Profiles / Women in STEM

Saundra Carter, IT expert


A Passion for IT

In 2001, Atlanta-based IT consultant Saundra Carter was wrapping up her post-graduate studies in Computer Science at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her expected career path mirrored the expectations of her colleagues and predecessors in the field of Information Technology – work in her chosen field with a particular company for roughly thirty years then retire.

Not exactly how things played out.

Over the course of her career, Ms. Carter has worked with several companies, in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta. While the positions and responsibilities change, one thing holds true: She loves the work. “Information Technology is a passion of mine,” she tells STEMcp. “I’ve been working in Telecom for the last twenty years and I really enjoy it.”

Any person who’s ever switched out their year-old cell phone for a newer, shinier, savvier version can attest to the fact that technology changes rapidly. In the ever-changing world of IT consulting, marketability will depend heavily on a consultant’s ability to adapt, learn new trends and maintain (update) a relevant set of skills. Built into any consultant’s job description is the necessity to be constantly improving, constantly growing. That aspect of the business is one that Ms. Carter finds fascinating. “Growing up, my mother encouraged me to ask questions, be curious and find out things on my own. I’ve found as an IT professional, you also have to remain nimble and flexible to learn new things and take on new challenges.”

As a student of computer science, she will tell you that programming is largely an exercise in learning how to think logically and analytically. When you consider that computer programs need to be able to answer myriad problems and provide a response for any action a user might take, it’s easy to envision how developing the skill to think logically and provide anticipatory responses to a wide variance of scenarios is an essential part of IT education. Not an easy career path by any stretch of the imagination.

Ms. Carter acknowledges that she faced another set of challenges being an African American woman in a field that has, until recently, been dominated by Caucasian males. She respectfully lauds the black men and women who laid the groundwork for her success, including her loving and supportive parents. She won’t deny, however, that she’s gotten her share of strange looks, inappropriate comments, smirks and giggles both during her formal education and on the job.

“There’s always someone who is not ready to contend with a confident, competent black woman. You can’t worry about those people though. There are times when you will have to invite yourself to meetings and speak up for yourself professionally. We have to work harder to gain our credibility and respect. That can be frustrating at times and I’ve had my share of frustrations, but during that struggle, we gain strength.”

Her advice to young women looking to transition into not just the computer sciences but any field is to demonstrate your willingness to learn and work cooperatively toward a common goal. Have a positive attitude and do what is expected of you before assuming any additional responsibilities.

Saundra Carter’s Tips for Navigating Your Own Success

Learn to Ask for Help. I remember spending many nights at the computer lab at Southern trying to figure out programs. At those times, you learn how to ask for and accept help. When it’s your turn, you are able to give the help. These experiences help you to become a team player.

Explore Your Options. I had so many thoughts on what I wanted to do when I was growing up. It was an interested twist, how I got on the IT career path. My mom worked in the Civil Engineering Department at Southern University. A co-worker of hers introduced me to the TRS 80 and my interest in computers started at that point.

Show Yourself Friendly. Learn to be a team player, particularly in an academic environment. It’s a good idea to make friends with those who come before you – students who have already successfully completed the courses you’re taking because you cannot run the race by yourself. Look ahead to those who came before you and don’t forget to lend a helping hand to those coming behind you.

Utilize your Talents. The economy was really bad when I finished my undergraduate work and it’s pretty tight now, though some say it’s turning around. Still, it holds no guarantee even for the most academically talented students. Just in case a job opportunity is not immediately available upon graduation, all students need to be armed with two very important tools: the accumulation of theory in their heads, and the application of a skill set currently needed by the masses. Develop an entrepreneurial mindset to start and maintain your own business.

EDITED BY SORILBRAN BUCKNER

Best Advice

“to create win-win situations” (Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people).

My Mentors and Why

We have mentors for different purposes. If the best quarterback in the world has a coach and I know that I need one too. I have mentors when it comes to my math, when it comes to writing a book and when it comes to writing the SAT courses. I have people that I seek guidance from in that area, I those who I seek entrepreneurial guidance from and that I seek marketing advice from. I have different mentors for different things. And a good mentor will encourage you to have more than one.

Quotes I Live By

..”You cannot help others without ultimately helping yourself.” It has been said of my late aunt, that her hands was always open. If your hand is open things go out but things also come in. If it’s closed nothing goes out and nothing can come in either.

Invent One Thing

would invent a memory chip for my students to prevent them from forgetting our math lessons. Quite often I repeat the same lesson perhaps a year later if I’ve been away from a particular student and I wish that I could install that information into their brain so that we can learn something new the next time we get together.

Book Currently Reading

Right now I am re-reading the bible and I hope to complete it this time in about a year and a half. Reading the bible is keeping me grounded in the midst of all the attention that I’m getting.