Briahna Chambers is a lead instructor with Tech901 and a total technological rockstar! We were inspired by her talk “Breaking The ‘Class’ Ceiling” at TEDx Memphis, and just had to find out more about this powerhouse woman who is seeking to change the face of technology in Memphis. Learn more about what makes today’s FACE of Memphis tick.
You are a Texan. What brought you to Memphis?
My husband and I moved to Memphis three years ago specifically because of the need in this city. At the time, Memphis was one of the lowest rated metropolises for literacy and third-lowest for computer literacy. We wanted to contribute to the improvement of those statistics.
How did you choose to major in computer science?
I always loved technology — I remember being one of the only kids in my neighborhood in Texas who had a computer. I was always trying to challenge it, reprogram and rewire it out of keen interest. In fact, when my brother was notorious for breaking things in the house, I would always manage to fix it before my parents could notice. I was his ally, for sure. By the time I took second-grade computer class, I knew more than the teacher! My interest only expanded from that point in my life.
How did you get involved with Tech901?
Robert [Montague, Executive Director of Tech901] reached out to me with this really incredible idea for a tech nonprofit. He and Steve [Denegri of Tech901] had already done most of the really hard work, but the company hadn’t officially launched yet, and they needed an instructor. That’s where I came in. It was perfect, because this is exactly what I came to Memphis for. I not only wanted to help people learn about computer science and IT, but I wanted people to realize that this field of work is attainable.
What is your dream for Memphis’ technology ecosystem?
Of course my dream is for Memphis to come to an overwhelming understanding that Memphians can land incredible tech jobs without the pressure or need of a four-year degree — but as a result, I want Memphis to be willing to invest more in Memphis’ tech job salaries and trajectories. I want Memphis to appreciate these skill sets. People need to be paid what they deserve. The low cost of living can’t be an excuse when comparing these salaries to other markets.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My students. Some of my students have experienced or are experiencing the worst situations imaginable — homelessness, abuse, unemployment for long stretches of time, taking care of families while working multiple jobs — and yet they still manage to come to class four times a week and be alert and ask questions and encourage their classmates. In the process, they’re encouraging me.
What brings you the most professional joy?
Watching a student’s eyes light up when they understand a complex subject. Even more, I love it when I watch a student go from an unfulfilling, meaningless job into a career they really love and feel fulfilled in — whether we placed it or they got it on their own.
What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?
- Stop being afraid of failure.
- Go natural — your hair is beautiful.
- Visit your great-grandmother; ask her questions. (My great-grandmother lived to be 100, and she was amazing. She was so intelligent and energetic, and she truly had the best stories. I wish I could have learned more about my history through her.)
- Listen to your gut. You have amazing intuition.
- Don’t hide your muscles. Being fit doesn’t make you manly, despite what people say.
- And lastly, invest every dime of your savings into Bitcoin.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m 5 feet tall and set my college’s record for indoor long jump. Today, that record has yet to be broken. I also play in a competitive flag football tournament every year.
What do you do in your free time?
Every other weekend, our friends get together to try a new spot, particularly black-owned and locally owned businesses. Last weekend, we tried a new black-owned restaurant and then saw Wicked at the Orpheum Theatre. Memphis is full of new, interesting experiences!
What are you most proud of?
Professionally, I’m most proud of my students’ successes, how far Tech901 has come and how much we’ve been able to impact lives over the past two-and-a-half years. It’s inspiring.
Popcorn. I am obsessed. I love to go downstairs at Crosstown Concourse to the Curb Market, where a local woman sells her varieties of seasoned popcorn. One of my coveted possessions at home is my air popper.
What is your best piece of advice?
Do not let the opinions of others keep you from going after what you want. Especially in the tech industry, people think computer science is rocket science. Entry into a new field or situation can be a challenge, but it isn’t impossible, so take that challenge and stick with it. If we go through life where everything is easy, what kind of people would we become? Challenge yourself.
Three things you can’t live without?
- Information — I LOVE to learn. I feel restless if I’m not learning something new and challenging.
- Alone time — It’s an introvert thing.
- Exercise — I love working out and playing sports. I also feel restless if I don’t work out for a long time.
Thank you, Briahna, for sharing your story and valuable insights with us! To learn more about Briahna’s work and opportunities to support her, visit tech901.org.
Thank you to Mary Kate Steele for today’s awesome photos of Briahna.
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