I love 0s and 1s, numbers, taking things apart, and putting them back together. As a child in school, math and science were my strongest subjects. Once I got to geometry in middle school, things changed. I struggled. I wanted to give up. My dad said he would be my tutor and encouraged me to do every single problem in the book. I didn’t like it, but I was failing, so I did it. My confidence soared when I went from the lowest grade in the class to the highest.
My love for math and science has never wavered since. My dad was my hero. He taught me to press on. He encouraged me. He was the first person of color to get a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Brussels, Belgium—in French. He had such a huge impact on my life. He died when I was a teenager, so math and science made me feel like he was still close, like he was looking down and smiling at me. It is our connection.
I went to the University of Maryland, College Park with that confidence. The first day I walked into my first engineering class, my professor stopped his lecture, looked up and said, “You must be lost, this is an engineering class. The business department is down the hall.” It was a weed-out class for juniors majoring in electrical engineering, electromagnetic wave theory. I later went on to blow the curve in that class wide open.
I have spent most of my career being told that I'm in the wrong room. What all those people didn't understand is I'm stubborn and determined. When I'm told “no,” what I really hear them saying is “You didn't ask the question in the right way to get the yes.” I began to see being different not as a hindrance but a superpower. But deep down, I didn't feel like I belonged.
When it was time to interview as a sales engineer for Oracle, I was recruited by another sales engineer of color. I thought, “I can't do this job. I'm too young, inexperienced, and I don't look like everyone else.” But he assured me I could, and pointed me to three others; one of them was the first black female database administrator I had ever met.
They were thriving. If they could do it, I felt like I could too. Without that representation, I would never have joined and stayed at Oracle. Representation is important.
At Oracle, I manage a team of outbound Oracle database product managers who enable our internal sales force and our customers. That recently extended to secondary institutions and universities. I started working with the Diversity and Inclusion team to support the work they have been doing with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions. It's been great to see graduates from a diverse selection of schools in our engineering and development organizations in recent years. This new generation of talent is unmatched and sets Oracle up to continue to help our customers innovate into the future.
Being a technologist today is different from 10 years ago. With the increased use of social media and video in the workforce, there are multiple ways to get messages out and define corporate culture.
|“Technology needs women. It needs the diversity of our ideas, the diversity of the way we think and solve complex problems, the diversity of the way we communicate.”|
|—Kay Malcolm, Senior Director of Database Product Management, Oracle|
My video podcast on the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure YouTube channel, Lashes.Love.Tech., is all about authenticity and innovation. It's a safe space where I highlight women in technology while mixing in things that I love. I love hip-hop, so we feature it. I love eyelashes; it doesn't matter what kind—magnetic ones, these new nonmagnetic ones I'm trying out—so we named it that.
Yes, the name is different, but we got your attention, right? It's all about the unexpected. It's about blasting through preconceived notions of what it means to be a technologist. There are some amazing women doing super cool things in technology, and they are their full selves. We laugh, we dance, we figure out our superpowers. This is how I remind myself that I belong. I hope others see a reflection of themselves in me and my guests, so they won’t have to struggle with belonging as much as I did. I’m a card-carrying member of Imposter Syndrome Anonymous.
And that’s the point. Technology needs women. It needs the diversity of our ideas, the diversity of the way we think and solve complex problems, the diversity of the way we communicate. We have always made huge contributions in the technology space, all the way back to Katherine Johnson at NASA. So, my advice is, “Imposter syndrome is not the truth.” The truth is we are brilliant, capable, and we belong.
Get a mentor, someone to help cheer you on. On the days that I want to give up, my mentor reminds me of the bigger picture. Those that I mentor remind me that “To whom much is given much is expected.” So I press on.
Kay Malcolm is a senior director of database product management at Oracle.