‘You must do the things you think you cannot do’: How one Norfolk woman is taking the lead in technology

Nicole Carry, founder of Norfolk Forward. (Amy Poulter/Southside Daily)
Nicole Carry, founder of Norfolk Forward. (Amy Poulter/Southside Daily)

On paper, Norfolk resident Nicole Carry has done it all.

Carry served in the Navy for six years as an electronics technician specializing in air warfare and was a director of technology for Systems Integration Research. She was the first LGBTQ-identifying Norfolk City Council person, and for the last 13 years, she’s worked as a solutions architect for Electronic Systems, Inc.

It’s not all about work for Carry though. She’s invested in her community, too. Carry has volunteered her time with the Virginia Veterans Services Foundation, Hampton Roads Business OutReach, Tidewater Arts Outreach and the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads just to name a few.

This year, Carry is combining her career knowledge with her philanthropic interests, launching a nonprofit that seeks to ensure Norfolk stays at the forefront of modern technology. Norfolk Forward, Carry said, is designed to “advance Norfolk through digital technologies, data collection, analytics and modeling.”

“What we want to get away from is a one-brainstrong organizations being in charge of all of our technology,” Carry said. “It doesn’t matter how smart that one brain is. We can’t do it alone.”

The nonprofit will encourage and employ the ideas of companies, organizations and single contributors in collaboration to develop technological projects throughout the city. At its core, it’s technology for the citizens, by the citizens.

(Courtesy of Norfolk Forward)
(Courtesy of Norfolk Forward)

Carry got the idea for the startup when she visited public schools all over the state. While working with Norfolk Public Schools a few years ago she realized that they didn’t have the budget or equipment they needed.

At first, Carry wanted to start a technology commission for the city. She approached local lawmakers and discussed the need for the commission in hopes that she could make it happen.

“Everyone I talked to, I never shut up about it,” Carry said. “It’s all I talked about.”

After writing a proposal but seeing a lack of action, Carry knew that she had to find an option that wasn’t as dependent on local government.

A few years later, that’s where Norfolk Forward comes in. Carry said they plan to start small with projects like providing families with donated computers and broadband access. Eventually, though, they’ll take on more daunting tasks similar to Internet of Things projects, which turn everyday objects, buildings and devices in instruments that collect and share data.

“In doing so, we’re vetting the technology with the citizens to build upon,” Carry said.

By the spring, Carry hopes to officially launch Norfolk Forward with a few small wins under its belt and an inaugural board of representatives. That board, she said, will purposefully be more diverse than the field of technology itself.

The lack of women in technology positions is something that Carry has taken note of since she first entered the field in a vocational-technical program in high school. During her sophomore year, Carry’s softball coach gave her a booklet detailing the electronics program he taught.

When flipping through its pages, Carry said she noticed one thing immediately: every single student picture in the book was male. At first, the idea of learning how to work in the field of robotics and circuitry was intimidating for Carry, but words from Eleanor Roosevelt pushed her to enroll.

“You must do the things you think you cannot do,” Carry said. “That’s how it all began.”

Even today, in meeting rooms and at tech events, Carry said the demographic has hardly changed. She recognizes the importance of making sure that women are given an equal chance to enter STEM fields and leadership positions.

Last week, the organization Women in Technology announced the names of the 2017 awards finalists. Carry made the cut for the Technical Leadership award, alongside four other women. Award winners will be announced in a May ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“I was dumbfounded when I found out, just astounded,” Carry said.

As far as Norfolk Forward goes, Carry believes that the nonprofit will help to transform the city and inspire citizen interaction. Her partner is equally optimistic about the nonprofit and Carry’s ability to lead its action.

“The most important thing, I believe, is creating a well-connected community that can share ideas and find people who can solve problems working with the local government,” said Girish Sreevatsan, co-founder of Norfolk Forward. “I greatly admire the passion Nicole has in trying to use technology to make things better. She’s full of passion and action-oriented.”

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Amy Poulter has lived in more than a dozen cities – including New York, San Antonio, Austin, Orlando and Jersey City – but she was born right here in the Southside. Amy graduated from Old Dominion University and worked for The Virginian-Pilot and Princess Anne Independent News before joining Southside Daily. Before working as a multimedia journalist, she was a professional chef and musician. In her free time, Amy enjoys listening to music, reading, spending time at the beach and chasing her two pups around the park.