She attributes many of her accomplishments to the training and postsecondary programs she participated in, like Hack.Diversity, of which SkillWorks is a proud supporter. And her connection with SkillWorks doesn’t stop there, having also participated in other funded programs in healthcare and IT – showing that she’s in the driver’s seat of her education, purposefully taking advantage of opportunities to learn about, explore, and enter into the career pathway that’s right for her.
Rizel Bobb-Semple is a bright and curious young woman with a vibrant personality and obvious love of learning and determination to succeed – a determination that has, no doubt, gotten her through some difficult times, and kept her moving up.
Born in Antigua, she immigrated with her parents to the United States before she was 5 years old, and moved around a lot without much of a chance to settle into a particular home or school. She and her mother even had to spend some time living in a homeless shelter after her parents divorced. Rizel enjoyed learning and going to school, and always worked hard to get good grades, but it was a struggle; the instability of moving around so much and changing schools so frequently presented a constant obstacle for her. But despite how much the odds might’ve been against her, she persisted, eventually settling down with her mother in Mattapan and graduating from high school.
Rizel knew she wanted to attend college and get a good job, but wasn’t sure what that would be. “The good jobs stressed for immigrants are always to become a doctor or a lawyer,” Rizel explained. So she figured she’d try out something in healthcare. Unfortunately, after one semester at a local college, she had to withdraw because she could no longer afford tuition.
She secured a full-time administrative job at a local gym, but it barely paid a living wage and she wasn’t satisfied there. Rizel was determined to return to school and continue her education. Still thinking she might want to pursue healthcare, she entered into a phlebotomy technician certificate program at Roxbury Community College (RCC). At that time, SkillWorks was funding a pilot project out of the Boston Healthcare Careers Consortium called “From Classroom to Employment.” The project’s goal focused on improving data collection and sharing on student outcomes and providing additional non-technical skills instruction and job search support to students in a select group of community college allied health certificate programs, which included RCC’s phlebotomy program.
The non-technical skills, which were chosen based on feedback from healthcare employers and members of the Healthcare Careers Consortium, included workplace readiness skills, basic communication and critical thinking skills, and also included job search and placement support after program completion. While enrolled in the program, Rizel connected with Meredith Crouse, Project Manager of the Healthcare Careers Consortium at the Boston PIC. Crouse managed the pilot project and kept tabs on the progress of participants like Rizel.
Rizel successfully completed the phlebotomy program, and gained some experience working at two local hospitals. She enjoyed working in healthcare, but quickly found herself gravitating toward the technology and health information systems used throughout the hospitals. It was also around this time she remembers seeing a YouTube video of a young woman of color, like herself, talking about her passion for computer science, which further solidified her interest. Growing up, she had never seen herself going into the tech field, thinking she wasn’t good enough at math and feeling that the field’s lack of diversity was a sign that it wasn’t the place for her. But after gaining some exposure to computer science and technology in the context of healthcare, she was beginning to see a path for herself and possibility for a rewarding career.
With her new career goals in mind, Rizel enrolled in Bunker Hill Community College‘s (BHCC) Computer Information Systems Associate’s degree program. She had also kept in touch with Crouse, who told her about another SkillWorks-funded program, this time in IT. With SkillWorks’ support, RCC was piloting a Business Intelligence/SQL certificate program, offered in partnership with Colaberry, a business intelligence service and training provider. She was also encouraged to look into this program by Nadia Lazo, Career Service Representative at RCC’s office of Career and Corporate Education and another important guide Rizel encountered along her postsecondary journey.
Although she was already balancing a busy work and academic schedule, she added the Business Intelligence course to her plate to supplement her degree at BHCC, knowing that SQL would be a good skill for her to have when looking for a job in the field. “The program was hard, but it was helpful and I got good at SQL, which made me marketable because a lot of companies are looking for that [skillset],” Rizel reflected.
After completing the SQL course, it was clear that Rizel had significantly advanced her knowledge in her target subject area. She soon landed an internship at a federal home loan bank, where she gained on-the-job technical and general workplace experience. In addition to that work experience, she was connected with professional development opportunities including online training and networking at industry conferences. Opportunities like these and the supportive culture fostered by her colleagues really made her feel like a valued member of the team, and that they genuinely cared about her professional development. She said it was encouragement like this that helped motivate her to “work harder and harder” toward her goals.
Crouse also continued to check in to provide further guidance and support. “I sent her [a list of] programs to check out since she really wanted to build her IT skills and get [another] IT internship,” she noted. This list included Black Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It, Year Up, The Tech Connection, and Resilient Coders, among others. Rizel was still in her internship at the bank, but was already thinking ahead to the next opportunity to expand her skills and add to her resume.
As it turned out, her very supportive internship supervisors at the bank sent her to a local conference for women in tech, where she fortuitously met Melissa James, Founder and CEO of The Tech Connection. Rizel later learned that The Tech Connection is a key partner of the Hack.Diversity initiative – “a movement to tackle the underrepresentation of high-skilled minority employees in Boston’s innovation economy. Hack.Diversity’s vision is to achieve a 100% increase in the number of blacks and latinos working in the innovation economy in Boston.” Other key partners and supporters include the Boston PIC, SkillWorks, The Boston Foundation, New England Venture Capital Association and other education, training, and employer partners.
After receiving an email notification from BHCC about applying to Hack.Diversity, Rizel seized the opportunity and was accepted into the program.
Around the same time, Rizel also joined Code2040, an initiative aimed at “increasing access, exposure, and opportunities for top Black and Latinx talent to ensure their leadership in the innovation economy” – through which she was flown out to San Francisco to visit some of the leading tech/innovation companies, including Intel, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Snap.
Fast forward to today: As part of Hack.Diversity, she will soon be starting an exciting internship at HubSpot, and is exploring opportunities for another internship after that. All of this before she’s even finished her Associate’s degree!
It’s clear that Rizel is at the very beginning of an exciting career in tech and computer science, and overall bright future. She’s already determined that after she gets her degree, she wants to pursue a career in data science/analytics. Ultimately, she said, she wants to be an entrepreneur in the tech sector, heading up her own business. She also feels a deep connection with the missions of the programs and initiatives she’s been a part of, relating to increasing diversity and inclusion in the IT/tech industry: “I’m interested in other people getting these opportunities and requesting that you all pass on the message to [other] students. Please tell them to sign up for Hack.Diversity and Code2040. These programs… are empowering for blacks and Latino tech students.”
And when asked why diversity is important to her, Rizel responded: “When I was a child I didn’t see many black women in tech, so I figured it was not the industry for me. However, there are few black women in technology probably because black girls lack models they can look up to in this field. Diversity in all jobs, especially technology, is important to me because it is all about representation.”
Back at the Boston PIC, Meredith Crouse expressed her pride and awe at Rizel’s achievements: “Her life has changed dramatically in the two years I’ve known her. She went from swiping cards at Planet Fitness in Mattapan, to holding multiple credentials from local community colleges, has worked in healthcare & IT, and starts an internship at HubSpot this spring. Through Hack.Diversity, she is realizing her potential and her power as a spokesperson for other young women of color to get into the IT field.”
Thank you, Rizel, for sharing your story, and for your passion and setting such a wonderful example. Looking forward to watching as you undoubtedly excel and succeed!