"What she basically showed me was, there was an echo chamber going on in my own head, that I didn't even realize. I was believing a lie about myself that I couldn't go somewhere else." (Camille, Episode 48)
Camille Eddy is another person who (just like Michelle from episode 47) reached out to me after I posted in a "collaborations" thread in WOC Podcasters. As an engineer and public speaker who also has experience working in Silicon Valley, Camille is an abundantly accomplished person—and she hasn't even graduated from college yet! She spent some time telling me about her story, which includes being invited to speak at a tech conference in Budapest back in March of this year.
At the age of 12, Camille became interested in engineering because she wanted to be an astronaut. She's spent most of her life in Idaho, and she was homeschooled by her mom all the way until she went off to college. So when she expressed her interest in engineering, her mom took her to Boise State University to get acquainted with its engineering courses as well as the programs that were available for high school students. Thanks to her increasing involvement in the local engineering community and STEM outreach over the following years, Camille also started receiving invitations to speak at various events. In fact, as a sophomore at Boise State, she was selected to introduce President Barack Obama when he spoke at the university in 2015. She wrote her speech all by herself and delivered more confidently that day than ever before, and that was the start of her believing that she really had it in her to be a professional public speaker. Not only that, but networking with and being visible to certain notable people that day also led to securing her first internship in her field.
Though Camille started at Boise State, she took a gap year to do internships at Google and NVIDIA in Silicon Valley, and then transferred to the University of Idaho. Despite her efforts, she felt like she wasn't excelling as much as she knew she could at Boise State. It wasn't her "fault" as a student; the problem was college fit. Camille realized that all of her needs weren't being met, and that that particular university system simply was not for her. One of her mentors, a fellow Black woman in tech named Dr. Jeannice Samani, was instrumental in helping Camille believe that transferring schools was possible. She noticed that Camille didn't seem happy about returning to school in Idaho after her gap year, and encouraged her to explore other options. And while Camille was open to going anywhere in the States, she wound up back in Idaho and found a new home at the University of Idaho, where she feels people support her more intentionally and are more invested in her success.
In addition to going back and forth between student life in Idaho and numerous internships in the Bay Area, since 2016 Camille has regularly been booked for speaking engagements and workshops around the country. One of the topics about which she often imparts her expertise is artificial intelligence, or AI. She had set such a solid precedent for herself as a relevant and accessible speaker with a powerful narrative, that Reinforce AI invited her to join their inaugural roster of speakers for their conference in March 2019 in Budapest, Hungary. All expenses paid! And not only would this be her first time leaving the United States, but Camille was also the first person in her family to travel internationally. So while she was excited to have a new experience that would hopefully be a source of inspiration to her family, she also admitted to her cherished mentor Dr. Samani that, "I have no idea what I'm doing." She asked Dr. Samani to accompany her on this one-week trip, and Dr. Samani met her in Budapest. Amidst the process of traveling abroad, being immersed in a new country, and preparing for the conference, Camille fortunately didn't have to go through any of these new experiences alone.
Camille's talk focused on the cultural bias that gets coded into AI, and how AI can be corrected to better serve people who are currently being left out or even exploited. From facial recognition technology not being trained to recognize Black people as people, to sexist word associations in search engines, to over half the world not having sufficient Internet access (and thus not being able to provide the data that technologies require to serve their needs), there are a lot of improvements yet to be made. But Camille believes that the more that under-served populations are empowered to participate in tech and know how their information is being used, and the more that companies use tools to detect the biases that exist in their products, the more that the Internet can function in an equitable and efficient way. Her talk was very well received!
Outside of delivering her speech and getting to know fellow conference goers, Camille also explored the city. Instead of a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, she and Dr. Samani chose to hire a taxi to tour them around Budapest at night (which is an excellent option for those who want to avoid crowds of tourists). One of Camille's favorite moments during that tour was seeing a castle—or what she thought was a castle—which actually turned out to be a library (the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library, to be precise). She remembers being blown away when she was a child upon visiting a library in the States that had four floors, so she couldn't help but marvel at this library that was basically a palace.
"There are different ways that people can help you, but that will never come up if you didn't tell them."
As a proponent of having "a million mentors", and as someone who believes that she can be mentored by just about anyone (from industry experts to her fellow students alike), it's no surprise that Camille credits Dr. Samani's presence for making her time in Hungary all the more worthwhile. Because she's a fellow Black woman in tech, Dr. Samani has resonated with Camille in a special way that many of her previous mentors haven't. Letting Dr. Samani know about her upcoming trip and asking for help is what made the difference for Camille, and thus she encourages anyone to, "Let people know that you're going or that you're interested in going...There are different ways that people can help you, but that will never come up if you didn't tell them."
Camille is currently in her final year at the University of Idaho; she will receive her Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in spring 2020. By then, she hopes to have been offered the career opportunity that will be most optimal for her. As for Budapest, she would love to go again and take her family with her next time. She also hopes to be an example for other Black Americans to travel abroad more, not only to be more accustomed to the process, but also so that they can be better equipped to work and develop products and businesses in a global society. Camille can be found on her blog (hellocami.com), on LinkedIn (Camille Eddy), or on Twitter (@iamcamilleeddy).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "A Million Mentors & A Castle Library (BUDAPEST)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!