News & Community

Cameo: Jessica Watson and Shervonne Cherry

We sit down with the co-founders of Baltimore Womxn in Tech.

How did BWIT transition from a Facebook group for women and female-identifying technologists to a networking group with events and educational programming?
Cherry: It was the same as any other Facebook group until Hidden Figures came around.

Watson: We saw a lot of members express an interest in wanting to attend the movie. Next thing you know, we basically took over a movie theater and had a BWIT and allies section. We also had some conversations afterward that got into some deeper topics, and people responded so well that we realized it was silly to have a BWXT group and not meet in person.

How have you seen the interactions from the Facebook group come alive during the in-person events?
C: It’s so cool. I’ve had people say, “Hey, I recognize you from the group!” It’s one thing to see people’s profiles online and see what they post about, but to actually have a live interaction to cement that networking relationship with a potential colleague or friend or client—that’s special.

What kinds of topics or themes are discussed during the quarterly events?
C: In the beginning of 2019, we surveyed the entire group to find out what types of content or events they wanted to see. The big thing in 2018 was mentorship—how to either be a good mentor or find a mentor—and generally finding support within the industry.

W: That’s why we created our Brunch & Learn event in fall 2018, where we had a set of four panelists and had mentors for roundtable discussions. Members listened to the speakers, and then sat with a selected mentor to get down to nitty gritty questions that they had about that profession or topic. I remember looking back at that event and thinking, “This is good, this is a higher level of connection that’s occurring.” We’re cultivating spaces where those types of interactions and connections can naturally occur.

How has this group become a resource for local womxn in tech?
J: There’s starting to be a lot more excitement. The movement of womxn and our voices—across every industry—is becoming more prominent at this time.

S: One thing that comes up a lot is that we have members who say, “I work for this company, I’m a front-end developer, but is that really tech?” And we’re like, “Yes, you belong here!” We’re building this ecosystem and economy in Baltimore, nationally, and globally, where womxn have a voice. When people join the Facebook group or come to our events, they realize they’re not on their own in this industry.

What’s the value of having a women-focused tech group in Baltimore, specifically?
C: There’s a story that we really need to tell for our city. There’s good things happening in Baltimore, and this group is just one example of people collaborating, supporting each other, and breaking down the silos of communication within the tech industry. It plays into a larger conversation that Baltimore is having now about showcasing that yeah, we hustle and have grit here, but they call us Charm City for a reason. You can feel comfortable moving your family and your business here because there are so many support networks, like us, to make this city work as a home.

BWIT has previously partnered with Code in the Schools for its annual Girls in CS Summit for middle and high school-aged girls. How does that initiative connect to the group’s mission?
C: Representation matters, which is a cliché at this point, but it’s true. At Spark Bmore, we’ve hosted all-girls’ schools for tours, and I remember one young lady asked me if I worked here. I said, “Yes, I run the space.” And she couldn’t believe it—you could see it on her face. If we do more partnerships that support young girls and women in tech, that’s a great connection for us because we need to build the next generation of tech in Baltimore.

W: We want them to see that there’s a future in technology waiting for them whenever they’re ready. It’s a slow and steady process to see change in this industry, but that’s the long game. That’s where the beauty is; the long haul is where the most impact is made.

What’s on the horizon for the BWIT group in 2020?
J: I would love to see more discussions and events surrounding women owning their voice, taking ownership of who they are, and taking up space. I personally feel like it takes women, as a generalization, a lot longer to own the confidence of who you are and why you’re a unique puzzle piece to this greater tech ecosystem. I’d love to find a way to give people confidence earlier on in their careers so that they’re better equipped to step into this industry.

S: It’s hard to answer the question of what’s coming down the pipeline because we’re not an organization that has a five-year plan or anything like that. We didn’t set out to do all this—events, hashtags, whatever—it came from a genuine place. We want to be in the moment and listen to the needs of our members and then be proactive and respond to what they actively want.