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YWCA honoree, computer programmer, channels experience with sex bias to helping other women

Rebecca Long will be presented the YWCA Women of Achievement’s young woman award. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
Rebecca Long will be presented the YWCA Women of Achievement’s young woman award. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Rebecca Long made a career for herself in technology despite not having a high school diploma and despite the reaction of people who don’t believe women can work in technology. She is determined to make a smoother path for the young women who follow in her footsteps.

Discrimination and harassment against women are common in tech jobs, Long said. “I was ready to quit the industry completely because of it last year,” she said.

First there were the sexist comments from managers and co-workers. Others assumed she didn’t know how to code because she worked in quality assurance. “You have the inappropriate behavior that pops up in a boys club,” she said.

She believes she was passed over for promotion because she is a woman. But the final straw that made her consider quitting was when one of her male peers that she thought was a friend began harassing her and managers didn’t deal with it, she said. “It turned into a fiasco and I didn’t feel supported,” she said. “It adds up. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts.”

Instead of quitting she channeled her anger into something different – creating a nonprofit called Future Ada that offers training, support and mentorship to women. The group is named after Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who was also the first computer programmer.

“I got the crazy idea for it last year,” she said. “I was upset at the industry because of all the discrimination and harassment that’s going on.”

One of the things she plans to teach is how to handle harassment. “I want to make sure people know how to protect themselves,” she said.

Her nonprofit is working with Eastern Washington University to launch a pilot mentorship program to pair female professionals in STEM with students interested in those careers. Long also wants to support women who are currently working in STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“We want to support those that are here, because I need that and if I need that so do others,” she said.

The first educational workshop, called Django Girls, is scheduled for Sept. 29 and will teach women and girls how to code in Python and Django.

Long’s work to support others has earned her the YWCA Women of Achievement’s young woman award. She will be honored alongside other women during an awards luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 4 at the Davenport Grand Hotel, 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Tickets are $125 and can by purchased by calling (509) 789-9312.

The route Long took to her profession is not typical. She was home-schooled and when she was 15 she got interested in coding. Her parents both worked in technology fields and because she was home-schooled there was no peer pressure to dissuade her interest in math and science, Long said.

Long said girls are still discouraged from exploring STEM such careers when they are young. “That’s still common,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate.”

She took Running Start classes through Central Valley High School. She earned an AAS in web development but never got her high school diploma. “My high school counselor was very adamant that I wouldn’t get anywhere in life if I didn’t get a high school diploma,” she said. “The high school diploma didn’t have any meaning to me as a home-schooler.”

A college degree, however, did have meaning for her. She earned a bachelor’s in computer science from EWU in 2006 and returned to EWU for a master’s degree in 2013. She worked for Next IT for five years, then took a job with STCU. She advanced to senior quality assurance engineer before leaving in January. She has worked as the DevOps engineer at RiskLens, a cyber security company, since then.

The technical engineer who never graduated from high school has also taught computer science classes at North Idaho College and Spokane Community College.

She traces her first awareness of how alone women are in STEM careers to a Google workshop for women engineers that she attended in 2006. Before that she hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that she was often the only woman in the room.

“It’s such a striking change at that point,” she said. “You can’t help but notice it when you come back.”

Her first attempt to help others came when she co-founded Spokane Geek Girls, a support group for women in STEM that met monthly. The group faded into an online-only group when Long moved to Coeur d’Alene for a few years and the group’s co-founder became ill. “We’re mostly just a social group online now,” she said.

Long’s primary desire is to teach girls that technology, math and science is cool and inspire them to start careers in STEM industries.

“If you don’t see role models in those positions, in those fields, you can’t picture yourself in those positions,” she said. “That stuff is really important.”

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