Dede Nwokeafor-Laz ’10
IMS recently spoke with Dede Nwokeafor-Laz ’10 about her transition into the tech industry and staying open to new opportunities.
IMS: What was it like beginning as an IMS student?
DNL: I came to IMS from Houston, Texas. I only spent one year at IMS, but it was a very good year. When I first arrived, I was struck by the rigorous curriculum. The transition wasn’t easy, but my Ancient Civ class reinforced my love for history. Eighth grade at IMS, taking that class, I stepped up my game; I was learning so much more, engaging in debates, growing an interest in politics and the world around me.
IMS: Did your love for history continue after leaving IMS?
DNL: In college, I combined my love for history and environmental science into a love for global health. When I graduated, I thought that I was going to work in the healthcare field. I returned to Houston after college, and started working at a healthcare clinic. It was a very small clinic, owned by a doctor and his brother, the manager. They were very sharp individuals, and both taught me a lot. It was there that I learned about management, billing, coding, and also more about the barriers between the Hispanic community and access to medical knowledge. That is still one of the biggest inspirations for what I do now.
IMS: How did you transition from your work in the clinic to technology?
DNL: Someone at the clinic was conducting technical research, storing medical data on the cloud. I had a cousin who had just started working for Censure, working in technology, advocating for the cloud. I was helping him, and eventually transitioned into technology, working for a small non-profit, a small consulting group, doing side jobs until I had enough experience to apply for larger positions. I ended up getting a job with Blue Cross Blue Shield as an infrastructure engineer for a year and a half, but when the pandemic hit, my whole team and I were cut. I was jobless for a while, which is nerve wracking for anyone. I was applying to other businesses, and Deloitte needed technical consultants. I ended up accepting a position with them. The project I’m working on now is based in public health. I’m working on a technical component, but the larger goal is to help within a sector of public health. I’m very proud and very passionate about it.
IMS: Was there anything particularly helpful to you while entering the tech industry?
DNL: Honestly, my liberal arts education. Being flexibly minded and understanding how to turn life into a learning process is very helpful. I didn’t have a technological background coming out of college. But the skills you gain at a liberal arts school, and even boarding school, are incredibly helpful.
IMS: Do you learn new things during each project?
DNL: Oh, for sure. There are so many different roles you play in a project— all depending on what’s needed. I always feel that I emerge from projects more skilled, because every project requires you to step up in a certain way. Sometimes you’re doing project management, sometimes you’re doing lead architecture, it’s always an array. But something I’ve consistently learned is how important it is to be flexible and communicate effectively. I’ve learned how to speak depending on the client’s needs, catering my language to the client. I have a very client-facing role, which is great, because I love speaking with people. By trade, my coworkers and I are engineers in various fields. Even though everyone has a core skill, a specific background, we all work together. It’s very important.
IMS: Any IMS memories that were particularly impactful?
DNL: The transition to IMS, like I said, was hard at first. My sister and I arrived together, and we both felt an initial shock. But one of the things IMS taught me that has been very, very helpful, both for my career and in general, is communication and writing. It’s a very important skill. I learned to ask myself questions and think out loud, which made my writing process longer, but so much better. It’s a skill that I’ve used when writing reports, client proposals, in school.
IMS: Do you have any advice for recent alumni?
DNL: Whatever it is that you want to do, try it. Try any and everything at your disposal. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be bungee jumping! You might be the worst singer on the planet, but if you want to join your high school singing team, do it. Be super open to new experiences. I would’ve never guessed that I would be living in New York, working in technology at Deloitte. Never. A lot of where I am today has to do with the confidence I’ve developed—at IMS, at high school, and in college—to try new things.