Why I Founded Geek Moms & Company: My Journey as a Black Mom in Tech

The kids are screaming, and I show it in my videos while I’m recording. Who has time to reshoot? This is life.

by Ehi Aimiuwu-Jinadu on May 23rd, 2016

“You will always be barefoot, pregnant and stupid.”

About nine years ago was the first time my mom said this to my face. She always thought that none of the lessons she taught me would ever stick. This one did. I had no idea where my life was heading, but I knew I had to prove her wrong.

At the time I was 19 and pregnant with my second child. I had just broken up with my ex and was looking for a place to stay, homeless and begging my step-mom to let me stay with her. I was the kid with a million ideas: from trying to self-publish my poetry, to selling natural oils, even recording my so-called singing in hopes of being able to perform at venues. But I’d done nothing with those dreams. My mom just wanted me to get a “normal” job. She wanted me to go back to Home Depot and work my way up to becoming a manager. I flat out refused.

Since then, I hated every job I ever got and I failed at every business I ever attempted. I hated working for other people: getting blamed for things I didn’t do, paid crappy money UNDER THE TABLE, ripped off because the drawer was short 5 cents. My last straw was working for a hair shop where I was not only discriminated against for being Nigerian, but was paying $150 a week for a booth fee and 50% of the money I made for every client I booked.

I made more money being a kitchen hair braider, so I went back to it. I booked a lot of clients at home, but I was selling myself short and did way too many hours of great service for cheap pay. I thought I had no other choice, even if standing for 12 hours+ a day, pregnant with my fourth child was killing me. My now-husband hated watching me work. He argued with me to stop taking so many clients, but I wouldn’t listen until one day my fingers completely cramped up in excruciating pain. I had to find a better way.

Finding my foundation

Photo of Ehi, staring beyond the camera with face in hands. A high chair is pictured in the background.

Photo via @geekmomsco on Instagram.

I had a Nikon D40 and a Craigslist ad: I was going to find work as a photographer. I got hired for a few small gigs; most I had to do for free. Then one day I saw an ad: “Are you creative? Do you love Technology?Join i.c.stars”.

It turned out i.c.stars was a hub for Chicago-area, low-income young adults to develop skills in business and tech. I had beamed over the word CREATIVITY, so I applied. When they called me in for an interview, the process was nerve wrecking. They were asking strange questions: Did I want to provide jobs for others? Did I want to be a Change Agent? Did I want to be a Leader in my Community?

Never before that moment, had I EVER thought about “MY COMMUNITY.” I was homeless several times, living off of public aid, just trying survive. Community? I could barely help myself.

I looked around at the people who were interviewing me. They were serious. Meanwhile I was asking myself, Do I have this option? Do they really think I can do these things? It hit me hard. I went home after the interview, thinking I hadn’t made it in.

Then I got the email: accepted.  

As an intern in the program, I would spend 4 months dedicating my life to being a change agent, understanding the world of tech through project-based learning, and developing a solution for a client company. The first week was intense. I had no clue what was going on, but I felt a change. I remember the day Sandee, the founder of i.c.stars gave a talk about the power we had. She taught me that being in the technology space, I could be a driving force in the community, making a real impact. I’ve held on to that idea ever since.

After i.c.stars, I got an internship, for a QA position, at one of the hardest technology companies to interview for. When I finished the internship, I had to interview again to get the full time position. Each interview evaluated a different skill set. This was real life and the real world of working in technology: I couldn’t mess this up. I was so afraid that it was going to get taken away from me for any reason, just to be given to someone who was more deserving, you know, someone with more privilege than me.

I was interviewing along with with my best friend and a few other people. I knew she was going to get in for sure: she’s super smart, dedicated to her craft and just overall a great person. But me? HA!

At least it was great while it lasted.

After the interviews, I was pulled into the room, and I received my offer letter. The recruiter sat me down and told me, “No one can take this from you, this is your job and you deserve it”. I broke down in tears. No one can take this from you. That statement replaced all the doubt, it replaced my insecurities, it replaced the “barefoot and pregnant” quote in my head.

Once I was in, I learned about imposter syndrome: I definitely had it. I was a black mom of 4 with no college degree. I needed to be on top of my studies. More books, more classes, more late nights and avoid all “College conversations”, “Politics conversations” and “Current Events conversations”. I was so scared to be found out, for people to notice that I snuck into this job under the radar, to be forced to go back to work as a cashier at Home Depot.

It took a year for me to complete shake those thoughts. I worked on many client projects and survived, dammit.

I’m good.

I can do this.

But once I conquered imposter syndrome, it was time to face life again: I was pregnant.

Being Transparent & Authentic as a Mother

Ehi holding one of her children in a kitchen.

With child number 5, I was now the pregnant mom at work. The one who had to leave early for appointments, the one too nauseated to fly to a client, too nauseated to show up at my home office, the one running late every morning because I needed 12 more hours of sleep. I turned into the mom with excuses. I truly thought I was going to get fired, until I made it to maternity leave.

Thank God. Sleep.

By the time I got back to work, I was better. I felt better about my capabilities as a consultant. I had a clearer vision on my mission. I was ready and it showed. I got positive feedback that boosted my confidence; in return I worked harder. But I soon realized the consequences. My kids were left out the picture. I had to travel; my kids needed me and I wasn’t there. I supported them from a distance, but to me it was still wrong to be so far away.

I still don’t like talking about it: the guilt doesn’t go away and I’m still traveling. I have to. This job has given me so much. I can give my kids experiences rather than buying them a toy. I can show them what mommy does for a living and they are welcomed with open arms. I can take them to workshops, festivals and fairs that I can finally afford to go to when I’m in town. So many blessings that I can pass down to my kids, but I still needed to give them my time. It still kills me, but I’m getting better with it.

Screenshot of the Geek Moms & Co homepage: features a large splash photo of colorful street art across a series of garage doors; it says "Intergalactic Krew" and shows a man shoving letters into his mouth. The menu items include Mission, Our Story, Our Services, Our Work and About Us.

My side project keeps me sane. Geek Moms & Company was founded while I was pregnant with my 5th kid, it’s my thing that I can’t let go, baby number 4 and 1/2. I wanted to give more women opportunities to grow and conquer, while doing what I loved to do: sharing their stories through content creation. So, Geek Moms & Company was born: a platform for women in the technology space. Our mission is to influence and inspire others to share authentic stories and embrace new challenges. We provide digital media services for women business owners, women-led startups and entrepreneurs, along with resources to access opportunities for growth.

The original problem I wanted to address was that there were not enough black women in technology. Is this due to lack of opportunities? Lack of resources? Lack of confidence? After some research, I learned that there are many factors. After living it, and working on The Black Tech Activist, a YouTube project I started, I saw the solution. Being present, believe it or not, is making an impact.  A colleague of mine, who faces discrimination everyday at her job, is still showing up to work and has fallen in love with the tech community. I asked her why, and that’s when it came in full circle: people see us in this space. For now it’s small, but we’re here. The more we grow, the more people will see us, and as we make strides in our careers, other women who are trying to find a way will see that this is a possibility for them, too.

After hearing that, I decided that I want more people to see us. I can do that with social media, with documentaries, with blogging and visual content. I can help other women tell their stories, I can help moms tell their stories.

As I work my 9 to 5, and I work on Geek Moms & Company, I quickly realize that there is no balance and no extra time. Everyone is suffering. I had to learn how to bring it all together. It’s hard, it’s exhausting but it’s possible. Get the right support system who believes in you no matter what happens. Don’t be afraid to stand behind YOUR passion. Show the process. Be open. Be real.

The kids are screaming, and I show it in my videos while I’m recording. Who has time to reshoot? This is life.

I want my babies to see my hard work, I want them to see themselves on my websites, in my videos, in every aspect of my life. I want them to be proud of me.