This feature first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
I recently spoke with an IT instructor who told of trying to convince a female student to repair her broken phone rather than purchase a new one. The student said she didn’t think she had the skill to fix her phone; the instructor asked why not. Immediately, a male student shouted out, “Because she’s a girl.”
Fortunately, with more encouragement and a bit of guidance from the instructor, the young lady did restore her phone to working order. I mention this story because technology and computers have for much too long been viewed primarily as fields for boys.
Unbeknownst to many tech practitioners (and probably most teenage boys), women have played a significant, if largely unsung, role in the development of computers and technology. A short list of notable ladies includes Ada Lovelace who designed the world’s first computer program way back in 1843; “Grandma COBOL,” Admiral Grace Hopper; and the so-called “ENIAC 6,” the first modern programmers in history.
Males have traditionally held the vast majority of information technology jobs. But as Bob Dylan once crooned, “The times they are a-changin’.” Chauvinistic ideas are rapidly being swept away: According to a 2020 study by Women in Technology, females now hold 25 percent of professional computing jobs worldwide. That percentage is essentially guaranteed to climb — an impressive 20 percent of all computer science majors in the United States are females.
One savvy Ohio teen determined to make a place for herself in the world of information technology (IT) is Taylor Quinn, a senior at the Delaware Area Career Center (DACC) in Delaware, Ohio (part of the Columbus metropolitan area). She already has eight certifications under her belt and is currently pursuing a couple more.
Taylor gives three good reasons for aggressively pursuing IT certifications: “They are great on a résumé as proof, from an accredited organization, that I have the skills. They are also a way to track my IT progress; I can look back and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t understand that originally, but now I know it.’ ”
And best of all, the price is right: “They’re free through the school. If I make time and have the dedication, I can earn as many as I’m able to.”
Self-sufficiency is her jam
Taylor has a full schedule and a high degree of personal responsibility. She has lived on her own since her parents moved to Texas. “My mom got a great career opportunity and as a family we agreed she had to accept it, and it was better for me to stay in Ohio for my senior year,” she explained.
As Mom, Dad, Grandma, and four dogs — three poodles and one shepadoodle — headed to Texas, Taylor set up her own household. “It’s fun living in an apartment by myself, I like the peace and quiet,” she laughed.
Living alone means Taylor has to be disciplined and responsible, something most high school students find difficult to do. Each week, she does her own shopping, cleaning, and cooking. Fortunately, her father is a professional chef and taught her a few tips for being in a kitchen.
“I cook what I eat,” said Taylor. “I really enjoy cooking and love experimenting and trying new things. I like to make pizza, but my friends are vegans and it’s pretty hard to make a vegan pizza.”
A young lady on her own in a large city is sure to be of concern to parents. But Taylor is careful, and capable of defending herself if need be. Several years ago, she and her mother began researching martial arts styles that Taylor could learn for self-defense.
Taylor chose Krav Maga, a self-defense and fighting system known for its focus on real-world situations and its extreme efficiency. Originally developed for the Israeli Defense and Security forces, Krav Maga is a combination of techniques sourced from boxing, wrestling, judo, aikido, and karate.
Excited to begin learning, Taylor enrolled in classes at Master Kim’s MegaKick Martial Arts School. Krav Maga was fun, but she also began practicing a very different style that is now her favorite, tae kwon do. “I love everything about it,” she said.
Tae kwon do is a Korean style that emphasizes kicks — it’s also Taylor’s preferred activity to unwind from a busy day. “It’s definitely my favorite way to relax and blow off steam. I always feel better after a workout,” she explained. “If I’m feeling stressed, stretching and practicing my forms and basic techniques is very soothing.”
Tae kwon do has become a part of Taylor’s daily schedule. “I’m at MegaKick six days a week, usually for 90 minutes to two hours,” she said. She doesn’t just practice tae kwon do, she also teaches it as junior instructor. “I teach ages 4 to 12 and really enjoy it. My favorite class is the Tiny Lions, ages 4 to 5.”
A Big Hero Six IT origin story
Taylor’s enthusiasm for all things tech was sparked in the 5th grade while watching the Disney animated film Big Hero 6. The entire film is entertaining, but it was the nanobots that really piqued her interest. “Everything about the nanobots was really cool,” she said. “I got interested in tech and started getting into robotics classes, then electrical engineering, and then computers.”
Tech classes proved to a good fit, and it wasn’t long before Taylor was entering robotics competitions — and winning awards. At a First Lego League challenge for middle-schoolers, her team built an impressive Lego bot. It was their creativity that wowed the judges, however, earning the team the Innovative Solution Award.
A portion of the competition required teams to invent something useful. Taylor’s team went large, tackling one of the world’s most environmentally harmful types of waste. They came up with a way to dissolve Styrofoam using only essential oils.
Taylor would continue learning IT and constructing other robotic and electronic projects. Among her accomplishments is building a quadcopter, a Pwnagotchi and, in the 8th grade, something all Star Wars fans need: a lightsaber.
“That was a really fun project,” explained Taylor. “With the help of my teacher I used electronics and hardware and made a lightsaber that lit up.” She said she was even more thrilled when she learned to insert a sound card inside the device that would change the sound when swung. “You could switch from Darth Vader, to Luke, to Yoda. It was great!”
At DACC, she has been able to compete in more competitions. She was a member of a team that achieved Platinum level at one of the renowned CyberPatriot competitions. She also had the opportunity to compete in MITRE eCTF, a college-level embedded security competition. DACC was the only high school team in attendance and, in a series of capture-the-flag matches, placed third overall, beating out a number of teams from big name colleges and universities.
While winning at these events is always nice, the most important aspect for Taylor is participating. She views participation as a way to continuously improve herself. “I’m proud of my personal growth every time I compete,” she explained. “Even if I go into a competition with no idea what I’m doing, I’m still happy because I learn a lot just being involved.”
Her DACC IT instructor, Eli Cochran, attributes Taylor’s success to jumping into IT projects with both feet. “From the day Taylor came into the classroom, she has been completely engaged in everything we do in class and especially at outside competitions,” Cochran said. “As a junior, she was the project lead for the MITRE eCTF event where our team won third place.”
Non-traditional high school experience
Taylor describes her high school experience as “pretty weird compared to most students.” Most students who live at home with Mom and Dad? No kidding. “I have a very non-traditional high school experience, and I love it,” she said.
“I have lots of variety in my life. I spend half my day doing cybersecurity at school, go back to my apartment to do some online college courses, and then go to my job teaching tae kwon do. I’m very busy and I like it that way.”
Juggling her demanding schedule, requires Taylor to study intensively. “I really enjoy learning the content for a certification, but when it comes to studying for the exam, it’s always overwhelming,” she said. She occasionally even delays studying to do other things. “I’m a little bit of a procrastinator,” she said. “I’m always so busy that when I have free time, it’s a hard choice to make myself study or go do something else more fun.”
When study time does arrive, Taylor follows a successful regimen of listening to so-called “lo-fi” music while chewing mint gum. According to neuroscientific research, lo-fi music enhances studying ability by triggering a pleasure response in the brain that releases the “feel good” hormone dopamine, encouraging brain cells to act in a pleasurable manner and thereby increasing focus.
“I really love listening to lo-fi,” explained Taylor. “It doesn’t have any lyrics, so you don’t get too wrapped up in the songs, you just listen. It helps me drown out other things and focus on whatever topic I’m studying.”
Chewing mint gum while studying is a tip she found while surfing the internet. “I read that mint gum would help me study and take tests,” she said. “It’s just superstition, but I chew it while studying and during exams and it seems to help.” Given her eight certifications and membership in the National Honor Society and the National Technical Honor Society, it’s hard to argue with Taylor’s music and gum selections.
Rock ‘n’ roll and good books
Where did such an impressive young lady learn to be disciplined and responsible at such a young age? From Taylor’s biggest and best role model, her mom. “I admire plenty of famous people, but my mom has always been number one,” said Taylor. “She is a strong, powerful woman in her career field (law), and she has always motivated me to do my best.”
Mom is equally impressed with who her daughter is becoming. “Taylor is a caring and loving person,” said Jessica Quinn. “She is a Renaissance woman, balanced and knowledgeable in all things, academics, hobbies, and work. Just an amazing person.”
Regardless of how talented and accomplished, promising IT pros still need to occasionally ease up on the throttle and take time to unwind. In addition to martial arts, Taylor enjoys classic rock — the louder the better. “Classic rock is going to be around a long, long time,” she says.
She is also a pop art connoisseur, especially enjoying the work of Andy Warhol. “The colors are so bright and fun,” said Taylor. “I grew up going to art camps, and while I’m not much into making art pieces myself, I think it’s cool!”
Kicking back with a good book is another enjoyable activity. Her favorite books deal with the challenges of young people coming of age. One book that has had a deep impression on her is The Alchemist by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. “If I could be any fictional character, it would be Santiago, the book’s protagonist,” she said. “The way he enjoys his life and adventures is inspiring to me.”
Taylor also sees a lot of herself in Santiago. “The story of his personal journey, how his path is unknown to him, and how he often feels like he is off the path he wants to follow speaks to me,” she explained.
As of now, Taylor’s own path is not yet clear to her, but it is wide open and filled with promise. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do in life,” she admits. “I know I’ll go on to a university somewhere to continue studying cybersecurity and eventually work a job in that field, but as of now, I have no idea where. It’s something I’m going to have to figure out.”
Taylor Quinn is a talented and highly intelligent young woman. She hasn’t only been learning IT and martial arts; she has also learned that happiness is found by following the heart. “You can’t escape from your heart,” wrote Paulo Coelho. “So, it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”
Taylor’s future is going to be just fine — she knows how to listen.