Profiles / Women in STEM

Natasha D. Dobson

An Electrical Engineer with a Flair for the Creative

President & Founder of The Website Office / She is based in Atlanta, Ga

I started my career as an intern for US West in 1994. I thought I was going to major in electrical engineering but after I did my first internship at US West with the electrical engineers, I realized that it was not creative enough for me. I still wanted to do something technical but I wanted to be creative at the same time. While at the University of Washington I majored in technical communications and still interned at US West. That combination gave me the opportunity to practice some of my skills in real life and after graduation, I thought I would develop the online help for Microsoft Word and Excel. Most technical communication majors either become technical writers or they develop the online help menu. Because I was at US West, they gave me the opportunity to jump into web design, which was really simple back then. I loved blending the technical and creative sides of me and on top of that, I lived in Seattle, a great place for technology. I loved it!

Top Trends That I’m Seeing

  1. Technology touches almost every part of our lives.
  2. How familiar people are with technology in general. It will become a natural part of everyone’s life without them even realizing it. As time goes on generations will slowly become more tech savvy. My son does not know life without it.
  3. In the future, the Web will become more transparent. Everyone has some type of mobile device phone or PDA. The Web is one media channel that will become transparent. You will have people viewing TV, listening to radio and reading newspapers, which they all do now, but each person will have a unique experience. For example, right now if I and another person do a Google search for trains, more than likely we’ll get the same results. But I think that the Web will eventually become more of a personal assistant. Web 3.0 is coming on board in which everyone’s experience will become unique and not limited to just a desktop or a cellphone. Anywhere you go, you’ll be able to access it.
  4. A website will be as common as a phone number and everyone will have one. Years ago when the telephone was introduced, few people had one but now your phone number is part of your identity. Most, if not all, will have some sort of web presence.

Books That I’m Reading

I am always reading several books, now one of them is a PHP book, also “Small Giants, Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.” It’s a really great book. “Fit for Life” is another one. The rest is online training. Magazines that I normally read are all online — Fortune, Black Enterprise and

The Website Office caters to small home-based businesses. These entrepreneurs want a website or wish to be active online but don’t know start one themselves or where to go to get what they need. There’s a lot of options out and there are a lot ways to build a website. But there are challenges for nontechnical people. They may not have the time or the software; many are just uncomfortable doing it themselves. So The Website Office is for those small businesses with limited budgets ranging from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand, to help them establish an online presence.

The higher purpose of the Website Office is really important to me because I take pleasure in giving people a platform to bring their dreams to life. If you think about it, when you start a business you have to be passionate about it. It’s more than just their livelihood; it’s their heart and soul as well.

My background is all IT. I did software development. So when I started in the industry I worked as web designer and developer. I’ve always been pigeonholed in the IT or software development organization.

As an African American woman, I’ve dealt with various challenges in the IT male-dominated world. The organization that has helped me the most was Inroads. So when I interned at US West, I was a member of Inroads. Inroads is a non-profit organization that assists minorities with paid internships with Fortune 500 companies. Because of that organization, I got my foot in the door, and I realized from that point on that I needed a mentor of some kind all the time. It is so important to have a mentor who can offer advice or act as a sounding board to talk about challenges in business, what it feels like being in corporate America and helping me figure out what I needed to do next for The Website Office. Another challenge I faced was gaining the trust of my co-workers and executives so I could reach a level of responsibility at work. I had to prove myself. I understand that it comes with the territory but at the same time it can be unfair. Even today, that is a challenge. I try to always surround myself with some sort of mentorship and study daily to help me navigate those issues.

From an academic standpoint, I can see why the enrollment rates are low for African American women in technology programs. It’s a comfort factor. You feel more comfortable around people that look like yourself. But, at the same time, you really wouldn’t expect to see a lot of African American women in the STEM fields. I became attracted to the STEM fields as a result of living with my uncle who is an electrical engineer. Not everyone has a relative in the business. That’s why I think it’s important to go the schools and let students know that we do exit. Not only are there African American women in STEM fields but also we need more. We need to get the word out that it’s totally possible to be successful and there are more and more options in a growing number of fields for African American women to achieve success. Some groups that have helped me are the African American Women in Technology and the Women of Color conference.

What I recommend for students is to have an open mind to learn and the will and drive to accomplish your goals. The more detail-oriented you are, the better chances you will have for a successful STEM career. You don’t have to be the traditional nerd with a pocket protector and glasses with no friends. The STEM fields allow you to be both creative and technical. It does not take a specific set of skills to be successful but rather a willingness to learn how to do it.

Students should also explore as much as they can about the different fields and technologies. Let’s take the programming side, for example. There is the Web, of course, but it blends so many technologies, platforms, frameworks and programming languages. There are a variety of options to study. So explore and see what you enjoy. Don’t limit yourself to one thing. Also, commit to continuous learning. Even though you may go to school or have completed school, you must be constantly aware of the need to keep your skills current. Technology changes and grows – and so must you.

It is important, especially as an African American, to have mentors. I believe that we can get more African American youth involved with science and technology by introducing them to those who came before them. I can remember at the University of Washington, especially in the programming and more technical classes, being the only black female in my classes. I know that more black women need to know they’re not alone in these STEM worlds. I’m an example. If I made it, so can they.