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Q&A with Sue Harnett


This year, we've reflected on and realized the importance of community now more than ever, which is why we're thrilled to close our 2022 Happy Hour series with Sue Harnett, expert community builder and entrepreneur. Sue is a Duke alum (and former basketball star) and founder of Rewriting the Code, an organization bringing together college women in tech to create and uplift the next generation of engineers and industry leaders. She has a heart for Durham and building dynamic, change-making teams, and we can't wait to spend the evening with her on Friday, December 16.

Join us from 5:30–6:30 p.m. as we hear from Sue on the importance of community and her unique perspective on success. This event is free to attend—and drinks are on the house—but space is limited, so make sure to RSVP and reserve your spot.


 

Q&A with Sue Harnett


You have a very diverse background, from working in sports, to innovation and entrepreneurship in healthcare to now, women in tech. What drove you to create Rewriting the Code?

Simply, the need for women to believe they belong.

The entire gender—50% of humans on the planet—are vastly under-represented in many sectors of the workforce. As we think about the current and future importance and impact of technology, it is particularly important that we have a diverse makeup of engineers who are developing the products and services that will impact our lives. The compilation of lived experience—gender, ethnicity, socio economic background, cultures, beliefs and more—result in the beauty of unique thought and perspective. In order to meet the broadest needs of the end users, we must have individuals from all walks of life collaborating on solutions.

An important challenge exists at the college level that threatens gender and ethnic diversity of our future engineering workforce: less than 1 in 5 computer science graduates in the US are women. Combine this statistic with the fact that this has been the case for the past 18 years. The representation of women in engineering is quite similar—and far worse in many disciplines such as electrical engineering.

I was introduced to this challenge when working on a consulting project at Duke about 7 years ago. Duke wanted to understand why so many women enrolled in the introductory computer science courses, yet lost large numbers from continuing on with the major following the 1st course and the 2nd course. I spent time with students–both those who stayed and dropped out of CS–and listened intently to their stories. There were a variety of contributing factors, yet they fell under one central theme. They felt like they did not belong.

Belonging, and more specifically, the feeling of not belonging, is something I understood. Like these students—MANY years earlier—I arrived at Duke. I was a student athlete—and quickly believed that the lone reason for my admission was the ‘athlete’ portion student-athlete. I was a 1st generation student and quickly felt out of place in classes amongst confident and vocal peers. The notion that I might not belong academically solidified into a hardened believe half way through my first semester.

It was at that time that I reached out to a few of my teammates to share my feelings. They quickly addressed my concerns as ones they understood, and experienced themselves at times. They made me feel that I was not alone and that I had to stop the negative talk in my head. I did belong, I would be successful and they would support me. I learned the power of teams, belonging and community in that moment.

The women in computer science I met needed a team. They needed a community of women with a shared passion. I also earned that was not a Duke issue, but rather a national and international issue. Rather than limit the formation of such a team to the local college level, we built this community for college women in tech nationally, and now an internationally with members from over 110 countries around the world.

What sets RTC apart from other similar organizations?

RTC supports women throughout their entire collegiate experience, 12 months a year in a holistic manner. The students’ needs are ongoing and complex. RTC fosters community both virtually and in-person through personal and professional skill development, mentorship, career exploration with tech companies and more. More organizations provide one-time, opportunities to find a job, which is important, but they are not solving for the root cause of low representation in tech.

 

 

What do you love most about your work with the young women of Rewriting the Code and your role as Founder and President?

I believe I, and our team, learn more from the young women than we offer them. We are in the relationship business—safe communities build trust, which promotes vulnerability and authenticity. The women share their feelings, experiences—many of which are really hard. Their honesty allows us to co-develop impactful programs with the women that are truly meaningful and impact change.

What's your vision for Rewriting the Code in the future?

Ultimately, I would love for RTC not to exist. That would mean we reach a goal of equal gender representation in tech. With women representing just 26% of the technical jobs and 12% of senior leadership roles in tech companies, we have years of work ahead of us. I hope that RTC can connect with as many 1st and 2nd year college students and early career professionals as possible, so that we can introduce them to a vibrant, support community and address the dropout rates in CS and engineering.

 

 


I know you're also passionate about creating and empowering teams. What do you think is key to creating a great team/teamwork dynamic?

A shared passion, trust and accountability to each other.

What makes you excited—whether in work or life—and what do you look forward to about it?

What makes me excited is watching young people grow. My two personal favorite young people are my sons, Ryan (19) and Gavin (soon to be 16). They are the absolute joy in my life. I am so very proud to be their mom.

If you had to create your perfect Durham day, what would you do? Where would you go?

So many options!!! I’d pick Saturday…start with the Farmers Market in Central Park. Follow that up with a bike ride that ends downtown with a bike crawl of sorts stopping at MotorCo, Ponysaurus, and the Federal. Dinner in the Nana Steak Bar (definitely a hello from Graham and Brad), ending with a DPAC musical!!!

As it is Happy Hour, what's your beverage of choice?

Old Fashioned with Bulleit bourbon. 😊