Tell us about yourself
Prior to getting into tech, I worked as an administrative specialist in the insurance industry, a job I got after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business. I did that for a few years before getting started in tech.
Now, I am currently working as a software engineer at a startup. Along with working full-time, I’m also working on getting my side project, Yodi Naturals, off the ground.
How did you first get started in your career in tech?
I actually got into tech completely by accident. While working at my job in the insurance industry, I felt bored. I didn’t enjoy going to work every morning, I didn’t feel challenged and I wasn’t getting paid very well either. I knew I was unhappy with what I was doing. So since I was unhappy, I decided that I should try to go to grad school.
While doing research into grad school programs and studying for the GMAT, I found an article talking about how learning to code was better than getting an MBA. I was intrigued. I didn’t necessarily agree that coding was better than getting an MBA, but I realized then that I only wanted to go back to school because I didn’t know what else to do. I knew I needed a change and other than going back to school, I saw no other path. That article showed me a new path.
So I started doing more research. I saw that it was a high-paying field, there were lots of good job opportunities and it seemed interesting. So I tried learning everything I could about it. I started trying to learn how to code, using resources like codecademy. I was hooked. It was so hard to wrap my head around everything, but I absolutely loved it.
So I continued to work full-time, come home, do some tutorials online, go to programming meetups and try to learn as much as I could. Pretty soon, I realized if I wanted to take this seriously, I would have to study it seriously. I talked to different people at meetups, did more research online and decided that I would go to a bootcamp. I met someone at a meetup and told her all about my goal of learning how to code and my interest in going to a bootcamp. She ended up reaching out to me a little later on and passed along information about a scholarship I could receive if I was selected to attend this bootcamp. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. So I applied, got in, and decided to attend.
So I told my family that I would quit my job, move to Chicago and go to this bootcamp that claimed that I could get a job after a 19-week program. Lucky for me, my family helped alleviate my doubts and supported me 100%. So I quit my job, moved to Chicago and attended Dev Bootcamp. It was tough and I doubted myself so much along the way. Even though it was tough, it was still one of the best decisions I have made.
After I graduated, I temporarily went back to working in the insurance industry. I felt that I still needed more study time prior to applying for jobs. A few months later, I got my first opportunity with a remote apprenticeship program, where I worked part-time. I learned so much working with those individuals, and after a few months, I ended up getting my first full-time job as a software developer at a tech consultancy company.
I’ve had so many wonderful people rooting and cheering for me, as well as passing along opportunities to me. I’m so grateful to have met such wonderful, supportive people along the way.
What are the most important skills in your current position? How did you develop these skills?
Perseverance because I’ve never given up.
I’ve struggled a lot working in tech with feeling inadequate. It took me a while but I finally realized that people in my industry that are good at what they do is because they’ve seen a lot of this stuff before, and not necessarily because they are geniuses. They recognize patterns, which helps them with problem solving.
And so, I realized I should focus on learning the fundamentals (not worrying so much about what the next hot language I should be learning or the syntax), asking why, asking good questions (after spending time trying to solve them myself), as well as practicing, practicing, practicing. All of this has helped me continue to develop problem-solving skills. And for everything else, there’s always google.
Building up people skills has also been very important, contrary to what I had believed prior to getting into tech. It’s important to be able to communicate effectively with bosses, co-workers, clients, etc. When working at my tech consultancy, we would always say that the technical problems were always easier to solve than the people problems.
These are skills I continuously work on improving, and that has served me very well in my career.
What are some resources that helped you in your journey in tech?
When I first started off, I relied a lot on codecademy, freecodecamp, dash, excercism, and upcase. I also really enjoyed participating in Harvard’s CS50 course to brush up a bit on computer science fundamentals, though I was not able to complete the full course. I also looked at many tutorials, but often, side projects that I built worked better at reinforcing concepts for me.
Also, conferences have been great! Not only to learn, but also to network. I’ve ended up with different opportunities because I’ve focused on attending at least one conference a year.
Finally, social media has also been very helpful. I created a twitter account and started following people in the tech industry. I’ve learned a lot about the tech community, and also have gotten opportunities from that.
What difficulties did you face in your career? How did you overcome them?
I’ve struggled with feelings of inadequacy, as well as feeling like I don’t belong. Often being the only woman or the only black person (or both!) on my team (I have also been the only black woman in an entire company before!), this has been a constant struggle.
Building a support system has definitely been the reason I have gotten as far as I have today, and the reason that I have overcome a lot of my struggles. I’ve been lucky to have some of the best teammates I could ever ask for. Teammates that were always there for me; they understood me, they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and they taught me to stand up for myself. If it weren’t for them, I would not have easily gotten this far. And of course, relying on friends and family outside of tech has also been so important for my mental health.
Looking back on your career, what advice do you wish someone had given you that would have helped accelerate your career?
Try not to feel overwhelmed because you think you need to learn everything. Focus on understanding the why, the building blocks, the principles, and how things connect. And as you’re learning new things, whether on your own or even at work, take notes so that you can easily refer to it in the future. And if you’re stuck on something for too long or don’t understand something, ask questions. You may find that you’re not the only one with that question. Or sometimes you may find that your team overlooked something, and that by asking that question, you unearthed that issue. Also, you may surprise yourself with how much you actually do know. Believe in yourself.
Another tip is to keep records of achievements and recognition received at work. This will be super helpful when you’re filling out your performance evaluations. Or if you’re having a bad day, looking at those can help remind you of what you’ve accomplished.
Also, make sure you focus on networking. Go to conferences, attend meetups. Focus on meeting new people. This is how you can find lots of really good opportunities.
And finally, your mental health is so important. It’s good to work hard, but also good to give yourself breaks. Find time to do things for fun. You need to give yourself breaks to prevent burnout.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. How can we support you?
I’m currently working on building my side project, Yodi Naturals. It’s still in its infancy and has a long way to go, but I would love follows on social media, twitter: @yodinaturals, instagram: @yodinaturals. I haven’t done much with those social media accounts yet, but will be focusing on this in the next few months, so please follow along. Thank you!