Nicki Washington

Name: Nicki Washington
Position: Associate professor of computer science
College: Business Administration
Department: Computing and Information Sciences

Flip open the March edition of “Essence” Magazine, and you may see a familiar face: that of Winthrop University Associate Professor of Computer Science Nicki Washington.

The national magazine lists Washington as one of its 15 “tech stars” – “brilliant black women on the front lines” – for her new book, “Unapologetically Dope: Lessons for Black Women and Girls on Surviving and Thriving in the Tech Field,” available now online. She calls it a “love letter to black women and girls.”

“It touches on my experiences in my career, and it's something any woman, or anyone, can take value from,” she said. “It highlights lessons that aren't taught in class, like imposter syndrome, finding your tribe and holding people accountable.”

Those experiences includes stories from Washington's tenures at IBM, the Aerospace Corporation in Chantilly, Virginia, and Howard University. The idea came when Washington moderated a panel at the inaugural meeting of blackComputeHER. Hearing other women tell their stories reminded her of similar personal situations.

“I thought, ‘If I was 19-22 again, what would I want someone to tell me to prepare me for what's coming?'” she explained.

Washington grew up in Durham, North Carolina, with a mother who worked at IBM and a K-12 teacher father.

“I've always tinkered with computers,” she said. “I started programming in the eighth grade.”

Her mother was one of about five black employees who started at IBM on the same day, so Washington and her parents frequently hung out with those other engineering families and their children.

“It was a representation that we didn't realize at the time was so important,” she said. “We saw it in the people who raised us. We didn't realize how deep that was until we got to college and entered the work force.”

After earning a degree from Johnson C. Smith, Washington, at the insistence of former JCSU President Dorothy Yancy, went on to earn her master's and Ph.D. at North Carolina State. In fact, she's the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in computer science from North Carolina State University.

She joined the Winthrop faculty in 2015 and is known in class for the easy way she interacts with students. It's not uncommon to see her leading classes while wearing T-shirts featuring musicians, like Isaac Hayes and Nina Simone; incorporating funny quotes from movies like “The Sandlot;” or giving shout-outs to strong female figures like those found in “The Color Purple.”

“I've always chosen to be myself,” Washington said. “That's what makes people relate. If you can't be yourself, then you don't need to be there.”