Shirley Hicks: Focusing on the ‘cool job’ of technology exploration

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Shirley Hicks (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)
Shirley Hicks (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

Shirley Hicks believes Birmingham can become a leader in technology, but it may take some time.

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Hicks moved to Birmingham in 2009 after getting married to her husband Mark Garfinkel. She now is one of the co-starters of Red Mountain Makers, a nonprofit that focuses on technology and its intersection with arts and programming.

“The purpose is to encourage the exploration of technology,” Hicks said.

Before returning to school at University of Alabama in Birmingham in 2009 at age 46 to study information systems and computer science, Hicks was in the printing industry. Now at 53, she is one of the founders of Red Mountain Makers, and an administrator on the popular Facebook page, I Believe in Birmingham.

Hicks wants to open technology to students in the Birmingham area.

“I don’t see enough children in the city interested in technology,” Hicks said. “And I don’t see enough minorities messing around with technology.”

That could be a result of lack of awareness, she said.

“I don’t think Birmingham city schools have enough teachers to teach computer technology,” Hicks said. “I’m sure there are a lot that are interested, but I don’t know how many they actually have.”

As an “outsider,” Hicks said she does not want to tell the city what to do, but she has seen what is effective and what is not. The opportunity is here, she said, but the lack of teachers and awareness in the schools are what is missing.

Red Mountain Makers also helped Woodlawn High School’s Robotics team. Last year, Woodlawn made it to the semifinals.

That is significant given the challenges a lot of city schools face.

“There is a white suburban network that communicates only with each other, and then there is a minority network,” Hicks said. “It’s going to take work, but I hope Birmingham can get there.”

Hicks said also that there needs to be people of color in the decision making process [for certain projects] “because it doesn’t occur to someone that it might be a problem, or discriminating, or profiling.

A misconception about the tech field is that it’s expensive and difficult to get into, Hicks said.

“You don’t have to have a university degree for this field,” she said, all that is needed is a CompTIA Plus Certification, “which basically proves that you can take apart a desktop, a laptop and a mobile phone and put them back together, and they still work,” she said.

“These are things that you can get and you don’t have to go to a university, after that you can get other certifications that will help you with security, networks, and administration. It’s on the same level of getting your HVAC certification.”

Technology can be fun, Hicks said. “And it is a cool job to have,” she said. “You can use it for manipulating lights and creating stage shows. There is so much more to it than what people think.”

The Birmingham Public Library has events available for teens interested in technology programming and building. For girls between the ages 8-17 interested in coding they can attend 100 Girls of Code.