Black Women in IT: Nequella Battle, Information Technology Manager at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office
Nequella Battle is the Information Technology Manager for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. Nequella is responsible for providing reliable technology that improves the ability of law enforcement and detention staff to fulfill the security and safety needs of the Durham County residents in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Nequella directs all Technology project selections and supervises the implementation and maintenance of the Sheriff’s Office computing needs. She holds a B.S. in Business Administration from North Carolina State University, a graduate from the UNC-CH School of Government where she obtained her Certified Government Chief Information Officers Certificate (NC-CGCIO) and a member of the NC Local Government Information Systems Association (NCLISGA). Nequella has also taught English in South Korea. When she is not tackling the ever changing demands of public safety technology, Nequella is making travel dreams a reality for clients as the owner of Anax Atlas Travel consulting agency.
Nequella’s Social Media Links:
Ken: Welcome to the Goon Squad Podcast, Extraordinary Stories by Ordinary People. Lock in with us as we unpack universal principles that will catapult you to your next destination. I know you as Nikki. I don’t know Nequella. What do they call you at work?
Nequella: They go by Nequella.
Ken: For real?
Nequella: Yes, I am Nequella.
Ken: She went and got brand new owners, y’all. Where did this whole IT background start? I met you at Red Lobster in maybe ’09, ’10.
Nequella: Yes. My IT experience started in 2011 and it was actually a unique one in which I walked into this field. I did not have background experience in it, nor did my degree actually focus on anything [inaudible 00:01:03].
Nequella: I interviewed for an accounts receivable position because I have a business degree from North Carolina State University focusing on finance, and I did not get the accounts receivables position, but I received the call two weeks later from the hiring manager and said that I have another position I think you’ll be great for.
Ken: Delayed, but not denied.
Nequella: That position was an assistant administrator position, and then he informed me on the call that to not look into the job description as something that I could not do, but something that I was capable of doing.
Ken: All right, so hold on. Let’s back up, back up, back up. You said NC State.
Ken: You went to NC State. What you study there?
Nequella: I studied business administration.
Ken: Business admin.
Ken: Hence why you got the job offer. What was the name of the position?
Nequella: System administrator.
Ken: System admin. That ain’t the same thing.
Nequella: I applied for accounts receivable position because my degree is strictly focusing on finance and accounting.
Ken: Okay. Did you have a concentration?
Ken: Oh. Okay, okay. I love it. We went to school for business administration and you applied for a job in an accounts receivable department for who? For what entity? For a company, government, what?
Nequella: It was a private sector company based out of Hillsborough, North Carolina that specialized in direct marketing for American flags, banners, and event planning items. Small company with an employment range of 40 to 45 employees.
Ken: No doubt. All right, so at this time, you were seeking accounts receivable. Now, you got to give me more than that. I know you were still determined, but what were you determined to do?
Nequella: I was determined to be in finance. My ultimate goal was to be an accountant.
Nequella: I’m a numbers cruncher. I love finance. I love investment. That was my ultimate goal at that time.
Ken: Okay. By you still being determined to get into finance, you didn’t find that set a roadblock at all.
Nequella: I did not.
Ken: I think the average mind would’ve found this as a roadblock. You didn’t stop there, right? You got that position.
Nequella: I did.
Ken: All right, so tell me, what was your thought process during this position while you was working there?
Nequella: How am I going to do this? The only thing that I knew in regards to technology was how to turn the computer on. Of course, I knew how to use it because we used computers in college and high school, but from going from knowing how to only install a printer to uninstalling programs to now you’re responsible for entire network infrastructure that makes sure the company stays afloat is a bigger spectrum.
Ken: Wow. Give the people just a little bit more detail about a systems administrator. Is that what it is?
Nequella: It is.
Ken: All right.
Nequella: A systems administrator is responsible for all of the technical network infrastructure hardware, such as the servers, the routers, as well as any applications that are used at the agency. That position can be broad because at that agency having a small technology department with it only being one person, which was myself, you had to know everything. You had to understand what a SQL database was. You had to understand what a Windows-
Ken: These some deep words, y’all. These some deep words.
Nequella: One thing that also came into play at the time was Office 365. Those are systems that you are responsible for in managing and make sure that patching gets up to date, making sure that the system runs effectively, and one big thing about being in direct marketing was payment card processing, which is called PCI compliance. Without PCI compliance, you’re unable to process credit cards. It goes beyond just knowing your hardware and your infrastructure and your security of it. It’s knowing the broad spectrum of how technology actually runs in agency as a whole.
Ken: You sound well-versed, but this is 10 years later. Were you as well-versed in ’08, ’09 as you are now about this stuff?
Nequella: I was not.
Ken: Okay, okay. I’m following this journey with you and I’m lost, because it seems like they threw you into the fire and you came out as pure gold, though.
Ken: I’m baffled, because number one, the stats already say you don’t even qualify to do what you do. They threw you in and you didn’t go to school for this. Hold on, hold on, I’m going too far, but we going to get there, though, all right? We going to get there.
Ken: All right, so it seems like you were overcoming this obstacle, but you didn’t see it as an obstacle, where it really was, because you could’ve settled. You could’ve fell back. You could’ve been like, “Man, this is not what I signed up for,” and went back to slinging them tables at the Lobster and just got caught in the graveyard of dreams is what we called it in the restaurant industry, right?
Ken: Talk about some more of the obstacles that you overcame while you were at this initial position.
Nequella: In that initial position, it was the knowledge. For me, my hiring manager resigned. I started there in August. He resigned in January.
Ken: This is still ’08, right?
Nequella: It is.
Nequella: Well, no, it’s not ’08, because now we’ve graduated and I went to Korea, so this is 2011 when I started.
Ken: Okay, when you came back.
Ken: All right.
Nequella: I started at the agency in August 2011.
Nequella: My hiring manager, who was also my mentor and director of finance, he resigned January 2012.
Nequella: When you do the math, that’s only about three or four months into your position that I had to really learn fast. Of course, everything broke. The SQL server went down, or the SQL database went down.
Nequella: One of the marketing employees actually clicked on a spam email from American Express that congested the entire network. No traffic could go in or out. Guess who the responsibility fell on to fix?
Ken: Who, who?
Nequella: With the help of a company at that time was called Secure Enterprises, which is now IGO located out in Morrisville, we were assigned a technician that assisted me.
Nequella: That’s where all my hands on training came from. I learned it hands on,
everything I know about technology now.
Ken: Wait, what? You got some real on the job training.
Nequella: I did.
Ken: Yo, that’s bananas. This is the definition of the real Goon Squad family. When you’re just given lemons, you put them in your sweet tea.
Nequella: You do.
Ken: You feel me?
Nequella: You make lemonade and let them figure out how you did it.
Ken: Man, all right, all right, all right. What were the dynamics of the business relationship that you had with your hiring manager?
Nequella: He was a great mentor, as in he assisted me. He saw something that I didn’t see, which was a vision, because I didn’t have a vision to be in IT, nor did I have a vision to be an IT executive. I’m good at leading, but it just so happens that I lead in
Nequella: That relationship helped build the person that I am today because without that, I wouldn’t have the confidence that I continue to elude within the industry, because dealing with technology and being the only female that’s in the room, they’re going to question your competence.
Ken: Off the gate.
Nequella: They’re going to question, “How did she get here?”
Nequella: They’re going to question, okay, when you’re saying no to them, are you that angry black female? You have to understand that he built something and saw something in me that continues and continues to grow today, which is my confidence level. Throw me in and I’m guaranteeing I’m going to come out on top.
Ken: Wow. I can see why it hurt when he left three or four months later.
Nequella: He did, but it also gave me an opportunity to grow.
Ken: I got you.
Nequella: Because if he had not left, would I have been given that opportunity to learn on my own? When I started at that agency, they were not PCI compliant, but when I left they had reached PCI compliance standards. When I started there as well, they did not have a failover system in place. When I left, they did.
Ken: Four and a half years of on the job training.
Ken: Straight like that. I’m talking about you came in green and left gold.
Ken: Right, so what type of skills did you acquire from the Hillsborough job to where you are now?
Nequella: I acquired networking skills, security skills. Personal skills is just basically, I will say day to day living skills. One of the biggest things that helped me from my position and what I learned is to be happy with what you do and to not always give 100%.
Ken: Oh, oh, wait, oh, put a pin right there. Expound. Define. What do you mean by not always give 100%, because we always hear otherwise, right?
Ken: All right. Talk about it.
Nequella: Sometimes you don’t have to give 100% and the reason why I’m saying that is because when you give 100%, they always expect you to give 100. If you give 150, they’re going to expect you to give 150. I’m saying that on the grounds of your balance, a work life balance. When you’re giving 100% to something, you’re giving your all. Sometimes you have to take that 10% and give it to yourself, whether it’s take that vacation, whether it’s take that day away from the office because you have to be in the right mental state in order to continue helping someone else.
Ken: I love it. I’m glad you explained that to me. I know you ain’t got no problem with taking no vacation, either. No problem at all. I would definitely attribute a lot of your inspiration to that hiring manager.
Ken: Is there anybody else who inspired you along the way?
Nequella: Yes, any female that’s currently in IT or history in IT. A few that comes to mind off the top of my head speaking with you is Ruth Amonette. Ruth Amonette was the first IBM executive at the age of 27 for IBM.
Nequella: She did not focus on her technical skills or she did not give credit to her technical skills for getting her executive position. Her reason for getting her position and what she used as her focus was her business acumen, which is what I use. I’m not the most technical person in the room. I’m not a coder. I couldn’t tell you where to start coding. Now, I understand where the server, where the router, where the switch is. I understand that, but if you want me to sit and monitor a firewall all day, that’s not me.
Nequella: If you ask me how to come in and increase your business needs or figure out where your technology needs lie or to lead your technology team, I can do that.
Ken: Got ’em. I love it. All right, anybody else besides Ruth and the hiring manager that inspired you along the way?
Nequella: Yes. I would say even modern day today, I would say Kimberly Bryant is someone that comes to mind.
Nequella: She’s actually the founder for Black Girls Code.
Nequella: Locally, here in the area, I actually have met some amazing mentors that inspired me, such as Loretta Winder. She is now retired. She retired this month or last month.
Nequella: She was the IT product manager for the North Carolina Department of Justice and even closer, our state of North Carolina CIO, Tracy Doaks, is a woman of color.
Nequella: Those are people that inspire me, including when I look behind me, the generation that’s coming behind me, they inspire me because they’re looking for someone that looks like them that’s in the room. They’re looking for someone that says that, “Okay, you got this.”
Ken: Speaking of which, do you have any opportunities to reach out to the younger generation or to the generation that’s coming up?
Nequella: Recently I have. I actually spoke this week here in Durham for our sheriff’s office. We have a program for students that I participated in and I spoke on coming into technology and the advantages of being in technology. People need to understand that there are women of color in technology that are in executive positions that make decisions.
Ken: Absolutely. What did you do in Korea, South Korea?
Nequella: I was an ESL teacher. I taught English to I would say Korean students,
teachers, as well as parents.
Ken: Students, teachers, and parents.
Ken: English as a second language.
Ken: How did you like Korea?
Nequella: I loved it.
Ken: Korea? Wait, wait, wait, wait. How did you even get there, though?
Nequella: I applied for the position. After graduation from NC State in 2008, there was a big financial bust. The political climate here was crazy. The financial climate had tremendously declined. With the finance degree, it was wondering where was I going to find a job.
Nequella: It just so happens that the job was listed on Career Builder, and I applied to it, and to be honest with you, I received my first interview and I declined it because I was afraid. I applied as in, “Okay, I’m going to apply to this job,” but I didn’t have any type of idea that they were really going to call me back. I pondered it, I talked it over with family, and they said, “Go for it.” I did, and they were able to grant me a second interview and within two days, I found out that I was going to be heading to Korea.
Ken: What were some of your most memorable moments while you were over there?
Nequella: The opportunity to see a different culture that opened up your mind that there were places in the world that live differently than you live here in the United States.
Nequella: It also showed me that there were countries that strictly focus on education, unlike the US. English and education is something that’s really big in Asia, huge, but given the current budget cuts that are done here not only in North Carolina but across the nation, there’s not a priority for education. To go and to work in another country that focused on education was a total eye opener for me.
Ken: What is your why? What keeps you going from day to day in this industry?
Nequella: What keeps me going day to day are the challenges and then the emerging
technology that comes with that. In today’s society, in today’s world, everything is run by technology. I love that. I love that challenge. I love being able to walk in and say, “Okay, I have something new that I’m going to learn today.”
Nequella: With that being said, my why of getting up is saying, “Okay, well, today I’m going to wake up.” There may be a different cyber attack, or it may be a different type of technology, prime example, drones being used in law enforcement. Even with modern day now, mobile devices are being used more in law enforcement.
Nequella: Things like that, and also inmates are getting tablets, so technology is emerging and I love it because every day that I go into work or I go into the office, there’s something I’m learning, and that’s my why because you never should stop learning.
Ken: You don’t have any kids.
Nequella: No kids.
Ken: You ain’t doing it for the kids. Most people would be like, “I got to do it for my kids.” Are you self-motivated, though?
Nequella: I am.
Nequella: I am.
Ken: You like challenges.
Nequella: I do.
Ken: Do you create challenges and conquer them? Do you like them that much?
Nequella: No, not that I actually create them. I’m an overthinker.
Nequella: That’s my weakness. I overthink everything.
Nequella: Part of that actually presents challenges in itself because I go in and I overthink it, and it’ll be something completely simple that could’ve taken me 20 minutes to do.
Ken: Jeez. In your line of work, do you ever get backlogged or behind?
Nequella: All the time.
Ken: Wow. What does that look like?
Nequella: In the IT field, strictly in my current field with my current employer, you’re always backlogged because whether it is having to multitask and wear multiple hats, which is what I do every day, because my position is title information services manager, but comes with that I’m also the project manager. You’re also the liaison. You’re also the individual that has to make the decisions on technology, and you also have to determine where things fall within that budget line. Getting backlog is something that you get accustomed to and it’s just you take it day by day. You take it one task at a time.
Ken: Tell us about your position right now. Give me the rundown.
Nequella: Okay. My current position now is information services or information technology manager at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. I started the position roughly almost three years ago. I actually received it after being laid out from my Hillsborough location, and during that three month transition, it was a question of did I want to continue to be in IT or did I want to go back and go to graduate school.
Nequella: Now, in my position, I am responsible for the technology needs and providing reliable technology to the law enforcement officers, to detention officers, as well as the detainees that are located at the facility. With that, I’m also responsible for directing all technology projects and supervising the implementation as well as the upgrades of any other technology needs at not only the courthouse, but also the other remaining four remote locations for the sheriff’s office.
Ken: In this leadership position, how many people are you responsible for?
Nequella: I’m responsible for six people.
Ken: Really, not only six. Maybe just six direct employees or whatever, but you responsible for a whole lot of the people because you in charge of this technology piece.
Ken: When we have these conversations, I don’t like to get caught up into specifically what you do at your job. I think it’s the thought process that I gravitate more towards only because I want the next person to hear this and be like, “Yo, she did this. I can do this, too,” you feel what I’m saying? They might not necessarily want to do IT. The principle of what you did can apply to anything in life.
Ken: That’s the dope thing about being a part of the Goon Squad, right? Where do you see yourself in the next few months, six to eight months, 12 to 18, two years, five years? Where do you see yourself being?
Nequella: In the next few months, I see myself currently improving the technology needs at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
Nequella: Over the next few years, I see myself as being an IT project manager. Project management is something that I love. Being in this industry for the last seven years, that’s what I found to be my niche. I love to see a project from inception to closing. I love to see the results of it and I love to get it done. I’m a person that wants to see change.
Ken: Out of some of those hats that you said you wore, one of them was a project manager, right?
Ken: How would it differ from what you do now to strictly project managing?
Nequella: I will have more opportunities to strictly work on the projects. As of right now, I currently with the network infrastructure, I’m not technically responsible for it but I am. What that means is that our network infrastructure falls on Durham County’s IS&T department, but we still at the sheriff’s office have our own network.
Ken: If you had an opportunity to reach out to somebody who looks like you, who would like to consider you their mentor, what’s some of the nuggets you would drop on them?
Nequella: Be prepared for the unknown. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Nequella: Understand that there are going to be people that are going to question you, whether it’s your competency, whether it’s your confidence, whether they’re just wondering if you’re even supposed to be in the room. Also, perform self-study. That takes you a long way because when you walk into that room, be prepared to answer any question they’re going to throw at you because they’re not going to throw you the mediocre question. They’re going to throw something to throw you off because they’re going to think that you’re not supposed to be there. They’re going to try to insult your competency, so give them a reason to know your name. My motto is they can’t pronounce my name, but they know it.
Ken: Wow, that’s big, yo. That’s big, man. It seems like there is a whole lot that you got to deal with outside of your job description, right?
Ken: Why? Why do you think it’s like that?
Nequella: It’s just the way of the world. There are many people that you will encounter that are in executive positions or any position in general that are responsible for things that are beyond their job descriptions. That’s because of whether it’s personnel retention, whether it is that you’re giving that 100%, because the job has to get done, things still have to flow. It’s one of those situations where everyone is putting you where you either going to have to do it or someone’s going to have to do it.
Ken: I get it. All right, I get wearing multiple hats, but I was talking about the garbage outside of your job description, like the whole people insulting you because of your skin color and because you’re a woman. How do you deal with that? That seems like it will drive somebody up the wall. It almost seems like that is the hardest part of your job. Talk about it.
Nequella: Know that you belong in the room. My confidence is something that I don’t have an issue with. When I’m put into positions, that’s a growth opportunity because I’ve had it happen recently. Being put in those type of situations, know it’s going to be a growing pain, but take it and run with it. See what your weakness is. See what they’re seeing from the opposite side of the table and turn it around.
Ken: Yo, that’s pretty crazy. I just couldn’t imagine dealing with the garbage part that’s outside of my job description every day. That really takes a whole new level of maturity. Like you said, it does give you an opportunity to … Only the mature ones, though. It gives the mature people the opportunity to be like, “All right, there might be some truth to what they’re saying. Let me see what they’re saying and then let me go home and I’m about to tighten up on this because the next time it happens, it’s going to be shame on you.” Big ups, man. Congratulations for doing such an amazing job as a leader, as a black woman in IT. I couldn’t imagine doing it. I don’t want to wear your shoes because they too big. Any closing remarks? Anything you want to say to the young ladies that look up to you, that want to be a black woman in IT one day?
Nequella: Yes. Realize and understand that you belong in the room and your seat is there, whether you have to stand maybe a couple meetings, but understand you will be sitting at that table. You will be making that ultimate decision. Again, you belong there. You’re placed into a situation that you may not know. Mine is a prime example. Why are you even here? Know that you’re there for a reason and take it and run with it.
Ken: I love it. I love it. Nikki, Nequella, AKA Nikki, you know what I’m talking about? Welcome to the Goon Squad, man. We are thrilled to have you onboard. Pretty soon you’ll have a tee shirt to wear.
Nequella: Thank you for having me.
Ken: Cool. Well, we done, man. That’s it.
Nequella: All right.
Ken: That’s it, man. Thanks for tuning into the Goon Squad Podcast, man. I would love for you guys to stay locked in with me for more extraordinary stories by ordinary people, so definitely join us on Instagram and Facebook @GoonSquadPodcast. Hit us up on Twitter @GoonSquadPod. If you know of any goons in a different industry, get in my inbox, firstname.lastname@example.org. Get in my DMs or visit us on the web at goonsquadpodcast.com. Family, until next week, we out.