Cierra McDonald is a Senior Program Manager in Xbox’s Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, where she serves as the game developer education director. An avid gamer since childhood, Cierra has spent most of her career in the gaming industry and she loves building platforms to help game developers bring their ideas to life. She is originally from the south side of Chicago, and she graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering. Cierra is passionate about encouraging others, especially young women and people of color, to embrace gaming as both a hobby and a career. In addition to organizing Xbox’s annual Blacks in Gaming event at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, she can also be found hosting her own Intro to Game Design workshop with organizations such as Girls Who Code, DigiGirlz, and YTech as well as at conferences such as GeekGirlCon.
WHY YOU ARE INVOLVED WITH IGNITE?
I am blessed to have been raised by a family that values education and always encouraged my interest in STEM. My mother is a talented CPA with strong math skills who often inconvenienced herself to ensure that I received an excellent & challenging education. One of my uncles shared my STEM interests (and later went on to get his Ph.D in Computer Science), and on his visits to Chicago when I was a child, we would often discuss his own educational journey or talk about computers. Although my family didn’t have enough money to buy computers and other technology just for me to tinker & learn on, they enabled me to explore intellectually and creatively. Their support bolstered my confidence, allowing me to challenge myself to pursue a career in technology even when I didn’t feel surefooted.
There are many girls and kids of color who are not so lucky. They may not have firsthand exposure to someone who works in technology. They may not be in an environment where they are encouraged to be curious about science and math. Perhaps they are even being actively dissuaded from these interests.
That is why I’m involved in IGNITE.
There are so many girls attending school right here in the Seattle area, surrounded by several of the largest tech companies in the world, who do not know anyone in STEM and see it as something far removed from their own lives. IGNITE is an incredible force for connecting women who work in STEM careers with students in our local communities and giving these girls the opportunity to ask questions, to discuss their ideas, and to work side-by-side as they learn how to code. IGNITE helps tap into their potential and show them that it can become a reality.
HOW HAS IGNITE INSPIRED YOU?
I have been involved with IGNITE for almost a decade. I have witnessed, and occasionally had the honor of participating in, the hard work that Cathi and the IGNITE Board have put in to grow this organization over the years. I have read effusive feedback from the girls after an event, listened to them excitedly describe what they’ve learned, and seen their creations with my own eyes. IGNITE provides students with amazing experiences that spark a lifetime of interest. IGNITE puts forth real effort to reach as many girls as possible, inviting them to simply be themselves and have a great time playing and learning and thinking about the future. You can truly feel how much everyone involved with IGNITE cares about inspiring these girls to think big and achieve whatever they can dream up.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE WIDER COMMUNITY TO KNOW ABOUT IGNITE?
Volunteers are always needed! Get involved where you can, or donate to help support IGNITE’s amazing programs.