By: Kayla Balliew, Former Human Intelligence Collector for the U.S. Army, and Strategy Analyst at Intel
Like my ancestors, I knew at a young age I was destined to be a pioneer. My people migrated from what is now known as northern North America to the Southwest of the United States. My tribe in 1868 was put on the Navajo Reservation, where we’ve been ever since then. Leaving our reservations for many Native Americans is a difficult choice to make. My loved ones wanted me to stay home to maintain our cultural heritage and traditions. I wanted to join the military, become an engineer and make them proud. Today, with the strength of my ancestors, I’m blazing my own path in tech as a U.S. veteran, first-generation college graduate, working mom and wife, and strategy analyst at Intel.
I am full-blooded Navajo and grew up by the Four Corners in Gallup, New Mexico. Gallup is bordered by the Navajo Nation, so I had relatives who lived on and off the reservation. My dad was a construction worker and my mom was a grocery store cashier. They always stressed the importance of education to my younger sister and I and encouraged us to go to college.
In grade school, my parents gave me my first computer, which sparked my interest in STEM. I wanted to be somebody who built computers—or maybe someone who worked on designing future machines. Either way, I wanted to work in technology. I figured out in middle school I wanted to be a computer engineer. My heart was set on going to Arizona State University when I learned about its nationally high-ranking engineering school.
In high school, a U.S. Army recruiter called me. It took me by surprise because I was not interested in the military. No one in my family had ever served in the military. I was asked to take an aptitude test, and I did it, because it got me out of class. I aced it. The recruiter then told me about the military paying for college. I was sold. My parents were not thrilled with the idea. Still, I enlisted in the U.S. Army. That’s when my interest in STEM became a reality.
I served more than three years, moving from base to base before serving nine months in Afghanistan. While I was there, I worked in intelligence and interrogation, a group that worked with advanced equipment and created the technology used in collecting intelligence. That assignment opened my eyes and ignited a deeper passion for engineering, specifically electronics.
I ended up leaving the military when I became pregnant with my first child. I returned to New Mexico to be with my family, and we welcomed my beautiful baby girl. After a year, my daughter and I moved to Phoenix. I was determined to get an engineering degree from ASU. But, being a full-time college student and working mom without a support system was too much stress for me to handle. I had to drop out my second year at ASU, but I wasn’t giving up.
I eventually found a college with a flexible information technology program that allowed me to work and go to school. I later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in IT cyber security. Then came the job hunt.
Intel was the first company that popped in my mind. My aunt, who had been a pastry chef at Intel, had talked about it being a great company to work for. I started applying for almost any job at Intel. After several months, my tactic worked! In August 2018, I was first hired as part of a career rotation program and later as a strategy analyst in the Internet of Things Group. I’m on the Retail, Banking, Hospitality, and Education (RBHE) strategy team.
It’s great Intel encourages an inclusive culture for all employees. I joined the Intel Native American Network (INAN) about two months after starting and was elated to find my people. It is great to be part of a company that includes a community that reminds me of home.
I love many things about working at Intel. But my favorite is being able to contribute to the future. To be a part of building our future—and, hopefully, impacting our reservations and communities.