problem that everyone wants to fix but not everyone knows how.
RWIT: On the journey has there been anyone who has mentored or inspired you?
CW: I was really impressed by some of the professors at LCC. These professors are really good teachers and more than that they seem to care. Teaching is their life even though they have other jobs. Marilou Good has always been there for her students and really interested in helping those around her, especially the women.
RWIT: Good mentors are hard to find, are there any other resources or tips you would recommend to those new to tech or transitioning into tech?
CW: I am a person who likes to learn in a classroom context, I feed off the people around me and work best in groups, so online classes wasn’t really my thing. This is why I went to LCC but there have been some great classes I have taken online. Codecademy was good and I’ve listened to a few lessons on Udacity but Lane classes were great too. There are still very few specialized classes yet they are a great resource. And Google, Google everything!
RWIT: So what’s next?
CW: I’m trying to get a tech job in Eugene to try and put into practice what I learned in class because I think my knowledge is still very theoretical. I want to see what these skills would look like in a successful business setting.
RWIT: What is your 1 piece of advice for women considering a job in tech?
CW: Find a friend because when things are good or hard or you are overwhelmed, having another woman who is going through it with you makes a difference. Maybe someone in your classes or someone who has graduated who can tell you “it gets better” or understands “there sure are a lot of guys in this class but it’s okay I’m in tech too and we can hang out to talk about what we need.” Support each other.
“Support each other” what a great message that I think we sometimes forget when we get wrapped up in our lives. We have great people and resources in our community if you need more information reach out to us at RWIT [email protected]