High School Computer Competition Testimonial

Julia Berg

"You have eight hours to create an online DVD rental store. You will be judged on teamwork, solution elegance, unique Graphic User Interface (GUI), and the completeness of the application. You may use your choice of Sun Microsystems Java Technology, Microsoft ASP, Open Source Software PHP, or Microsoft.NET, as your database technology. READY..SET..GO!"

The doors were closed and locked shut. Suddenly there I was...a tiny Latina from Boston in a large, strange, hotel ballroom in Dallas, Texas. The room was packed with adolescents, separated by state into small groups and assigned to computer stations. Even after six months of Information Technology (IT) training, I knew my knowledge from school courses and my creativity were about to be pushed to the limits.

I remember looking around the table and the adrenaline rush that streamed through my body. Never had I been so proud of my peers and myself. There we were - the first team from Boston in over ten years. Yet we were not only representing Massachusetts, but also our own native countries, Chile and Pakistan. As the three finalists, we battled our way through programming boot camp and won our regional competition to gain a spot for the national contest. The long Saturday classes, the trip across the nation, the individual quiz bowl, and now the eight-hour programming contest! This was actually fun for me- what once was overwhelming was now a natural routine. Fingers typing, ideas flowing, this was what I was meant to do.

The first time I learned of Black Data Processors Association (BDPA) I was a freshman and was thrilled to have IT training with other motivated teenagers. Yet I never expected my mentors and teammates to become like family. I had attended class expecting to be an outcast, the same frustrating sensation I often met in the computer classroom. Despite living in a diverse community, I constantly found myself the sole racial minority and the only girl. Here at the competition I was not the only one who had felt lonely in her endeavors. We had all come out on top, the underdog role only motivating us to work harder.

At the national conference I had the honor of meeting Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to venture into space, and a role model for women in technology worldwide. Her words have stayed with me ever since. She said, "I had to learn very early not to limit myself due to others' limited imagination." That is what BDPA helped me to realize: where you are from and the culture you are raised in has a lasting impact in establishing your identity, but should not limit your success. Dr.Jemison taught me that you could both keep your ethnic pride, as well as make your mark in this world. BDPA was about more than striving for equality in the IT field, but aiming for the top.

And... Time! Suddenly it was all over. The eight hours of grueling mental stimulation had knocked me out like no other experience. Depleted, I removed my sore fingers and wrists from the keyboard and fell back in my chair. The scene itself was spectacular; hundreds of minority adolescents brought together for a common goal- to show the world that we were the future IT leaders.

I left that Texas ballroom with the confidence to succeed. For the last four years I have dedicated myself to fulfilling my own dreams. I started a web design company and have worked with major organizations such as the Museum of Science and Intel Computer Clubhouse, a global organization that gives minority children the opportunity to learn computer technology. I hope to guide them like BDPA guided me, by following the trails blazed by influential pioneers like Mae Jemison. Why not go for it?