What nation/clan/tribal town/etc. are you from?
Enrolled member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe of North Carolina.
How did you get into development?
When I was a kid my dad was really into sci-fi, playing computer games, and fixing computer issues that our relatives had. We got our first home computer in late 1998; it was a Micron with the brand new Windows 98 Operating System. There were so many problems getting Windows 98 installed on that machine; it constantly gave us the now infamous Blue Screen of Death. We learned all sorts of things together while trying to get the computer setup and in the end found that there was a scratch on the OS installation media which was causing all of the issues! After getting a new disc, all was well with our new PC. That year the PC game “Star Trek: The Next Generation: Klingon Honor Guard” was released, which we installed on the new computer. While my parents were at work one summer day, my younger brothers and I were playing the game and somehow crashed the machine. We had gotten creative with the cheats menu, so we thought we had somehow destroyed the computer when it crashed. After a few restarts that took what felt like an eternity it was back up and running; we didn’t play anymore that day. That experience combined with the ‘coolness’ hackers were portrayed with on TV and movies sparked an interest in computers and coding that has only increased since then. I had one of those early 90s VTech “Pre Computers” (the Power Pad I believe) which I learned to write Visual Basic on; I wrote a rock, paper, scissors game. In my early high school years I decided that I wanted to be a computer programmer, so I found a way to get into college and acquired a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science from Appalachian State University.
What projects are you working on now?
I contribute to various Open Source Software projects and lend my skills to a few nonprofit organizations as well. Some of those OSS projects include: co-maintaining the Fedora Project’s Tomcat package, co-maintaining Fedora’s tomcat-native package, and I’m a committer and Project Management Committee member on the Apache Tomcat project. I’ve contributed a good deal to the tomcat-vault project and have some involvement with httpd (mostly modules like mod_proxy_cluster and mod_security) and openssl. I also volunteer as the webmaster for my tribe’s website and administrator of our Facebook page, and plan to assist with the same items for one of the Urban Indian Organizations in my county of residence. Outside of software and coding I recently started a diversity and inclusion community at work for Native and Indigenous people with the mission to educate my colleagues about Natives and bring more Natives into the technology field.
What is it like being a Native in tech?
It’s pretty lonely. I live a couple hours away from my tribal homelands also, so I feel pretty isolated from other Native people often. I don’t feel that I quite fit into the usual cliques at work. At the same time it is great because being a Native in Tech always allows me to lend a very unique perspective. I started using Twitter more to build my personal brand by sharing technology related things, etc but I ended up following a lot of awesome Natives (both in and outside of tech) and that experience has made the world feel a lot smaller.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
This is a hard one. I think my greatest accomplishment so far is rising above my circumstances and being who I am. When I got started in software I didn’t know any other Software Engineers in my tribe, or tribes around me, so I had no representation which meant I had to make my own way through school and find my own motivation to succeed.
What would you like to see happen for tribal Nations throughout the US?
I would love to see more people in the US getting educated about Natives and our sovereignty, and a push to honor and respect the treaties that are in place. I also look forward to Natives around the country rising above our situations to unite and prosper together.
How do you give back to your community?
I use the skills that I’ve developed in life so far to serve my tribe however I can. At present I am serving as the webmaster and Facebook business page administrator for my tribe. I’m working to take ownership of my tribe’s web presence, pushing to get accurate information out there about us, and working to facilitate better communication between tribal members and our tribal leadership.
In what ways can Natives in tech do more for their community?
Offer your services to your tribal admin, if you’re able to volunteer. I’d also suggest taking any opportunity you can to talk to tribal youth about what you do and help cultivate any interests you find.
What would you tell younger Natives that want to get involved in engineering/development?
Just do it! You belong and you should never feel that you don’t. If you need help there are lots of Natives in Tech across the country that would likely be more than willing to help you out. If coding is something that you’re interested in, there are a ton of free sites to get started. It’s not easy to learn, but the payoff can be enormous, so work hard!
What are your future plans?
I love what I do, so I plan to keep coding until I can’t code anymore. I also really enjoy learning, so I think that I eventually want to pursue a Masters degree in Computer Science, or learn more about American Indian Law. I’ve also developed a strong interest in woodworking, so I’m hoping to make some interesting things in that space at some point.
What is the best way to reach out to you?
Tweet me @CotySutherland.
Any other things you would like to share?
I think that I’ve talked enough :)