Antoinette Stevens: ‘We all have that part of us that just wants to be Superman’

Since moving to Des Moines in 2013, Antoinette Stevens has become deeply involved in the city’s technology community. Recently named the 2016 Diversity Champion at the Technology Association of Iowa’s Iowa Women of Innovation Awards, the 23-year-old from Georgia is passionate about finding ways to share her love of technology with new audiences.

By day, Stevens works as a network security analyst for Principal Financial Group. After hours she is building Reboot Iowa, a nonprofit dedicated to helping adults learn web development and understand emerging technologies.

This interview has been edited for conciseness.

C&M: What are you working on right now?

AS: I founded and run a nonprofit called Reboot Iowa. It has two pillars — the first being teaching computer programming to adults and the second one being doing more general tech literacy courses for adults.

Our main goal there is to just create a more tech-savvy community, but also, there are people here who deserve a second chance, people who work minimum wage jobs, but can’t afford to save up money to go back to school. We want to provide them the opportunity to learn a new skill and hopefully get another job without going into debt. People deserve that chance if that’s what they want to be dedicated to and we want to be there to help them without charging them $20,000 like a university or $5,000 like a code school would.

Plus, I believe that you can learn it on your own. You just need accountability. We provide that. You shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for accountability.

C&M: What keeps you motivated to pursue your goals for Reboot Iowa?

AS: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately. There’s a quote that I heard a long time ago: the story goes that there is a professor talking to his class and he says, “We all have a little ‘Save the World’ in us.”

We all have that part of us that just wants to be Superman, and I think that might be what’s making me want to do this. I want to be the type of person people see and say “I can do it too.” I want to give people the same feeling that I got when I saw Hidden Figures. I guess that’s what keeps me going — the idea that one day someone will look at me and go “I can do this too.” That would be worth it.

C&M: What excites you most about living and working in Iowa?

AS: When I came here for the first time in 2013 for my internship for Principal and we went to StartupCity for the Do More in the City event from the series that the Greater Des Moines Partnership did. Someone there … described Des Moines as being a clean slate. It’s large enough where the things you do matter, but small enough where you can do almost anything and it will take off. I really like that idea because it’s the city you go to to try out your idea and see if it’ll do well. That really appealed to me.

C&M: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

AS: Don’t move back to Georgia. I really think it is. It came from my high school economics teacher who I’m still close with. When I first moved here I wasn’t doing so well. That first six months is just really hard when you’re alone. So, I was talking to him and I was like “I don’t know. I think I might just come back and go to school.” I was considering just starting my PhD early and going. His response was, “Don’t you dare come back here.” His reasoning was that once you come back it’ll be even harder to leave again because you’re going back to what’s familiar.

What I took away from that is to just keep moving forward. I know it’s time for me to move when I start to feel more comfortable. I should always just be uncomfortable, which is also advice I’ve gotten here from Heather Schott our diversity and inclusion director at Principal. She always says something like “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

C&M: What is your advice for others hoping to teach or learn programming?

AS: If it seems hard, it’s probably worth it. I think that’s what keeps me going. Anything that seems too easy is probably just not going to be worth it. You have to be the type of person who is able to challenge yourself and the type of person who is able to get out of bed on those days where it feels like too much and you’d rather quit it all. You have to decide that you’re still going to get up and go because you’ve made promises.

About Antoinette Stevens

Age: 23
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Twitter Handle: @_theycallmetoni