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Sunday Sitdown: Dericka Hudson, helping girls make it in tech

Dericka Hudson grew up in poverty and is trying to high school girls in Chicago through the free Girls Who Code seven-week summer program. | James Foster / Sun-Times

Growing up amid poverty in Jamaica, Dericka Hudson knew she wanted more. She worked her way through college, got an MBA and, at 31, is now human resources manager for GE Corp. spinoff Synchrony Financial, which does data analytics work for companies including Amazon, PayPal and Lowe’s home improvement stores. She oversees 250 data and analytics employees at the company’s downtown Chicago offices at 22 W. Adams St. Now, she’s trying to help ensure that girls growing up in Chicago have options to follow a similar path, helping expand the free Girls Who Code seven-week summer program for high school girls. She spoke with Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sandra Guy. An edited transcript follows.

Question: Talk about Girls Who Code.

Answer: We hosted 16 girls, 15 to 17 years old, who are rising juniors and seniors in high school. Most attend Chicago Public Schools. We had two from out of state who stayed with family. They were in the classroom from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a certified teacher and two teaching assistants.

Our hope is not only to track and eventually hire these girls but to extend our network so we help more girls. We’d like to host 20 next year.

The girls are recommended by their high schools. [Girls can get on the email list to be notified when applications for 2017 will be accepted by going online to https://girlswhocode.com/summer-immersion-programs/]

Synchrony has donated $50,000 to Girls Who Code programs throughout Chicago, and our Midwest club sponsorship is another $50,000 investment. We think it’s worth it because there aren’t enough women to fill the opportunities in technology.

Q: Your investment coincides with Synchrony Financial’s hiring surge in Chicago.

A: We opened the first Chicago office three and a half years ago with 15 people. We’ve since moved into the offices we have today, and we’re at about 250 employees.

We are in constant hiring mode. We hire five to six people each week because the need for data analytics talent is so important. We hire more than analysts. We have a sales team, credit-risk professionals and a former college professor who teaches statistics in one of our strategy groups. We hire people who are curious, bright and ready to dive in to solve business problems.

It was the first financing unit that grew out of GE starting right after the Great Depression. The business initially helped people buy stoves and washing machines with installment credit. Now, we want to become a prominent part of the emerging fin-tech industry.

Q: You grew up amid poverty and violence in Kingston, Jamaica. How did you get here?

A: People in my community really had to overcome poverty and hard circumstances. My parents instilled in me that education was the key to economic success. My family left for Fort Lauderdale when I was 13, after my mom and dad worked hard to send me to prep school in Jamaica.

My parents had to start over when we came to the United States. My mother, an accounting clerk, became a nurse. And my dad, a former insurance adjuster, now works in a supermarket distribution center.

Dericka Hudson, human resources manager for Synchrony Financial's chief technology organization, Chicago, August 24, 2016. Dericka is one of the few African-American women in a financial tech company and this summer she had a leadership role in the group Girls Who Code. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Dericka Hudson oversees 250 data and analytics employees at Synchrony Financial’s downtown Chicago offices. | James Foster / Sun-Times

I started working at The Gap when I was 14, and I learned to balance late nights hanging out with friends at the mall with schoolwork. That gave me some grit.

I earned a scholarship to attend Florida State University and worked as a bank teller throughout college to help support myself and my family.

After college, I taught ninth- and 11th-grade social science with Teach for America in Miami for two years. Then, I recruited and trained teachers for a nonprofit before going back to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, for an MBA. After the MBA, I joined GE’s Human Resources Leadership Program and ultimately Synchrony Financial.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I really love football. I wait patiently each fall so I can follow Florida State and Vandy. I read football forums. I love traveling. I love looking at water and riding my bike and spending time along the lake.

Dericka Hudson, human resources manager for Synchrony Financial's chief technology organization, Chicago, August 24, 2016. Dericka is one of the few African-American women in a financial tech company and this summer she had a leadership role in the group Girls Who Code. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Dericka Hudson. | James Foster / Sun-Times