It was near midnight when LaShana Lewis, a certified server engineer and computer technician, was faced with a daunting prospect. Just minutes earlier, she was finishing up an article to submit to a local newspaper where she writes as a freelancer, when her screen had gone blue. Literally, a cornflower blue with little pink pixels.
Without thinking, she had already tried to get the screen to show up by pushing a series of shortcut keys designed to bring up the monitoring screen or, at least, put her back to the login portal. It was to no avail. She then picked up the laptop, unplugged it from its moorings, and then rushed to a television screen to plug in an HDMI cable to see if she could get the monitor screen to double there. No dice. She checked with another laptop she knew worked well and the screen doubled to the television, fine.
"Where is the external shell you used for your hard drive when your laptop died?" she asks her partner of eight years, Seanna Tucker. Tucker locates the drive and its cords, then hands it off to Lewis who has already flipped over her laptop and unscrewed the cover containing the hard drive. After removing what appeared to be a shield designed to dissipate the hard drive's heating element away from it, she opens the external hard drive case, removes the old hard drive, and puts in her own. After screwing it shut, she runs to the other laptop and plugs it in using the USB cords that accompany the drive shell.
Lewis crosses her fingers, and turns on the laptop.
The shell is still in working condition, lights have already come on to indicate power, but the only thing Lewis has to verify is that the drive is still working, as well. There wasn't a quick way to be sure before trying this method.
The laptop screen appears, and within moments of logging in, the drive is recognized and all of Lewis' files appear. After performing a network share to ensure that the files could be accessed, Lewis decides to only concentrate on locating the file she was going to email to the newspaper, and make sure that the accompanying photos made it through unscathed. It is now after midnight, and Lewis has been working on this problem, from start to finish, in the span of 20 minutes. She works fast, focused, and with the urgency and experience of someone who's been through emergencies like this a million times.
When Lewis wasn't doing triage on wayward laptops, she was a software engineer. "I worked on the transactional servers at a major credit card services company," says Lewis. But this wasn't her latest foray into the tech field. Lewis worked on application servers with a team of engineers.
After performing that position for six months, she took a test to assess her skills. "It was a beta test for server engineers that a company called CompTIA was doing. Every now and then, they renew their tests and need some folks to be guinea pigs. They offer it at a really low rate and you go in and take it like you do any other test. They give you more questions, too, and you get a chance to leave commentary on each one to say what you like or don't like about it. When all is said and done, if you pass after they throw out the questions they don't want for the final test, you get the certificate," Lewis remembers.
"And, well, I got a letter in the mail a few months later, hoping that they would tell me where I failed and what I needed to practice on, because they give you that type of stuff. I figured for that price, it was well worth it. I opened the letter and had to sit down: I had passed the test and they sent me a certificate. I remember thinking that I hadn't touched a computer server in 10 years before I took that job. And now, they said I knew enough to be a certified server engineer. And it wasn't on the old test, either... it was new material that no one had seen before and some new methods they didn't test on, previously. I was shocked and ecstatic. I told everyone I knew," she laughs.
Before working at the credit card processing company, Lewis was in customer service. She worked as a representative for many years, and in the last six before going to the company, she was a manager. But, she always found time to help her community. "While I was working at my previous job at a local university, I helped to found a community center for LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual) individuals and their allies. I decided to run that while I was still working because there was a great need in the area for it. We estimated that if the city of St. Louis had about 300,000 individuals and that, on average, 10% of them were LGBTQIA, then that was at least 3,000 people that we could serve."
"We got a small place with a couple of conference rooms, a library/computer room, and a front lobby area after we took a survey of the St. Louis region during the Pride festivals," Lewis remembers. "A local university helped us with the statistics and creating the survey as their class project, and we were able to secure a small $10,000 grant from a local foundation. We had folks paying for the internet bill, and electricity was already included in the price of the rent for the location we found, as well as a security guard. We also wanted to make sure it was wheelchair-accessible, so we had a friend in a wheelchair come in and try to navigate the entire space. She was able to make suggestions and we were good to go. We ran it for about four years, and learned a lot. I even had to do the 501(c)3 tax paperwork myself, but we got the designation and were covered by a fiscal sponsor, before then. I also did management and finances in a for-profit entertainment company that had three different acts. I call it my 'years of crazy'."
Lewis continued her service to the community while being an engineer. She joined and led company affinity groups for LGBT and women employees. But, she always sought to help on a wider base.
She says it all started with a conversation that her partner had with a local company. "Seanna told me about some diversity efforts that a company was looking at and I quickly said, 'Okay, this is what they need to do.' and I named like two or three things and didn't think much of it. Come to find out, the ideas resonated with the President of that company, and before I knew it, I was being asked to come in as a consultant. I had always thought about doing my own tech firm, but this seemed like a more urgent need. It was like back in my days of doing the community center. I couldn't pass it up. Seanna said that I had already done so much blogging about it, that she could see me easily transitioning into it," says Lewis.
Lewis took her ideas to friends and networking events, and got people really looking to evaluate her service offerings and strike up deals. Many were company owners or organizational heads. The idea rolled up quickly.
"I went to sleep one night after trying to fiddle with doing a website. I was just too tired and since Seanna had some experience and background with it, I left it up to her," explains Lewis. "The next morning, I woke up to some likes and people commenting about it on Facebook where she had made a post for me about it. I started getting questions and trying to answer everyone as best I could. The same thing happened on LinkedIn after I posted it there. I felt like all my mailboxes were blowing up!"
When asked why Lewis didn't start with just diversity training, she says that most companies and businesses have already had it. "I found that a lot of people were just like the initial company: they already had training or someone coming in to do the training, but they needed an extra boost, afterwards. They needed someone to go in and take the time to figure out why their numbers in certain areas were still low, and maybe some suggestions moving forward."
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