Catherine de Mesa: On Computer Science and Thriving Amid a Pandemic

WRITTEN BY Anna Divinagracia
EDITED BY Dona Marabe
GRAPHICS BY Jamie KO

“You belong in STEM. If you want to do it, do it.”

From her home in Houston, Texas, Catherine de Mesa, a Computer Science undergraduate student from Lone Star College, sends this piece of advice to young women all over the world who wish to pursue a career in STEM. Her story is one of trials and triumphs, yet one thing is certain: not even a pandemic can stop her achievements from blasting through the roof.

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT!

  • Catherine de Mesa’s story is one of trials and triumphs, yet not even a pandemic can stop her achievements from blasting through the roof.
  • She once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but shifted into Computer Science after realizing that tinkering with computers was her passion!
  • Far from her previous unmotivated self, she has already had three jobs and is currently a member of Tranz Business Center’s Web Development team.
  • Sadly, just like most women, Catherine has also experienced harassment online from a fellow moderator of a Discord server.
  • According to her, the better aspects of being in the tech industry are the safe spaces provided by women just like her.
  • Catherine aspires to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity and continue to have fun with her job, with her mentors guiding her and with her fellow female techies cheering her on!

Throughout her life, Catherine aspired to be a doctor, seemingly following in her father’s footsteps of being a medical professional. It wasn’t until she was studying Psychology in university that she realized that she enjoyed tinkering with computers more than being a doctor. Contemplating on the possible regrets and “what ifs” of continuing to pursue a medical career path, Catherine immediately shifted to a degree in Computer Science – a choice that truly shows her genuine passion, backed up by the straight A’s in her current courses.

Being a straight-A student is an exciting and unimaginable feat for some, yet Catherine further challenges herself by being a working student on top of her studies. Quite the opposite of her previous “lazy and unmotivated” self, she is now on her third job, with past experience as a support intern for the Trill Project, a safe and anonymous social network for self-expression. She is currently a member of the Web Development team of Tranz Business Center, a New Jersey-based accounting firm. Amid the stress experienced through her multiple commitments, Catherine braves through, saying that having a job is, indeed, fun!

Her triumphs are not without struggles, however. Prior to working with the Trill Project and Tranz Business Center, Catherine started her journey with STEM and tech as an administrator of a Discord server. Her joyful experiences with the seemingly patient server were unfortunately cut short following harassment from a fellow moderator. Upon reporting the incident, the expected action and consequences from the presiding committee did not arrive, and, surprisingly, Catherine was alleviated of her duties on the server.

The struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society have been presented to Catherine long before having a full-time job in the tech industry. Most women in science and technology experience similar cases of harassment and microaggressions in the workplace, attributed to generations of gender inequality and discrimination. Amid an unhealthy and toxic environment, women in technology have no other choice but to turn to other women in their fields who meet them with the support, the kindness, and the healthy working spaces they deserve.

“It’s easier to find jobs in the tech industry if you find the right spaces and the right people to help you.”

According to her, the better aspects of being in the tech industry are the safe spaces provided by women just like her. The situation applied to Catherine as she became a moderator for another Discord server dedicated to women in technology and computer science. It proved to be a safer and more conducive space to learn from other women in technology and find more opportunities for the future. True enough, a friend on the same server reached out to Catherine with a job opportunity, allowing her to thrive further amid the pandemic.

The pandemic has undoubtedly affected tons of lives worldwide. Catherine’s experiences are no different, especially with a frontliner in the family. Worrying especially about her father, the fear of her family possibly contracting the virus has been concerning Catherine, who had recently recovered from a life-threatening surgery.

Worry and fear aside, Catherine proves to be shining in terms of education and job prospects, with her most recent achievement being the Opportunity Hub’s scholarship. With four mentors guiding her towards her goals in tech and in life, she is undoubtedly confident in soon achieving her tech goal: to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity, an interesting field of computer science that deals with protection of hardware, software, and data against cyberattacks.

Catherine de Mesa, an OHUB scholar!

Albeit admitting to being a stereotypical introverted techie, Catherine is no stranger to breaking other tech stereotypes – after all, she chose a degree in Cybersecurity to avoid the mathematics involved in Computer Science degrees! She may be introverted, but, according to her, techies are familiar with using their soft skills in communication and explanation of different concepts to clients and managers. She may be a woman, but just because tech seems to be mostly for men does not entail it being a “guy’s thing” only.

“I’ve seen plenty of women make it in tech and STEM, so you belong in STEM. If you want to do it, do it.”

For other women like her who aspire to conquer their own obstacles, Catherine encourages independence and power to stand your ground.

As for her long-term #TechGoals, Catherine aspires to continue having fun with her job. Nothing is more rewarding than having a profession that excites you everyday. Achieving this will be a huge feat, yet, seeing what Catherine has done so far while still in university surely shows promise of her conquering all the obstacles that may come her way.

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