Growing up, I convinced my younger brothers to share a room so we could convert the spare room into our ‘Lego room’- optimized for building worlds and free play. We would play Legos for hours at a time, breaking down and rebuilding cars, ships, houses, forts, roads, and cities. In fifth grade, I enthusiastically joined my school’s first Lego League. The team met once a week and filled a small room behind the library. I remember our coach as a very tall, very skinny, and extremely smart grownup who used a lot of big words and didn’t like when we used the Legos to build cool things (which was very confusing). Our coach attempted to teach a room of loud and active fourth and fifth graders some of the most basic rules of programming, and created a robot with a few functions, like pushing blocks and picking things up. As the quiet kid, I stood at the back of the pack and spent most of our meetings quietly considering how we could make the robot look cooler (it should be no surprise I became a designer instead of a programmer).
Through the meetings, the group’s overeager interrogation of our coach revealed that he was an engineer of some sort. Or maybe he was studying computer science? I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember that these early interactions built my foundational knowledge of what STEM was- very tall, very skinny grownups who use big words and don’t it like when you build cool things. This first, childish impression made STEM feel looming and unapproachable, like something cold and colorless that I didn’t quite understand. While this impression was surely shaped by my age, it informed how I viewed STEM, and particularly tech, for much of my early life. I struggled to feel connected to science and math- I didn’t feel comforted by formulas that lead to one correct answer, and I wasn’t drawn to the structure of school science experiments. I felt outmatched by my peers that were naturally gifted when it came to STEM- that just wasn’t me. And so, as I shaped my interests through high school, I moved away from STEM and towards the warmth of expression and abstraction that I found in words and in art. I love to debate, I love law and politics, I love reading and writing essays, and most of all I love art. So I decided on art. Art is my thing.
First Grade- the beginning of SO many Lego collaborations with my brothers.
It wasn’t until my third year at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design that I realized my approach to art, or more specifically, Graphic Design, is actually quite scientific. There was nothing purely abstract or expressive in what I was creating- I was creating something analytical, thoughtfully measured, and functional. I was turning to the same fundamental truths that I’d unknowingly subscribed to as a child playing with Legos. I never built ships that were just cool- I built them to transport something. I never built roads just to have roads- they lead from one place to another. In playing with Legos, I’d build a lifelong foundation of utility. Form = Function. I want to be a part of every step of the process, and consider the end-user first in everything I create. This led me on a search for like-minded individuals, individuals using logic, design, and analytics to create measurable solutions that definitively answered questions.
Let’s pause here- there’s a whole lot of in-between for what happened next and how I got here, but the important part is this: I found a community (or maybe they found me) of like-minded individuals- individuals committed to the end-user experience and strategic solutions. Individuals who are creative through analytics and logic. I found DataDrive.
I’m only in month three of what I hope will become many years at DataDrive, but that’s plenty of time to confidently tell my younger self that nerds, even when their words are big, aren’t that scary at all. I am proud to work with a team of passionate, smart, eager, and innovative individuals who don’t just build things to function- they look really cool too.
One of DataDrive’s core values is to celebrate each other often, and this month I am excited to celebrate the women who champion DataDrive. I feel immensely privileged to say I work alongside some incredible, super cool, and remarkably resilient women in tech. It is an honor and privilege to profile these amazing women and the people and programs that inspire them.
Bree is Inspired by:
Taylan De Johnette
Taylan De Johnette is an artist and graphic designer working in the Twin Cities. Her practice pushes the boundaries of social innovation and graphic design. On any given day, she can be found launching new initiatives within a number of organizations. She is the Graphics Lead Lab Designer at Juxtaposition Arts, an art and design center, gallery, retail shop, and artists’ studio space committed to developing the North Minneapolis community by empowering young artists through a number of creative and education initiatives. Additionally, she is an active member of PF Studios in the Northrup King Building in NE Minneapolis. “PF Studios is an intentional space centering BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists and cultural producers… All PF Studio artists are invited to express and realize their artistic practices in a way that makes sense to their cultural context and personal goals, rather than being expected to adjust to a structured program model.”-via PF Studios.
Taylan De Johnette receiving her diploma at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design
In her newest initiative, Taylan is participating in the PLACES Research and Design Fellowship, a fellowship that will partner with city officials from Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Saint Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie to do public art along the Green Line extension this summer. The fellowship seeks to provide engagement opportunities for thousands of artists and hundreds of thousands of residents in the area as the six cities participate in contributing to transit-oriented arts development.
You can check out more of Taylan’s work on her website, and can connect with her on LinkedIn to stay up to date on social innovation and design!
I feel I am fortunate in that I attended a Lego League Robotics Club as early as fifth grade, and lucky that wasn’t the only girl in the club. I participated in events like Invent Iowa, which encouraged all students to explore science, technology, and engineering through entrepreneurship, as early as third grade. I learned of programs like Girls Who Code and had peers who volunteered with them in high school. I think this privilege was in large part due to attending school in a primarily white, mostly middle-class community in the second-largest city in Iowa, but I also think it’s a tremendous testament to the leg work the women in STEM did in the generations before me. Tech is an endless field with an immense number of opportunities, and I believe we’re finally at a stage where access to these opportunities will become equitable... like, actually.
I am inspired to work at a company that is dedicated to creating opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds, and the team I work with shares and reflects that dedication. As DataDrive grows, we are committed to building a team that reflects our community, and in the meantime we are committed to working equally hard to serve that community.
In the coming weeks I will profile the journey of some of the amazing women I work with. They will share advice, resources, and their stories. They will also profile individuals and organizations that inspire them. You can check out their stories by visiting the links below!
Read More About the Women of DataDrive