Prime for Technology: Indigenous Youth in Tech with Ashlee Foureyes

As part of Connected North’s Future Pathways program, TakingITGlobal is interviewing Indigenous role models about their work, their challenges, and their inspirations. We call them Future Pathways Fireside Chats.

Ashlee Foureyes is from the Maskwacis, Wetaskiwin area in Alberta and is a software development engineer with Amazon. After growing up in a rural community with limited access to technology, Ashlee started her education with the idea that her love of math would translate well to accounting which she was studying at the University of Northern BC. She soon found out that was not her path and decided to take a coding elective.

She fell in love with computer sciences and moved across the country to study at Carleton University. Ashlee went to a small high school with people she had been going to school with her whole life so university was an adjustment. She found UNBC to be a good stepping stone between high school and a big university like Carleton. While she might have been intimidated, she made sure to be social.

“I just forced myself to get out there and step outside of my comfort zone.”

Ashlee’s advice for college students is “seek out people, join clubs, make friends.” While at UNBC, Ashlee really enjoyed the community of a smaller school and she wanted to avoid being in a big city lecture hall. She enjoyed the Indigenous resource centre and found it helped her feel connected to the community.

Smaller colleges with university transfer programs can be an option to ease the transition, Ashlee suggests. Something she discovered she really loved when she got to Carleton was hackathons, which aren’t what you might expect.

“You think it would involve a lot of hacking, but it doesn’t.”

“A hackathon is basically a mini conference where you get together with a team of people and you create an app,” Ashlee clarified. Hackathons allowed her to compete, learn and have fun while travelling within her province but eventually as far away as Helsinki. Hackathons are one way to get exposed to solving real world problems in a way that mirrors the workplace.

“When people think about computer science, they think you’re going to be a programmer. That’s not always the case. There are different career paths that you can take.”

The reality is the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re lit up by the creativity of UX design, the math of machine learning or software engineering, or the business side of Product management or consulting, Ashlee explains how there are so many choices.

It isn’t just different roles, with a variety of industries hiring people with technical backgrounds, passion can meet purpose in choosing a career. Even without childhood coding experience, technology is an option for youth later in life.

“It’s really just like learning a language. Once you start immersing yourself…you’ll see it become easier as time goes on and it’s just that initial hurdle that you need to get over.”

While many of her peers had been coding since they were young, Ashlee started in college. She initially felt at a disadvantage and like there was a learning curve, but she found her pace and resources to help her catch up. That learning prepared her for the career of her dreams.

Illustration by Kailey Sheppard

Ashlee met Amazon at Grace Hopper, a software engineering conference for women. Now her days start with standup meetings and transition to independent project based work and team meetings. Ashlee’s first job after university was with a small tech company in Calgary, but she found her way to Amazon soon after. She brought her adaptability with her to shine in her new role.

“Being able to adapt to evolving situations is a skill that I think has been transferred over throughout generations.”

Looking back at her resourceful and innovative ancestors and considering her culture, Ashlee sees how the adaptability she was raised with has made her ideal for working in tech. Programs like Amazon Future Engineer brings computer science education to remote communities, giving unprecedented exposure to technology and opening doors for Indigenous youth like Ashlee. With the right opportunities in reach, Ashlee encourages young people to dream big.

“Never sell yourself short. Just really believe in yourself and find what you’re passionate about and be confident that you can achieve your goals.”

While internet connection can be a challenge, those technical skills can be assets to a young person’s home community. Recent events have shown you don’t have to be in an urban centre to work in tech, you can work remotely too. The pandemic that put the spotlight on remote work has created mental health challenges, and Ashlee shared her advice on getting through tough times.

“Get outside as much as you can and get into a routine I guess. And just keep in mind that better times are coming soon. Just focus on the positive.”

Just like she looks to solve problems in her work with Amazon, Ashlee found ways to get by during the isolation of the pandemic. Connecting through technology like Zoom and FaceTime, getting fresh air and exercise were other tips that Ashlee had for overcoming the pandemic blues.

An inspiration for her insights for pandemic coping and for the way she has pursued her passion for computer science into a dream job, Ashlee is lighting the way for Indigenous youth everywhere. Her pioneering spirit, creativity and problem solving skills, passed down to her through generations of her family, truly make her a role model and an asset to her community.

TakingITGlobal is pleased to have Ashlee’s involvement as a First Nations role model and guest speaker in the Connected North program. Amazon is also supporting coding and computer science education learning opportunities for Connected North’s network of schools through the Amazon Future Engineer Canada initiative.

The Connected North Future Pathways program is brought to you by TakingITGlobal with support from the RBC Foundation. Special thanks to
Alison Tedford for authoring this blog post.

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