The software engineer paves the way for inclusion in the tech industry
JEssa Challa’s interest in geographic information systems (GIS) mapping led her to start working in 2019 as a software engineer at a technology company based in Grand Rapids. Mallowfields LLC. In September, she became CEO of the company. Challa wants to make the tech industry more accessible and attractive to everyone, which she is helping by giving free coding lessons in the Grand Rapids chapter of the Grand Circus virtual software bootcamp. Challa also created a GIS mapping tool in July that locates Black, Indigenous and Colored Business Owned (BIPOC) to help connect people with minority-owned businesses. On October 25, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce awarded Challa the Champion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion award at the group’s annual EPIC Awards gala. She told MiBiz about her latest software projects, a directory of minority-owned online businesses she created, and why it’s important to promote equity and inclusion in the industry. technological.
What is the main focus of your job at Mallowfields?
Photo by Katy Batdorff
Our company was mainly doing agency work, but now we are starting to build our own products. Our first product will be called Junction, which will be software that will help map workflow processes and tasks. We’re building Junction, and our planned release is probably June or July 2022. I see it as a tool to help nonprofits get more technical without having to have an IT person on their team, as they usually do. do not have any. This will help manage and protect data and share it with other nonprofits and develop work processes. So, they’ll basically build a recipe for how to fill a role and complete a certain task so that it can be easily passed on in case someone leaves and needs to hire someone new.
Why is it important for the tech industry to be more accessible to women and people of color?
It’s so important to have these perspectives from people who have different backgrounds in the tech industry as we move into the future. A lot of the current systems and even the collective data used to create these new systems like (artificial intelligence) were created by people with old beliefs and incorrect data. That’s why you see facial recognition technology that doesn’t work for people of color: the data it was created from didn’t use a variety of faces and things like that.
Being able to present yourself as a woman and a person of color in tech allows the younger generation and even people my age to inspire them to take a role in the industry and take up space. (Mallowfields) has five owners, two of whom are black and one is Latinx, and therefore over 50 percent of the business is owned by people of color. It has been difficult to get venture capital investment and to be seen in West Michigan as a tech company besides being owned by people of color.
How did you come up with the idea of creating the BIPOC Businesses in West Michigan card?
I always want to have a positive impact by using GIS to power maps usable by anyone with internet access.
I was inspired to make this card by two main things: There is a musician called Killer Mike who had this idea of making every Friday a “Black Friday” when you buy from black or owned businesses. to minorities for being more intentionally about where you spend your dollar. Also, a lot of people (in the community) asked me if I knew of any minority owned businesses in certain areas. I thought I could provide a tool to help connect BIPOC owned businesses with clients who want to know where they are putting their money.
What feedback have you received as you continue to add to the map?
I have 235 businesses so far and started at 174 so it’s grown quite a bit. I’ve heard a lot of positive reviews from business owners, and it’s just a fun trip to go to those new businesses I’ve never been to before, whether it’s a new restaurant or a place to go. I can buy a gift for a friend.
It’s important to recognize that this tool is also community powered, and if anyone sees their business or a business missing from the list, they have the option to submit it using the Google Form I provided so that ‘it can be added to phonebook and map.