I’m Jessica Williams.
I’m a manager and entrepreneur.
I’m based in Chicago, IL, USA.
I work as an Infrastructure Manager at McCormick Place. My team is responsible for all Internet needs for shows, conventions and meetings within the space. I also own Tech Biz Gurl, LLC – a business with the goal of helping female entrepreneurs fuel their dreams using the power of technology.
What path did your career take to get where you are now?
I was about 19, a freshman in college and realized I didn’t want to be a doctor (I was pre-med first semester). After taking my second coding class, I realized that while I loved it, I did not want to sit behind a computer all day. The computer science curriculum didn’t really fit my personality. I found my answer though with Information Systems – getting a blend of business and technical education and being able to talk to both sides. From there, I specialized in networking – which has led me to my current management position.
Through Tech Biz Gurl, I want to connect women with the knowledge and resources to conquer their firsts in business. I want them to feel confident behind the keyboard and use technology to bring their ideas, dreams and creations to life.
Have you found it difficult to enter your profession as a woman?
What was difficult for me was not seeing other women in tech. Technology, especially up until recently, has been hailed as a male-dominated field. Now there is a huge initiative to increase diversity in tech, so it’s still an issue even though there is a lot of attention on it right now.
And I think because of that and the lack of seeing other women in tech positions, I didn’t even realize that I had career options in this field. I stumbled into it by accident. I also felt like I had to prove myself to be taken seriously in the beginning as well.
Did you have any help during your career?
I was able to work for a technology company in high school. This was a game changer for me. It changed my whole career path. I went from interning there where I was pre-med, to changing my major to business in college. All in all, I worked at that company for 15 years. The people I met, mentors I had, and learning experiences have made me who I am today.
What do you wish you had known when you started out?
I wish I would have known sooner that I had options. One of the biggest things for me is that when I was trying to figure out my career, I was only exposed to a few careers: doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher. I had no idea that there were so many different roles within industries and I had other options.
If you could talk to your younger self now, what would you tell them?
I would tell her that she has options. It’s about trying everything, experimenting and being aware of what’s fun and what’s not.
I would also tell her that it’s OK to be herself. To embrace her quirks and personality and not to feel so pressured to fit in and conform to some structure. She’ll find the right people and the right fit.
Who has most inspired you and why?
My grandmother. She raised me on her own on a $287 welfare check for most of my early years and middle school career. She is the epitome of strength and determination. I’m sure I’ve learned my resilience from her.
Even though we lived on limited funds, we never went hungry, we always had shelter and clothes. And she taught me to want more and to be more. That’s one of the main reasons that I started working as early as I could to help contribute to the household income. Summer jobs at the high school cleaning lockers and windows is where I started. And I’ve only moved up from there.
She wanted to make sure I got an education and went to all of the best schools. And I did. It’s so important to have someone who dreams big for you and will do everything to help you get there.
What tips would you give someone just starting out?
I would tell them a lot of the same things I would tell my younger self. Experiment as much as you can. Find things you like, find things you don’t like. Take a coding class – even if you don’t want to become a coder because technology is everywhere. You will learn great skills like problem solving and confidence in figuring things out that you can take with you whatever you decide to do. Learn how to share your thoughts verbally and in writing.
Every opportunity, every experience (even failures) are opportunities for learning and growth. Embrace those.
What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you?
One of my mentors told me that it was important to have a strong handshake and he took the time to help me have one. Every time he saw me, he would shake my hand and evaluate it.
The strong handshake (and the deeper meaning of doing everything you can to make a good first impression) is something that I pride myself in and has helped me to become a trusted advisor to many people.
What inspiring quote to you love and where does it come from?
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman
Do you use any useful apps, systems or websites that you would like to share?
I love Apple products and run my business on them. A couple of my favorite tech tools include Dropbox for file storage and sharing, Google Apps for Work, WordPress for my site and Mailchimp for my email list. If you are interested in more of these types of resources, you can come over to my site.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Finding your calling is oftentimes not this one moment where the proverbial lightbulb illuminates over your head. It’s not. It’s a series of deliberate actions. It’s about being aware of the moments that you get lost in and forget about time.
It’s about experimenting and then doing more of what you love and less of what you don’t. It’s about finding ways every day to do things that make you feel alive.