What nation are you?
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Ahe Ʋpet Okla, Iksa Hachotukni
How did you get into development?
I was studying music in college, and I hated my HP Pavillion with Windows on it. So I got a friend to help me install Linux, which at that time required a little coding and a lot of terminal understanding to use. I loved the logic. I loved being able to make this complicated machine do whatever I wanted it to do. I kept looking for more opportunities to write code even when I didn’t have to!
What projects are you working on now?
What is it like being a Native in tech?
There are a couple of issues at play here. I’ll assume we’re talking about America here. The first one is obviously the fact that only about 2.5% of Americans are Native, so the chances you’ll work closely with multiple people of your own race at *any* job are low enough unless you’re working for a tribal government or in a Native-majority town. But this isn’t where tech jobs are. So we resign ourselves to be surrounded by people who don’t understand us. Second, tech is all about progress, and in mainstream American society, progress is all about forgetting the old and bulldozing through with the new. This is in stark contrast with the necessary mindset of Native people, who have fought with their skin, hair, and lives to preserve the old and were forced into accepting new things that were terrible for them. To work in tech is to be continually reminded that non-Native people want to move onto new things at a dizzying pace, while Native people are often fighting to hold onto what they have.
To work in tech is to be continually reminded that non-Native people want to move onto new things at a dizzying pace, while Native people are often fighting to hold onto what they have.
What are your future plans?
Funny you should ask! I have just accepted a job as a software engineer on the SpaceX Flight Test Team, a software development team that does testing on rocket parts and software and writes the flight control software that runs on the ground. I am super honored and excited to join this team and help send people to Mars and revolutionize global travel with the BFR, SpaceX’s next-generation rocket.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment has been becoming a software engineer and staying in the tech industry for 15 years despite being raised by a very poor family and never having finished college. I kind of feel like I was set up to fail, but I pulled a huge upset.
I kind of feel like I was set up to fail, but I pulled a huge upset.
What would you like to see happen for Native Nations throughout the US?
I would like to see the US and its citizens understand and respect our sovereignty, and I want to see the US honor its treaties with Native people. I want to see the land given back to the peoples that were born from it. I want to see every university teaching the language of the people on whose land they reside.
How do you give back to your community?
I give back to the tech community by contributing to open source software projects, and I give back to the Choctaw community by volunteering my time running online Choctaw communities and donating money to the Choctaw Nation Family & Children Services for supplies for Choctaw orphans. My love for the Choctaw people and technology intersect in this project I am working on to digitize Mississippian and Southeastern Native imagery and make these image files available for free to Native people: https://github.com/erinspice/chahta-imagery. I have also donated countless hours of my time in the past doing free genealogy work for Native people, especially members of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Muscogee, and Cherokee Nations.
In what ways can Natives in tech do more for their community?
We should be doing the same kinds of things as everyone else. First and foremost, staying connected to our communities, learning our traditions, speaking our languages every day, and staying visible and authentic to non-Native people. Secondly, helping others do these things and helping them excel in non-traditional ways, too, like completing college and landing amazing jobs. Native kids need amazing Native role models.
First and foremost, staying connected to our communities, learning our traditions, speaking our languages every day, and staying visible and authentic to non-Native people.
What would you tell younger Natives that want to get involved in engineering/development?
Jump in! Find websites like Codecademy, Code.org, and Kahn Academy and learn on your own if no one will teach you. Ask for help from anyone you know. Take programming classes in high school or college. Ask your teachers for resources. Don’t be afraid!