Denae Ford

3rd Year PhD Student
Computer Science
North Carolina State University

About Me

My undergraduate degree was in Computer Science and I graduated from North Carolina State University. When I was younger I thought I would be an astronaut or involved with space missions once I got out of high school. In fact, I’m not crossing that last one off the list just yet!

How was your experience with STEM classes and teachers in middle and high school?

My experience with STEM classes and teachers in high school is ultimately what encouraged me that Computer Science as a major was an option. I was in a science and technology program where we were exposed to the engineering design process, binary code, C++, Java, and practical applications of what we could do with this knowledge. What drew me in was how the work we completed in class could be applied to the outside world.

After grad school, what’s next?

Perhaps industry research for a bit and then teaching. I think teaching and being able to share all the knowledge you’ve acquired is so valuable. The best thing about going to grad school is the flexibility for many paths it can prepare you for.

What do you do to unwind?

Run. That has been and forever will be my favorite activity. Recently I’ve also picked up yoga to give my body another type of exercise.     

My Research

I study how to make socio-technical ecosystems a more inclusive environment and encourage participation across genders. One example of these communities includes Stack Overflow, a popular question and answer site for programmers. Fostering a more inclusive environment encourages a wider diversity of thought and can help more programmers of underrepresented backgrounds be more engaged in the programming process.

The various horror stories of the individuals who have been afraid to participate in these communities because they were afraid of the backlash inspired me to pursue this line of research.

The coolest thing about my research is how practical and interactive it is. Much of my insight comes anecdotally from pop culture news on programming and the latest trends. From there of course I have to put my “scientist” hat on and do my due diligence to determine whether a topic is a worthy research question.

The hardest part is being able to keep up with all the evolving features of some of these communities. The world around us and how we communicate takes many forms. This means that the way programmers communicate and talk about their work does as well. Staying on top of this is really important if I want my research to still have an impact.

My Grad School Experience

I chose to go to grad school because I didn’t feel like I learned enough during my undergraduate career. I felt like there was so much more to know about Human Computer Interaction and I figured the best way to get that was to go back to school! I knew I wasn’t finished learning. Then again, are we ever finished learning?

Discouragement is definitely a feeling that I have battled. My way of overcoming this was taking a step back and remembering my big picture goals. I usually start by asking myself a series of questions: Why am I here in the first place? What is the long-term goal? How does this little obstacle help me grow and prepare me for my long-term goal? After reflecting on these answers I usually gain enough momentum or encouragement to keep going through the challenging situations.

Some of my biggest cheerleaders are my friends and family. It’s funny because it can be very difficult to explain the nitty gritty details of something I’m working on to them but it doesn’t matter. My team of cheerleaders are the type of people who support me no matter what; especially if they see that I’m passionate about something. They can be excited by the mere fact that I’m excited about something. At the end of the day, that is often just the type of energy I need

What do you want to say to up and coming Melanin Genius?

You got this! You may not have all the pieces figured out now and that’s okay. Just know that you can do this. You have a team of cheerleaders you may or may not know rooting for your success!

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