Layla C., 18 – FUNDED

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“This quote shows the feeling of empowerment and hope I felt when I received the email telling me about the win,” says New Face of Tech winner Layla C. “It demonstrates the importance of believing in your aspirations and the potential they hold for shaping your future — because if you can believe in your dreams, then you can make others believe.”

Her professional dream is to be a tech entrepreneur who is well-versed in software engineering and AI. She is currently studying for her undergraduate degree at Franklin & Marshall College as a Posse Foundation Scholar; her majors are Computer Science and Business with concentrations in Data Science, Software Engineering, Finance, and Entrepreneurship!

What does being the New Face of Tech mean to you?

It creates a powerful blend of inspiration, responsibility, and opportunity. It means breaking barriers and redefining stereotypes in the tech industry, where diversity is often underrepresented. It’s about being a beacon of hope and possibility for others who may face similar challenges, showing that disability does not define one’s capability or potential.

This title also carries the responsibility to advocate for inclusivity and accessibility in tech, ensuring that products, services, and workplaces are designed with diverse needs in mind. It’s an opportunity to use my unique perspective to innovate and drive change, making technology more inclusive for all.

Women are underrepresented in STEAM. How can we change this?

To address the underrepresentation of women in STEAM, we must start with education and outreach at an early age, encouraging interest and confidence in these fields. Schools and communities should actively promote STEAM subjects through engaging programs and mentorship opportunities, particularly targeting girls.

Additionally, creating inclusive and supportive environments in academic and professional settings is crucial. This includes challenging stereotypes, providing equal opportunities for growth and leadership, and highlighting successful female role models in STEAM through visibility and mentorship. I believe it’s essential to make opportunities to break into a career in tech that surpass the financial burdens of attaining education.

Overall, it’s also essential to address systemic barriers and biases within these fields, ensuring that women have equal access to resources, funding, and career advancement opportunities.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

Navigating the tech field as a person with invisible disabilities has presented unique challenges, one of which is overcoming the lack of understanding and awareness about invisible disabilities. This can lead to unintentional biases or a lack of accommodation in educational and professional settings, and sometimes, these circumstances make it difficult to access the same opportunities as my peers.

Additionally, growing up with very limited exposure to technology and opportunities in the tech field meant grappling with a steep learning curve and the need to seek out resources and learning experiences independently.

My journey has required resilience and self-advocacy, as I’ve continuously worked towards creating an inclusive space for myself and others who may share similar experiences.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

What keeps me motivated towards realizing my goals is my lived experiences. Through my perspective, I am able to understand and identify challenges that my peers and I may be facing in our community and, from there, work to create solutions for those issues.

Additionally, I find that creating a system of support for yourself can be extremely helpful in staying motivated, gaining opportunities, and maintaining a healthy personal balance.

How will funding from the 1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN help you reach your goals?

It is a significant catalyst in reaching my goals as an aspiring tech entrepreneur while still in college. This funding provides an opportunity to invest in my personal development, possibly through additional courses, workshops, or conferences that are essential for learning the skills required to succeed in the tech industry.

It could also serve as seed funding for early-stage development of my entrepreneurial ideas, allowing me to experiment, prototype, and iterate — which are crucial steps in my journey as a tech entrepreneur.

Additionally, this funding could help me financially in attaining my degree in Computer Science by supporting the costs of textbooks and other class materials.

Ultimately, receiving funding from the 1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN is an empowerment tool that will pave the way for learning, innovation, and the realization of my entrepreneurial aspirations in the tech world.