Gazheek Sinclair – Indigenous Tech Perspectives

 

 

Gazheek Morrisseau-Sinclair remembers playing around on her dad’s Mac computer at the age of three. She grew up with an interest in technology but never considered it a serious career option until her early twenties. She was good at math however coding was considered ‘uncool’ amongst her peers.

After high school, she enrolled in Education at the University of Winnipeg and found that it wasn’t working for her. She dropped out of the program the next year and started working. She enjoyed working with kids and ended up as a career intern at Gordon Bell High School, where she helped students with college admissions. Gazheek was helping a student apply to Red River College (RRC) Nursing Program when she came across the Computer Analyst Programmer (CAP) Program. It seemed like a perfect fit.

“At that point, I’d been out of school for 4-5 years and I knew that I needed to go back to school to get a better job and career,” she says.

Gazheek got accepted and fell in love with the program immediately. She loved the logic and programming, and she especially loved building things and the gratification that came with getting instant results. She knew this was the field for her, but it was a trip to Halifax that shaped her pathway.

When Gazheek went to Nova Scotia to visit her best friend from the program who had recently moved there, she fell in love with the city.

“I was trying to think of how can I move out there without my parents and family not freaking out,” she says.

Gazheek’s family is extremely close and moving to Nova Scotia without any reason would have upset them. She found a course at Dalhouse University called the Informatics (now Applied Computer Science) Program with a software systems specialization. The program seemed unique and bridged the gap between business, computers and people.

In 2008, she transferred to Dalhousie University to complete her education. After graduating in 2012, Gazheek worked at Headspace Design for a year. In 2014, she joined REDSpace, a digital studio in Nova Scotia, as a developer for a few years – a company she now works remotely for in Winnipeg.

Working remotely is a reality for many people working in STEM. According to OWL Lab’s State of Remote Work Report, 10% of people employed in the Internet/Technology industry in the United States work remotely. Gazheek enjoys working-from-home but says that it does take some discipline. Besides being able to concentrate on your work, you also have to know when to stop.

“It’s easy to get wrapped up in something and work for 18 hours because your computer is right there, your office is right there,” she says.

At REDSpace, she works regular office hours to be available for clients which helps her stick to a schedule. This also helps her stay connected with her team despite the distance. REDSpace encourages having a positive work-life balance and she also has to get her overtime approved.

While Gazheek missed the social aspect of working from an office, she enjoys being able to work in different spaces, like coffee shops, for inspiration and better focus. In an ideal world, Gazheek would prefer to have a flexible schedule and work remotely a couple of days a week.

Gazheek has been in the industry for close to 13 years, six of which were as a student. Over the years, she doesn’t remember coming across another Indigenous woman in tech. In an industry with a significant gender disparity, the number of Indigenous women is even less.

At Red River College, Gazheek course was male-dominated. When she missed a few classes, her professor mentioned that the tone of the class changes in her absence. Neither of them could figure out the reason but her presence increased the level of professionalism.

“He would say that you need to show up more because having you in the room, affects how the room acts,” she says.

Gazheek thinks lack of exposure at a young age could be one of the reasons why there are fewer Indigenous women in tech. If girls are not exposed to tech as a career option in high school when they’re thinking about University, they often don’t have the course requirements they need for STEM programs.

There is also a lack of visual representation in the field. Young Indigenous women aren’t used to seeing women who look like them working in leadership positions. They associate the industry with the nerdy, male stereotype and don’t see it as a realistic career option. Gazheek thinks it’s important to reach out to them to show them that’s not true anymore.

“The industry is very different,” she says. “You need people of diverse backgrounds. You need people who’ve had diverse experiences.”

Gazheek has volunteered with Ladies Learning Code, Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, and schools to encourage kids in technology. With REDSpace, she spent a day with and spoke to kids from Eskasoni school, located in a reserve in Nova Scotia. During those talks, she mentioned that the maker of Doom – a popular video game – identifies as Indigenous.

Gazheek says that there are more Indigenous people working in the field than people think. Examples include Elizabeth LaPensée, an Irish, Anishinaabe, and Métis game developer and Animikii, a Vancouver-based Indigenous digital agency. However, she says advocates are needed in these communities to help increase awareness.

“You have to actively step out there and say this is something you can do,” Gazheek says.

Gazheek also thinks that it’s important for recruiters to hire people with diverse experiences.

“I’ve talked to recruiters who’ve said they just want the best candidate,” she says. “But if you’re not actively out there recruiting from outside your generic pool, you’re also gonna miss people who might be the best.”

According to Gazheek, diverse experiences are an asset but to make it a reality, recruiters have to actively reach out to communities who aren’t necessarily aware of the opportunities.