In my native country Ethiopia, girls have limited opportunities after high school. The vast majority of the population lives in rural areas where most women marry young, become homemakers and depend on their husbands. Though our parents had given their six children an idyllic childhood—a large home with a goat farm, garden and good education— they wanted all their children to have equal chances. So, when they won the U.S. Diversity Visa lottery in 2002, we moved to the United States.
I was seven at the time, and the transition was rough. My father had loved his career as an English professor at Addis Ababa University. Now, he had to work at a 7-11 to make ends meet until he found a teaching job. We lived in low income-housing and moved a few times those first few years. Meanwhile, I could barely read or communicate with anyone at school. In second grade we kept a daily journal; when my teacher showed it to my parents, they flipped through pages of random words—something my brother still teases me about to this day. I repeated the second grade and took ESL classes. Everything was difficult, but I just kept showing up, doing the work and believing in myself.
By the time my family settled in Houston, my English was getting better. Eventually I became fluent in English and caught up with my peers. By high school, I was on the way to graduating with honors and finishing my first internship. Around the same time, my family was granted citizenship. It took about five years of paperwork, interviews, uncertainty and anxiety to cross the finish line. Becoming citizens felt like a rebirth.
My entire family has thrived in America. My father is an English professor at Texas Southern University, and my mother received her associate’s degree in art. Among my siblings, there is a pharmacist, a petroleum engineer, three students of computer science and me, a recent college graduate, who landed my dream job as a business systems analyst at Twitter. Working at one of the most future-thinking companies, I feel like I’ve won the lottery again.
Black women like myself aren’t significantly represented in the tech industry. But things are shifting, and I’m hoping to be a part of that change. In college, I helped develop a computer programming course for low-income elementary schools in the Austin, Texas area. Computer science can open incredible career opportunities, and it’s my mission to help young people with fewer resources access these skills.
To me, this is what is means to be American: to lift people of all backgrounds up with us.