Empowering Women with Ashley West

Girls in Tech! Our empowering woman of the month is Ashley West. Each month we are collaborating with the talented Mike Aguilar Photography to show and feature our amazing boss girls in our community.

Ashley is an Emerging Technologies Librarian for The University of Oklahoma. Previous to this role she was a Service Specialist in the IT Department at OU where she managed about 40 students and coordinated their training, career development along with budget forecasting, analytics, & team-wide communications. Ashley’s team was responsible for serving the entire campus community of faculty, staff, and students. Ashley along with her team was recognized by CIO magazine for their work in data analytics and outreach. The CIO awards is an award that recognizes companies and organizations all over the U.S that have demonstrated excellence in leadership, innovation, and business strategy. You can read more about the award at https://itnews.ou.edu/2017-cio-100-nomination/  

Besides having an amazing Tech career that she loves, Ashley also has a side hustle. She has had her own photography business since 2010, Ashley R. West Photography. The love and interest for technology started at the age of 13 when she received her first laptop. In high school, Ashley was taking photos for yearbook. And in college she was the photo editor for the school newspaper, The OU Daily, shortly after Ashley landed an internship at The Oklahoman as well taking photos for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even with a full time career and all the side gigs, Ashley’s passion for technology and photography lead her to start her own business. You can check out more of Ashley’s work at ashleyrwestphotography.com.

Along with all that Ashley does, she is also involved with Oklahoma Women in Tech (OKWIT), a nonprofit organization of professionals in technology industry, with a determination to bridge the gap between genders in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. She currently serves on their Leadership team as the OKC Programming chair, a position that allows her to connect with local schools, businesses, and organizations that want to support their mission. OKWIT was recognized by the Journal Record last year for “Program’s Making a Difference”. Read more about it at http://journalrecord.com/2017/08/02/woman-of-the-year-honorees-named/ 

Everything about Ashley is an inspiration. Her passion and drive has taken her on an amazing journey and she continues to give back to her community by encouraging others to do the same! And for all the above reasons she is our tech beauty and empowering woman of the month!

Getting to know Ashley!

-How did you get in the tech-world?
I've always had a keen interest in technology, even at a young age. When I was 13, my Dad surprised me with my first laptop (this was in the early 2000’s.) I used that thing until it literally turned to pieces. This exposure to technology at such a young age is what got me hooked. I wanted to know more! After that, I craved more exposure to tech & wanted to learn all about it. Fast forward to 2011, when I applied for a job at little company called Apple. I was barely 21 & landed a job working for the world’s most admired brand. It was such an incredible experience. The people are what made it truly amazing & it was an honor to work for the company when Steve Jobs was still at the helm. To this day, technology is one of my top-interests & there’s so much joy & excitement in the fact that it’s constantly evolving. I’m incredibly grateful to have found a career that is so fulfilling. I had no idea that I would find myself in the technology industry when I was growing up. It’s just one of those situations where when you follow your passions, it doesn’t really feel like work anymore. It’s all about leading with the right intentions.                                                            
-What inspired you to start your own business? 
What inspired me to create my business is that I consistently had friends & family reaching out to me to take their photos. Music recital photos turned into engagement photos, and then weddings & then product photography for Amazon- and the list goes on. I love meeting new people & having the privilege of telling their story. It’s not something that I take lightly! I’ve had my professional business (Ashley R. West Photography, LLC) since 2010- it’s crazy that it’s been 8 years! The photo community is great. If you’re just getting started, don’t give up!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
-What do you juggle a photography side hustle along with a full-time job?
Great question! Coffee. Lots of Coffee ;)  I try to maximize my time as much as possible, so sometimes this means coming home for lunch to edit photos or saying no to weekend social events because I have a photoshoot or galleries to edit. I enjoy the challenge. Photography is also an area that I’ve very passionate about, so I make time for it. 
-How did you get involved with Oklahoma Women in Tech (OKWIT)?
I have to thank a woman named Kim Thomas for inviting me to my first OKWIT event in May of 2016. She was the first person to reach out to me when I first started at OU & I’ll never forget her kindness & generosity. When I realized what it felt like to be a part of such a familiar community, I knew it was something special. The organization has grown so fast from it’s inception in 2016. We’re now almost 2 years old & our membership base has grown to over 1400 people! I now serve on the OKWIT’s Leadership team as the OKC Programming Chair. It’s such an exciting role that allows me to connect with local schools, businesses & organizations that want to support our mission of bridging the gender gap in STEM fields.    
-What are some things that you love about being a part of OKWIT?
There are so many! I love having the opportunity to connect with women & get them excited about exploring careers in STEM. We hold 2 retreats each year that bring high school girls in from around the state & get them connected with women leaders in STEM fields. Last year, we had Emily Sutton come speak about her journey into a STEM career & some of the challenges that she faced as a female in a male-dominated industry. She is truly inspiring & it made my heart so full to see all the young women in the audience so excited to see a successful woman on stage.
-How has it impacted your life professionally?
OKWIT has had such a profound impact on my life, both personally & professionally. It has instilled an incredible confidence that I have been seeking for so long. It has also opened my eyes to how many other women have the exact same struggles as I, so it makes me feel good knowing that I’m not alone in this journey. Amazing things happen when you support & uplift each other! I’ve made some life-long friendships through this organization, and to me- that is priceless.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
-What are some challenges your face with your career in the tech world?
Being second-guessed by male counterparts. It’s a real thing & it totally sucks. Especially when you’re young. I’ve learned not to take things like this so personally. This is an industry (like most) where you have to have a thick-skin. It took me a very long time to get past the “imposter syndrome".                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
-How can someone get involved or learn more about OKWIT?
I’m so glad you asked! You can check out our website at www.okwit.org & signup for our monthly newsletter, which includes monthly event details, volunteer opportunities, scholarships & more! We also can be found on Facebook & Twitter. If you have an questions please feel free to reach out at awest@okwomenintech.org                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
-What is your advice for other women that are interested in the technology industry  & feel that there are barriers to success due to how male dominant the industry is?
I’ll keep it simple here: Never give up, Always keep your head up, and don’t take things personally. Work on being the best version of yourself everyday. Who cares what others think. This is YOUR journey, and not anyone else's  Be confident in your abilities & most importantly; believe in yourself.  

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