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Life & Work with Sierra Williams

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sierra Williams.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I am an African American woman who grew up in South Central Los Angeles to a single mother who worked several jobs making minimum wage which to my memory was about $6/hour. When I was about ten years old, my home was about a mile south of USC, I remember seeing all these kids moving into their dorms and their parents had cars and just looked happy, unlike mine. It wasn’t much at the time but I told my mom, “I want to go here one day”, referring to USC. When in the 6th grade at John Muir Middle School, these ladies from a program known as the Neighborhood Academic Initiative came to my middle school and presented their program which provided a full-ride scholarship to USC if you made it through the program from 6th to 12th grade. The program consisted of Saturday classes throughout middle school and high school aimed at filling the gaps in education that inner-city students faced.

Additionally, once you got to high school, you’d be required to take a math and English course at USC every morning before you are bussed back to your high school. I joined the program and was excited about the opportunity and chance to go to my dream school. I had always been a good student but in a world where education is not valued, it’s very easy to get distracted. The NAI program helped me learn that I wasn’t just a good student, I was a great student especially when it came to STEM subjects. My ability to understand math very quickly became my ticket out of south central. Through the program, I took AP Calculus AB and got a five on the exam with minimal effort and I fell in love and that was the moment I decided to pursue something engineering related. Didn’t know any engineers, didn’t actually know what they did but I knew because I loved math and problem solving, I figured it would be a good fit. College admission time comes around and what do you know, I was admitted to USC under the Viterbi School of Engineering.

When I started at USC, I thought I wanted to be a biomedical engineer, changed that to Aerospace engineering at some point, but ultimately decided that I want to be an engineer but also work in a business setting so I ended up pursuing Industrial and Systems Engineering for undergrad. Upon approaching my senior year of college, I still hadn’t decided where I wanted to work and what I wanted to do. I applied for and got accepted to the progressive degree program at USC where I would be able to get my bachelor’s and masters in 5 years. Because I was unsure of what I wanted to do, I did a bit of soul searching the summer between undergrad and grad school and decided that I wanted to become a data scientist so I got my master’s degree in Data Analytics.

I knew about Accenture because I had seen them at several career fairs, including the National Society of Black Engineers conference in Anaheim my freshman year. When it came down time to decide where I wanted to work, Accenture fit the bill to a t. The opportunity to try new things out, to work on data analytic/data science projects, the opportunity to explore and really figure out what is it that Sierra wants to do? I’ve been at the firm for about 1.5 years and I love it, the world I experience now is so different than the world I grew up in.

I sometimes have imposter syndrome because most of my coworkers don’t come from a background like mine but the work ethic, the leadership skills, and technical experience that I developed and worked hard to acquire over the years makes me just as valuable and worthy as any of my peers. I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years but I know it’ll be somewhere great!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road? If not, can you list some of the major challenges?

1. Grew up in south-central LA

2. Single parent

3. No finances to fund college — NAI paid for my undergrad and a professor at USC covered my masters as if I was a Ph.D. student.

4. By senior year of college, I hadn’t had any internship experiences which put me at a disadvantage in the applicant pool.

5. Trying to navigate a world where no one in my family had previously been

6. Trying not to get involved with a quick cash lifestyle of south-central.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I work at Accenture as a Senior Analyst and my current project is in the telecom industry and I get the opportunity to utilize the client’s data lake to provide them with real-time insights into the status of their projects which roles up to enterprise level. I am the most proud of being a new joiner at the firm and being a subject matter expert for anything data analytic and visualization related for our team. The work ethic I acquired from the struggle of getting to USC, studying engineering without the proper preparation from an inner city high school, and having such impactful leadership positions at USC set me apart. I am to provide the best value regardless of what I’m doing and my ability to speak to senior-level executives – at USC and now at Accenture makes very proud of my humble beginnings.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
My mom was very big on celebrating the holidays. Every Christmas, our entire house was lit up and the neighbors loved stopping by. My childhood wasn’t too joyous.

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