I remember my grandmother having a desktop computer that sat in our dining room with DSL internet that would only work when no one was using the house phone. At the tender age of five, I’d put viruses on her computer from uploading games from disks that were included in my Burger King kids meals, just for the computer to run slower than the day before. She didn’t mind it, though. She just asked that I not share our home address with any of the prompts that appeared on the screen. Fed up with me “curing” the viruses on her computer, for my eighth birthday, which happens to be five days after Christmas, my grandmother gifted me my first personal laptop– the infamous pink Dell laptop with a Dual-Core processor. I was in awe of what it felt like to have a resemblance between my portable DVD player and my grandmother’s desktop all in one. What’s more was that during that time, we were slowly being introduced to “wifi” internet connectivity, and being that we lived in rural Georgia, I’d take my laptop with me everywhere we went to see if I could “pick up anything.” I still remember the feeling of disappointment constantly refreshing my network panel during our long rides in hopes that I could connect as we traveled.
After some time, however, Facebook (now Meta) loosened its requirements for membership and no longer required users to be enrolled in an academic institution. My parents gave me permission to make a Facebook account, so I did; my mom was my first friend. After that, I made a Myspace account, and my only friend was Tom. As I began to figure out what I liked and disliked about those social media platforms, I mostly used Facebook to share excessively photoshopped images with stickers and ridiculous gradients with my mom and close family and to copy and paste quotes (as a professional and academic, I shudder at the plagiarism) that I found online. Nevertheless, things were different on Myspace. First, I used pre-made templates to design my profile; later, I taught myself to code and add plugins to make my page look different from that of my friends and acquaintances who soon joined after me. When word spread, friends and relatives started messaging me to ask if I could create layouts for them, too. My favorite one was the Phineas and Ferb homepage theme I created from start to finish. And it was very on brand, if I do say so myself.
I had established myself as the “Steve Jobs” of the family. Any time things went wrong with our internet, TVs, or my parents’ or grandparents’ cell phones, I was the girl to call to fix it all! And I enjoyed that because I loved the thrill of the challenges, and I loved to fix things. As time progressed, my passions for troubleshooting, “coding,” technology, and the internet dwindled as my focus shifted from the things I enjoyed doing to the things I had to do, like focus on school, help out around the house, and more importantly, face reality.
50 miles southwest of Macon, Georgia, lies my rural hometown of about 3,000 people, Montezuma, Georgia. Quality public resources such as education, health care, and legal representation are reserved for the economically privileged, let alone any exposure to advanced tech and big tech companies. My rural town has one elementary, one middle, and one high school; my alma mater, Macon County High. The limited amount of post-graduation resources and limited awareness of various majors outside of liberal art degrees bounded the potential of graduating seniors, including myself.
I knew I was going to college, but I had only heard about the basic liberal arts degrees like English, math, biology, and political science, and the only one that even remotely interested me was political science because I have a phenomenal relationship with our state representative, Patty Bentley and because I idolized Olivia Pope from Scandal (minus the affair) and I loved how she could handle almost anything, just like I thought I used to do. She was successful, well-dressed, and well-respected, but most importantly, she was the closest resemblance to me in mainstream television that I had seen in a while. In my mind, only men majored in anything computer-related, and English would require “too much” writing, but political science seemed to be a happy medium, so it just made the most sense at the time.
When I got accepted into the University of Georgia, I remember staring in awe when a classmate explained how taking 5 AP (Advanced Placement) courses allowed her to earn college credit and reduce the number of classes she would ultimately pay tuition for. My high school only offered 3 AP courses in which I excelled. I came across colleagues majoring in areas of studies I never knew existed, like public relations, computer science, and engineering. Friends from metropolitan schools reminisced on international study abroad experiences from high school that seemed unfathomable for me and those I graduated high school with. It felt wildly unfair that they had access to obtain guidance to pursue these opportunities while I unknowingly lived in ignorance.
Ignorance for me was not bliss, so I started having conversations with professors and advisors to help me sort through all of my thoughts and eventually decided to pursue public relations. The core classes I had taken so far for the political science major also satisfied the prerequisites for the public relations degree, and if I had chosen to pivot towards a computer science or IT degree, I would have had to start all the way over with prerequisites again. So I majored in PR, excelled academically, and then started working for Apple as College Advisor to satisfy the inner kid in me that so badly wanted to be involved in technology.
I quickly realized the value that my major and career afforded me in real time. I found it to be both a unique challenge and gift to relay even the most complex ideas and resolution steps into layman’s terms that an elderly person or even a five-year-old could understand. Even more, I found a knack in piecing together the bits and pieces of what issues iOS and MacOS users were experiencing to get to the root cause. That gift helped me to excel during my time at Apple and now I feel both lucky and fortunate to be able to apply the skills I learned then, now.
Fast forward to the present day, I am now an account executive for Omniscale Media, a digital agency that specializes in public relations and digital marketing for advanced tech companies. As I’m sure you know, technology is very peculiar, so to perform this role effectively, one must have a strong grasp on what the client is doing, what their goals and key messages are, and how best to formulate and execute a plan that tells the client’s story, exceeds KPIs and earns the coverage and notability they so rightfully deserve. I am also wrapping up research for the master’s program I’m enrolled in at the University of Florida, which focuses on understanding the perceptions of artificial intelligence in public relations among public relations professionals.
I credit the steps I’ve taken so far to the curiosity I’ve always had about technology and as an owed to the young girl I was before. A harsh reality is that where I grew up had a massive disadvantage within itself, and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t see many people that looked like me in the roles I wish I would have pursued sooner. The role of traditional PR is to generate awareness, but my role and obligation to my community is to move the needle well beyond awareness and generate actionable outcomes that inspire others. And as my favorite saying goes: “the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm,” so I have vowed to be the representation to other younger girls that I didn’t see when I was in their shoes.