Celebrating Black History Month: Raina Young Sang
It’s not always easy being a woman of color in engineering, but determination can get you very far. Treasury Prime’s Technical Support Engineer Raina Young Sang knew early on she had an affinity for computers and building software, and has spent her career using that knowledge to solve all kinds of problems, including helping her autistic son to communicate. The key to her problem-solving ingenuity? Her multicultural heritage.
Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions Black Americans have made. Do you have any traditions or special ways to celebrate this time?
Both my parents are immigrants. My mom is from France, and my dad is from Jamaica. My husband is also half Jamaican, and half Chinese. I don't celebrate Black History Month, per se — I just do it every single day with my children. We would visit historical landmarks, and talk about both of our cultures — on my white side and the black side because we’re again all about unity. While Jamaica is predominantly black, there are a lot of other nationalities and ethnicities, so we always had that exposure. Our cousins all look different, so I don’t want my kids to focus too much on color.
What was it like growing up Jamaican American?
I’m from Brooklyn. There were a lot of Caribbean people, but at the same time, there was culture shock for sure. I still felt misplaced because a lot of them were already Americanized. It was just different mindsets; it was different the way that we talked — I spoke differently compared to other people that look like me. There were a lot of expectations based on how I looked. Oh, you don't listen to rap? Then you're not Black.
When we moved to Missouri, they could spot me from a mile away. There was a different dialect, and people picked on the way that I would say things. But I'm not going to change the way that I sound to fit in, and I thrived on that. I think it's another reason why I just decided to go on the engineering path, as well. I am so used to being different for so long that I don't mind placing myself in those kinds of situations.
What does it mean to you to be a biracial woman of immigrant parents?
I think differently, and that just means I tend to look at both sides. My mom and my dad — there’s already a divide there that I have to bridge. So I don't jump on any side just because I'm expected to. I like to look at things and talk through things and actually have a conversation about it instead of just saying, boom, you're racist. If it's blatant racism, then yes. But if it's like, well, this person did something and it has nothing to do with their race, then we're not going to talk about that. We're going to talk about what they did.
How do you feel Treasury Prime celebrates you and your heritage?
Honestly, this is the first company I've worked at that has any diversity and inclusion programming. I don't know if it's like a San Francisco thing, but I've never been exposed to people asking or celebrating anything like Juneteenth, which I'm still trying to educate myself about, to be honest.
I've had chat channels for people of color before at different companies, but it was always dead. But here we have meetings, we have conversations.
You have an interesting backstory to your engineering career. Can you share what inspired you to pursue this track?
I was always drawn to computers. I've always done better at computers and anything software related. Not hardware though. I can't stand printers. I can’t even change the cartridges —–I just ask my husband.
But what brought me into engineering in the first place was an issue that I saw for my son. He has autism and issues communicating; that sparked an interest in creating something — an app — to help him. Then, it just started spiraling into coding and just wanting to learn how things work and starting to solve issues.
I’m still working on the app. With autism, people that are on the spectrum have trouble communicating with others. That also leads to other problems, but communication is one of the biggest barriers. So I thought, well, why not create an app that has AI technology that can help them prep for conversations? I pitched this for Treasury Prime as part of my interview.
You’re a woman of color working in engineering. How have you managed to forge forward?
I don't give up — I have a very determined personality. If I set my mind to something that I want to do, even if the world is on fire, I'm going to try to do it. So I always have that in the back of my mind — I'll prove my worth or prove my knowledge by just doing.
Any advice you would give to other women of color looking to pursue an engineering career?
Don’t be intimidated by what the room looks like. Just focus on what you have to offer. They're all just people learning at the same level as you. Once you're comfortable with that, you will definitely go far.
For people looking to enter the field, there are so many free resources available. Free Code Camp was one of the first companies that I looked into because it was free. I would check out some of these resources first. And ask yourself, do you have an issue that you would like to solve? What exactly is driving you to be an engineer?