Exclusive Interview with Shannon Wilkinson, a CEO, Author, and Advocate for Women in STEM
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Wilkinson. Shannon is the co-founder and CEO of a cybersecurity company, an advocate for women in STEM, and an author. She wrote the book Ripping Off The Hoodie: Encouraging the Next Generation of STEM Girls, which is now an Amazon bestseller in five different categories. Here's an exclusive look into the interview:
My first question for Shannon was, “When did you first realize you wanted to go into the STEM field?” Shannon said, “I guess it was by accident. I originally went into university wanting to be a police officer. About three semesters in I realized that I didn’t like the classes or what I was doing, but I had a job as a support technician in the computer lab, and I realized that I had always loved computers so maybe I could actually have a career in computers.” Shannon also talked about how she is not that great at math, so she thought she could not be successful in a tech job.
I also was curious about career advice for students my age and asked her, “If somebody wants to have a career in STEM, what should they do during high school to prepare for that?” Shannon's response was, “There are so many specialties within technology so try some different things. Try coding, try engineering, etc. Also, look at your activities and hobbies and see what you enjoy; can that bring you into a career in technology?” Shannon emphasized that it is important to enjoy what you do so you won’t wake up every day dreading going to work.
I wondered if you had to be good at math in order to go into the tech industry, and Shannon replied, “It is absolutely possible to work for a tech company and not be at all into technology or programming. Technology companies need people who are good with graphic design and are artistic and can work in the marketing department. There is also sales and accounting, so you can very easily be involved in a technology company without being deep into engineering or development.”
I asked her, “Would you ever want to write another book?” Shannon's response was “Yes. I’ve actually considered writing two other books. The first is about the Digital Divide and how it affects us. The Digital Divide is the access to internet and computers. About 141 million people are affected by the Digital Divide in the US. I think with the pandemic and the school closures it brought attention to the Digital Divide. We realized that not everyone has computers or internet and is able to work in this new digital age. I would also like to write a book geared towards younger children about how failing doesn’t make you a failure. I would take a lot of examples of people like Oprah, Michael Jordan, and a lot of different celebrities, who faced many failures but have continued to be successful.”
Finally, I asked Shannon, “Do you have any advice for women or people who want to have a career in STEM?” Shannon said, “There is this idea of Imposter Syndrome. For me, I think that boils down to a lack of self-confidence and not believing that we are capable, or we deserve where we are. If there is one piece of advice that I would give to somebody it would be, believe in yourself. Know that where you are today is because of your skills and your knowledge, and you absolutely deserve to be where you are today. Don’t let other people's
attitudes define you. I like this Elanor Roosevelt quote: Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.”