All photos courtesy of Khalia Braswell
Khalia Braswell was in the 4th grade when her mother received her tax refund and asked her if she wanted a pair of Jordan sneakers or a computer. For Braswell, the decision was easy- a computer. This choice would lay the foundation for Braswell's future pursuits in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Starting her high school journey at Phillip O. Berry Technology Academy in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Braswell's interest in technology started to be cultivated. Especially with the help of two Black women by the name of Jermel Byrd and Louise Suggs. Bryd was Braswell’s advanced placement computer science teacher and Suggs managed all of the school's IT systems.
"In my head, I wanted to be like Mrs. Suggs, because she knows all the things about tech…” Braswell told Because of Them We Can. “She's in control, she's running it, I wanted to be that."
With that in mind, Braswell went on to land internships at Deloitte, Fidelity Investments, Bank of America, and later Apple. After obtaining a bachelor's in computer science from North Carolina State University, Braswell set her sights on earning a Ph.D., but instead went on to pursue a masters in information technology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During her graduate studies, Braswell focused on human computer interaction, which led her to establishing INTech, an organization that empowers young girls of color to get involved in the technology industry.
Braswell didn't think she would ever start her own organization, but after partnering with the STARS Computing Corps program at UNC Charlotte to host the very first INTech event in April of 2014, she knew that she had to "keep doing this." At the time, Black Girls Code had not yet made it to North Carolina; however, Braswell made it clear that if its founder Kimberly Bryant "wasn't already doing this work and proving there's value for Black girls coding, it would be that much harder for (her) to break into this space."
It was during that same summer in 2014 that Braswell got an offer to work for Apple, and by August, she was taking a break from her graduate program to move from North Carolina to California to start her internship at the multinational technology company. After traveling back and forth from Charlotte to California, Braswell moved back to Charlotte in 2015 to finish up her master's degree. The very next year, Braswell found herself right back on the west coast after graduating with her master's- only this time she was working full- time as an Apple user experience engineer.
"The statistics of Black women in tech are super low...but what I know is that I had role models around me…I knew of Black women in tech at the time when I was growing up... that increased my confidence when I was going through N.C. State's program to say 'Oh no, I can do this,'" Braswell said.
That can-do attitude helped Braswell run and grow INTech while working for Apple at the same time. Braswell used her vacation days to host INTech summer camps, where girls of color were exposed to Black women working in tech fields and received on-hands training.
"I started INTech because I realized that there weren't a lot of Black women in the tech industry, explained Braswell. "I continued to do this work because I think back on my own experience... I had Black women in tech around me."
In January of 2018, Braswell took her mission one step further and quit her job at Apple to pursue INTech full-time. Since founding the organization in 2014, INTech has went from hosting a one day camp to weeklong summer camps in the Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro area, reaching more than 600 middle school aged girls.
What's next for INTech? This fall, the organization will launch an after-school program for high school students to learn mobile development, user experience, and web development. High performers will then have the opportunity in the spring to learn how to build websites for a client "with the goal of getting them an internship in the summer time to partner up with a local small business or a nonprofit and get paid to actually build their website," shared Braswell.
By the time students finish the program, Braswell hopes that they will have technology skills that they can monetize in the future. She also wants to continue to show young girls who look like her, they they too can be successful in the tech industry- and if you ask us, she’s already doing just that.
For more information on INTech, visit intechcamp.org.