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Opinion Editorials

An inspiring thank you letter all women in tech should read

(OPINION EDITORIAL) “We owe it to ourselves and future generations to disrupt and shift the culture, and create a more inclusive environment.”



Bringing positivity into the world

Fellow AG writers Jennifer Walpole and Taylor Leddin shared last month their UNFUCD assignment of thanking a teacher (here and here). Now, I would like to offer mine:

Dear Mary Dorman,

I feel that I should open this letter with an apology – for not comprehending your efforts to instill confidence in a 16 year old girl, and for not making more of the opportunities you opened up to me.

I owe you a lifetime of gratitude for recognizing and fueling the undying fascination I had for science and technology.

What was it that you saw? You may have realized that high school didn’t start out all that exciting for me. I vaguely recall signing up for a Computer Math class in ninth grade at John Foster Dulles Senior High, which was quite innovative in 1979. There was a teleprinter and an IBM card punch machine in the corner of the classroom, and I was fascinated how the cards and paper tape could contain information.


That next year I was moved to a brand new and smaller high school – Willowridge Senior High School – as Dulles was overcrowded. At first I was disappointed, as there was no computer class or science club established at Willowridge.

However, as one of my science teachers, you encouraged me not only to join – but also preside over — the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS), which was dedicated to promoting engineering and technology careers.

You encouraged me to take on my first true leadership role.

I had no interest in engineering, but the desire to please a teacher who time and time again demonstrated confidence in me was invigorating.

Choosing the right path

While my other tenth grade teachers would just give me extra work because there weren’t enough eligible students to have an honors program or computer class, you went beyond. You gave me special assignments that I would complete on the school’s Commodore computer – I think I was the only student who ever used that computer its first year in-house. I learned how to create flowcharts, as well as how to use Microsoft BASIC.

“You can be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond.”

The school administration notified my parents that they were having trouble accommodating me. I could continue at Willowridge, and be given extra advanced coursework. There just simply weren’t enough students to justify an honors program.

I was offered the choice to transfer back to my old school, where there was an honors program. After much debate and trepidation, I chose to transfer back to Dulles. I was sad to leave behind many friends and my favorite teacher – who encouraged me to spread my wings — but thought it was the best decision at the time.

You were truly a gem amongst teachers in a time when young girls and women weren’t encouraged to pursue careers in STEM.

Had I known that, I might’ve chosen differently and stayed in that positive microcosm. You would’ve been disappointed to hear that I spent most of eleventh grade struggling to adjust. I was from “the wrong side of the tracks,” a lower middle class student who wasn’t from the more affluent neighborhoods surrounding Dulles.

The backlash

I disengaged and became withdrawn as I felt bullied in Chemistry class, by boys scoffing at any girls who showed an interest, being told that I should go back to Willowridge. Discouraged by my eleventh grade Honors English teacher who essentially said, “I set the “A” by Mary A.’s test score, and then distribute grades below that accordingly.” Even if in jest, that statement implied that the rest of the class would never excel or meet the highest standard. I rebelled – why bother trying?

You’d probably be even more disappointed to learn that although I enrolled in a Physics class taught by a female teacher — who had even received several “Teacher of the Year” awards — it was not a learning experience for me. I would raise my hand to answer a question – and never be called on. Instead, the same boys were always called on, the ones who huddled around the new Apple III while the rest of us were pushed out of the way, returning to our seats in the back of the room.


I transferred over to Newspaper Journalism for the final semester, as my enthusiasm for science and technology dwindled.

Or so I thought. For you see, this letter is truly about UNFUCD, and finding the good where there’s been bad.

It’s okay to be a “late bloomer,” and you can have multiple or concurrent careers in your lifetime.

After high school, I floundered a bit through a couple of years at college, and ultimately dropped out, but I did do well in an Introduction to Microcomputers course. I received an 89 in that 8 am class that I barely recall taking, simply from what I’d learned from you.

Rising up

Later I took a few classes at the Houston Area League of PC Users (HAL-PC) campus just for the fun of it, learning how to work with DOS, Lotus 123, and dBase III. I was encouraged by my Uncle Ronnie, who was a founding member of HAL-PC in 1982. He later helped me set up my first personal email account, and educated me about chain e-mail hoaxes and to vet on this site called “Snopes” in 1995. HAL-PC is the world’s largest PC user group.

I won’t bore you with the details, but you’ll be glad to know that I found other mentors when I went back to college ten years later, who encouraged and helped me and many other students focus our passion for biological sciences – and data.

I received a Bachelor of Sciences in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from UT Austin at the tender young age of 33 years old, and even spent a month in Costa Rica for entomology field research.

Since then I’ve been an aquatic taxonomist, an environmental educator, a web developer, a water operator, and a drinking water quality specialist.

I now own my own water consulting business, partner in a data firm, and advocate for open source software development.

The ripple effect

Most importantly, I’ve been an environmental educator, an afterschool program leader for Girlstart, and I currently serve on the Advisory Board for ChickTech Austin. Girlstart and ChickTech are wonderful non-profit organizations dedicated to engaging girls in STEM through education programs.

Because that’s the greatest lesson that you ever taught me — that young girls as well as under-represented socioeconomic groups need positive role models to guide and empower them to pursue their passions in science and technology.

We owe it to ourselves and future generations to disrupt and shift the culture, and create a more inclusive environment.

You also taught me that I can be a leader in that mission. For that, I thank you immensely.



Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

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  1. Danny Brown

    September 13, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Hi there Debbie, and thanks so much for writing this letter – what a powerful statement about encouragement, and sticking to your beliefs! So thankful for Mary Dorman and all she meant to you, and others like you!


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Opinion Editorials

Sci-fi alert: Building cities on quantum networks becoming reality

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The University of Bristol’s Quantum Engineering Tech Lab has created quantum networks that demonstrate the possibilities for future cities.



Quantum network connections in theoretical city at night time.

The University of Bristol is home to the largest quantum entanglement-based computer network in the world. Its Quantum Engineering Technology Lab, led by Dr. Siddarth Joshi, has been spearheading the development of a method of encryption called Quantum Key Distribution that may soon revolutionize information security.

First, what is quantum computing, exactly? (Giving a concise answer to that question is sort of like nailing jelly to a wall, but here goes…)

Much like a light switch, a conventional computer circuit can only be in one of two states at a time: On (1) or off (0). That’s basically how binary code works – by representing information as a series of discrete on and off signals, or high and low energy states.

Quantum computing makes use of a third kind of state that exists between those two.

Think about it this way: If classical, binary computing models rely on energy states of “yes” and “no” to communicate data, quantum computing introduces a state of “maybe.” This is because at the quantum level, the photons that make up the information in a quantum computer can exist in multiple places (or energy states, if you prefer) at once – a phenomenon known as “entanglement.”

Entangled photons cannot be observed or measured (i.e., tampered with) without changing their state and destroying the information they contain. That means quantum computer networks are virtually hack proof compared to traditional networks.

This is where Dr. Joshi’s team is changing the game. While previous attempts to build a secure quantum computer network have been limited to just two machines, the QET Lab has been able to establish a quantum encrypted network between eight machines over a distance of nearly eleven miles.

As Dr. Joshi puts it, “until now, building a quantum network has entailed huge cost, time, and resource, as well as often compromising on its security which defeats the whole purpose. […] By contrast, the QET Lab’s vision is scalable, relatively cheap and, most important of all, impregnable.”

If it can be successfully scaled up further, quantum encryption has countless potential civic applications, such as providing security for voting machines, WiFi networks, remote banking services, credit card transactions, and more.

In order for an entire population to be able to utilize a quantum network, fiber optic infrastructure must first be made accessible and affordable for everyone to have in their homes. In that sense, quantum cities are still roughly two decades away, posits Dr. Joshi. The technology behind it is very nearly mature, though. A simpler application of quantum encryption is practically right around the corner – think quantum ATMs in as few as five years.

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Opinion Editorials

5 ways to grow your entrepreneur business without shaming others

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.



Entrepreneur women all talking around a meeting table.

The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly. Maybe your entrepreneur business was set to thrive as behaviors changed (maybe you already offered contactless products and services). Or, you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. This has been tough.

Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and most likely at different stages than others. We’re at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.

Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and marketing outreach online. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.

Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that gives an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate. Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing ok. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”

Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.” I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”

Comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (sick of that word? Me too).

Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):

  1. It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
  2. Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
  3. Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
  4. Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
  5. Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.

It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different way of doing things?

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Opinion Editorials

Can we combat grind culture and injustice with a nap?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) A global pandemic and a climate of racial injustice may require fresh thinking and a new approach from what grind culture has taught us.



Sleeping cat with plant, fighting grind culture.

Information is delivered to us at warp speed with access to television, radio, and the internet (and more specifically, social media). We are inundated with messages. Oftentimes they’re personalized by something that a friend or family shared. Other times we manage them for work, school, or just keeping up with news. Many entrepreneurs already wear many hats and burn the midnight oil.

During this global pandemic, COVID-19, we have also seen a rise in awareness and attention to social injustice and systemic racism. This is not a new concept, as we all know. But it did feel like the attention was advanced exponentially by the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020. Many people and entrepreneurs felt called to action (or at least experienced self-reflection). And yet they were working at all hours to evolve their businesses to survive. All of this happening simultaneously may have felt like a struggle while they tried to figure out exactly they can do.

There are some incredible thought leaders – and with limited time, it can be as simple as checking them out on Instagram. These public figures give ideas around what to be aware of and how to make sure you are leveling up your awareness.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Center for Antiracist Research – he has been studying anti-racism and has several books and interviews that help give language to what has been happening in our country for centuries. His content also delves into why and how white people have believed they are more than people of color. Here is a great interview he did with Brené Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast.

Tamika Mallory – American activist and one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been fighting for justice to be brought upon the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. These are among other efforts around the country to push back on gun control, feminist issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brené Brown – research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has been listening and engaging on how racism and our shame intersect. She also speaks about how people can reflect on themselves and where they can take action to better our society. She has some antiracism resources on her website.

With all of this information and the change in our daily routines and work habits (or business adjustments), what is a fresh approach or possibly a new angle that you haven’t been able to consider?

There is one social channel against grind culture that may not be as well-known. At an initial glance, you may even perceive this place as a spoof Twitter and Instagram that is just telling you to take a nap. But hold on, it’s actually much smarter than that. The description says “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations. We install Nap Experiences. Founding in 2016.”

It might be a great time for you to check out The Nap Ministry, inspired by Tricia Hersey. White people are called to action, and people of color are expressly told to give time to taking care of themselves. Ultimately, it goes both ways – everyone needs the time to recharge and recuperate. But people of color especially are being told to value their rest more than the grind culture. Yes, you’re being told you need to manage your mental health and include self-care in your schedule.

Through The Nap Ministry, Tricia “examines rest as a form of resistance by curating safe spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, and performance art installations.”

“In this incredibly rich offering, we speak with Tricia on the myths of grind culture, rest as resistance, and reclaiming our imaginative power through sleep. Capitalism and white supremacy have tricked us into believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity. Tricia shares with us the revolutionary power of rest.” They have even explored embracing sleep as a political act.

Let this allow you to take a deep breath and sigh – it is a must that you take care of yourself to take care of your business as well as your customers and your community. And yes, keep your drive and desire to “get to work”. But not at your expense for the old grind culture narrative.

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