By Donnell Suggs
James Brown, an Augusta, Ga., native and the undisputed “Godfather of Soul,” once famously sang, “This is a man’s world.” Fellow Augustan and Clark Atlanta University alumnus Erica Stanley is doing her best to dispute that claim, if not in the world, then in the tech industry.
Stanley has worked for a number of media and tech giants like Boeing, Fox Interactive, Turner Broadcasting and Oracle, but it’s her work with Women Who Code that might be credited the most with the spark that has opened the door further for women the most. Stanley, a software architect and engineer, who lives in Atlanta with her husband Stephan Lee, also a Clark Atlanta University alum and an Integration Manager with Apollo MD, believes in the city’s potential to be on par with Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, if not surpass it.
“As soon as you start to imitate someone else you’re already limiting yourself,” says Stanley, who currently works for Salesloft in the Atlanta Tech Village. “Atlanta brings something to the table that the Bay Area doesn’t. The goal is really about getting our members as much exposure in the Atlanta tech community. So much of the success has to do with the diversity in Atlanta … I think that this community and city has been very welcoming to what we’re trying to do.”
That diversity did not exist at one time and it was hard to imagine a career in tech for a woman, much less a woman of color. As a girl, Stanley believed anything was possible in regards to computers. “My love for all things tech started early,” she says. “I promptly took apart my first computer and my father told me he wasn’t going to buy me another one until I put that one back together. Technology seemed like magic at the time.” That feeling of taking an idea and building it up to the point where it is no longer what you dreamed of but a reality still fuels her. “You could build your own, there were so many different directions I could take it,” she says.
Stanley started to be an integral part of that tech diversity movement from a grass roots level in Atlanta in 2013, when she met Women Who Code CEO and board chairman Alaina Percival, a Bay Area techie and Atlanta native. Stanley was asked to speak with potential and current members at an event, and her association with the organization and its importance to her adopted home town grew from there. “I thought Women Who Code was really important and something we all needed to talk about. Atlanta needed to be in the conversation.” What was just going to be a short stay turned into a permanent residence. “I expected to work with them for a year and I’m still working with them,” says Stanley with a laugh. She founded the Atlanta network of Women Who Code and believes there’s still more work to be done. “So much of the success of the program has to do with the diversity in Atlanta and that’s one of the major strengths of this city,” she adds. “We are on the right path and need to keep getting better at it.”
The movement has advanced on to the future tech leaders of Atlanta with Girls Who Code, who along with Band of Coders and the Global Village Project, are trying to change the world. Girls, the same age as Stanley was when she first dismantled her computer now get an opportunity to learn how to build apps and websites for state of the art computers. The game has definitely been changed. “I think it’s super important to get girls to believe they can be a part of this movement,” says Stanley of Girls Who Code, where she sits on the company’s advisory board. “A lot of the work I do with girls is to inform them early so that the spark can be lit. It’s also important to change the perception from just sitting at a computer all day to actually building things.”
Events like the Women Take on Tech hackathon at the Atlanta Technical Development Center in the heart of downtown that will take place from October 13-15 are next on Stanley’s agenda. She’s also in the process of beta testing a new app, Synapse, that she along with Lee and their college friend Deron Walters, also a software engineer, built. The app is expected to make networking much easier and is currently for iOS systems. “We’re trying to figure out the workflow for the app,” says Stanley. “We expect to have a quick follow for Android.”
With all of the work Stanley has coming her way, the app’s release in the fall/winter is just another one of her steps toward equality for women in tech. First Atlanta, then the world. “As the community continues to grow you’ll start women continue to lead more and more,” says Stanley. “More and more people empowering others.” AT