How Scholarships Can Accelerate Women’s Careers in Tech
Written by WWCode HQ
Jouell Wright is a Sacramento-based pioneer in the blockchain space and host of the fintech-focused Trade U Youtube channel. She was gracious enough to meet with our Content Creator, Jacob Yoss, and discuss how the Telegraph Academy and Draper University scholarships she received through Women Who Code accelerated her career and brought her unique entrepreneurial opportunities.
What were you doing before applying for the Telegraph Academy and Draper University scholarships?
I was teaching myself as much as I could about technology and worked at an iPhone repair kiosk at the mall. However, I dreamed of building apps, but it was difficult to find accessible educational resources and available opportunities. I spent six years from the beginning of college, knocking on doors, asking people for a chance at anything. I would go to tech conferences to track down CEOs and inquire about how I could get involved, but they would always shrug me off.
So, I decided to immerse myself in the community further. I explored MeetUp events and stumbled across Women Who Code. It was exciting to find a free opportunity that could teach me what I wanted to know. I invited my mom to attend a Ruby on Rails programming class, which introduced me to how welcoming the organization is and encouraged me to get more involved. I subscribed to the newsletter, found the Draper University and Telegraph Academy scholarships there, and the rest is history.
Did you study technology in school?
I originally majored in biotechnology, which obviously involves tech but doesn’t focus on computer science (I eventually minored in that). I realized that computer science was something I enjoyed when I started taking those courses, but I shied away from pursuing it because I believed the field was too challenging and unmanageable. When I started getting A’s in those classes, though, I decided it is something I’m adept at and was an obtainable goal.
How have the Draper University and Telegraph Academy scholarships impacted your career since receiving them?
They’ve impacted my career tremendously. Simply having someone like Tim Draper as a mentor and being part of that program opened countless doors for me. As I mentioned, I had spent years knocking on those same doors, but people would barely give me the time of day. People started taking me seriously once my scholarships bolstered my credibility. The difference was staggering, and cynically, it demonstrated to me how your network influences your net worth.
I’m still on my programming journey, but I’m miles ahead of where I used to be. Right now, I’m fascinated with blockchain development and built my own blockchain with a friend who founded the altcoin ZCL. Exploring blockchain with him proved that tech is a field I can and will succeed in, so I want to share this feeling with others who don’t think they can do it.
How do you plan to accomplish this goal?
I want to combine any knowledge, resources, and opportunities I have access to and share them with as many people as possible. I already have a Facebook group with 2,600 members worldwide (including the CTO of Snapchat) and a YouTube Channel, Trade U, where I interview global leaders in the crypto and entrepreneurial spaces. My podcast, Marathon, is the audio-only version. Past guests include Max Kaiser, one of the greatest investors I know of, and John McAfee, the first antivirus software creator. I also have an upcoming interview with Hestor Pierce, the Commissioner of the FCC.
These platforms are my way of affording people opportunities to learn about new trends and technologies they might want to explore further. I hope they prove to be excellent resources for anyone who wants insight from prominent tech figures.
Do you have employer sponsorship?
It’s all me. I’m an entrepreneur, so no sole company hires me to program, but applying for scholarships in the Women Who Code newsletter to gain a concrete programming foundation and putting myself out there has brought me all sorts of opportunities. For example, I received a scholarship to attend the North American Bitcoin Conference (NABC) and interview participants on-site at the Miami Bitcoin Center.
In addition, I partnered with NASA and hosted the NASA Global Space Apps Hackathon for my city. It took three weeks to get everything off the ground. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I took a risk and tackled the challenge head-on.
Fortunately, some amazing people at Intel reached out to me and said they’d like to sponsor my event and provide the equipment. They got on board alongside a local hacker lab — who held, coincidentally, the first Women Who Code meeting I attended — and helped me make the hackathon possible. We brought 50 people from the community together, organized workshops, and launched five apps for NASA. It was an incredible experience that I have Women Who Code to thank for.
Where do you hope your career will go?
My immediate goal is to network with local colleges. I was working with UC Davis before the COVID-19 pandemic to start a blockchain innovation lab where curious students can work in a hands-on environment. The lab would be on-campus and allow participants to create tools and resources they could potentially license and sell. I also have a sizable network I’m eager to share, so I want students to have practical experience and valuable connections by the time they graduate.
What appeals to you about blockchain?
I believe blockchain is the future of currency, privacy, and business organization. It’s something vital to our economy and broader society because of its unique structure. Many companies are integrating it into their operations slowly and quietly, like FedEx and USPS.
As an entrepreneur, I can tell when something is important to pay attention to. We’re entering a new era. I want to be a part of this economic shift and help other people get on board with blockchain technology so that when it finally reaches the mainstream, they’ll be prepared.
Where do you think you would be if you hadn’t applied for those original scholarships?
I believe I’d still be knocking on doors and sending cold emails, asking for any chance I could get. The tech world can be expensive to break into and excludes many people from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’d also still be teaching myself basic skills that I learned so much quicker through the scholarships’ respective courses.
With the opportunities Women Who Code has afforded me, I’ve increased my network, gained more experience, and broadened my horizons, so I have more to offer when I ask people to sponsor an event or help me in some other way. I wouldn’t have given up on tech without those scholarships, but they certainly accelerated my career quicker than I could have on my own. Those same CEOs I would track down at conferences now recognize me and say, “Hey, I know you. You interviewed someone I admire.”
What is it like being a woman in tech who’s also her own boss?
My first experience in tech was attending college clubs. I was usually the only woman, but I wasn’t intimidated — I grew up around all boy cousins — though I noticed they were rather cliquey. I also experienced some misogyny in the device repair industry when customers would make ridiculous comments like, “You’re the first girl I’ve seen here,” or “Women aren’t as talented as men.” As an entrepreneur, people will address me as “Sir” in emails and are always surprised to discover I’m a woman once we’re on the phone. I’ve developed thicker skin because of moments like that.
However, women are more visible and vocal in tech now than they have ever been before, so I believe the culture is changing. In my case, Women Who Code gave me the technical foundation and confidence to accomplish anything I set my mind to, and I love belonging to a women-led organization that supports trailblazers.
Do you have any advice for other women in tech?
When you’re not invited, host your own party. You need to create your own opportunities sometimes, and when you do, people will come to you.
Jouell Wright is an entrepreneur and interviewer in the blockchain and crypto sector. Her YouTube and Spotify channels are available below.
WWCode and its partners have given $2,145,100.00 in scholarships since 2015. Our goal is to provide people with continued learning opportunities to further their careers and one day ensure marginalized groups are equally represented in the technology industry.