LinkedIn has become the world's largest professional network and is somewhat of an expectation from today's employers. Learn some tips for using this platform to your advantage, as well as some dos and donts regarding professional platform etiquette.
Have you been your own biggest enemy at work? Are you getting in the way of your own success? Sometimes we're so hard on ourselves that we disqualify ourselves from opportunity. I give three tips for how you can get out of your own way.
Hi readers and listeners! I'm back for another rant on things I've learned my first year in tech. This rant is about leadership. Watch to learn three traits of amazing leaders I have noticed. Let me know what you think!
Hello Readers // Watchers!
A couple weeks back I attended the 44th Annual National Society of Black Engineers conference. I met a lot of people and I realized I had some tips for people looking to get the most out of a conference experience. Watch, comment and let me know what you think!
I'm back with Part II of the vlog series for & She Rants: 'Things I Learned My First Year in Tech.' My editing skills have even slightly improved. Please watch and share! Feel free to comment on the vlog.
Welcome back, it's been a while! I recently (well, a few months back) celebrated my one year anniversary at work and I realized...I've learned a lot! I'm starting a series of short rants "& She Rants" and the first one is about the things I learned my first year in tech. Check out my first lesson below:
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to 4:44, you haven’t tried hard enough. You may not have a Tidal subscription but Jay’s latest album hit platinum before selling a single physical copy or distributing to other streaming networks. That means I need you to listen ASAP if not for anything but for the culture. All jokes aside, Jay-Z brought up one of my favorite topics (clearly): Afro-tech. In the song “Legacy”, he says:
“TIDAL, the champagne, D'USSÉ, I'd like to see
A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we
We gon' start a society within a society
That's major, just like the Negro League
There was a time America wouldn't let us ball
Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech”
A few topic gems were touched on in these verses. I won’t get into the topic of black tech and businesses, not today at least. You can read my thoughts in one of my old posts here. But I should fess up. I was one of the ones who complained about TIDAL and didn’t wanna pay for it. Don’t judge me though, I had already paid for Spotify and I was working at a non profit living in NYC. That being said, people can change and listening to this album made me check my behavior and ask: “will I put my money where my mouth is?”
The truly interesting topic for this young black girl working in the tech is when Jay alludes to the system that is keeping most of us out it. Educational opportunities, or lack thereof, for POC are institutional, and so are the lack of tech opportunities for POC. It’s 2017 and honestly, I shouldn’t need to explain to any qualified professional why diversity matters. Accordingly, the slow awakening to the need for diversity in tech, despite proof of its value in every other industry that has diversified above the tech avg of...2% black and 3% latinx, suggests to me that POC are being kept out of the industry somewhat intentionally.
“There was a time America wouldn't let us ball
Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech”
Despite our qualifications, we aren’t being given enough educational opportunities, investment opportunities, or hiring opportunities to make a dent in the dismally poor statistics for POC in tech. I’m not a conspiracy theorist (today), but it can feel as though those at the top are explicitly excluding us for fear of what our wealth and advancement might do. Maybe that’s not 100% true, but I can say with full confidence that part of the problem is how comfortable privileged folks are, and how they don’t feel the need to change their existing environment. Moreover, I find that white people complicit in the suppression of Afro-tech don't understand three fundamental things:
You need us. I promise you having more (any?) POC in the room would have stopped that horrible mistake, Pepsi. I promise if you had asked a woman about your questions before posting them she would have told you not to, Ashton. When you come from a place of privilege you are not accustomed to stopping to consider whether or not you understand the perspective you are trying to advertise to or advocate for. Social media has contributed to this in some way: 1) people feel entitled to present themselves as subject matters experts based on articles read or posts scrolled through and 2) it’s very easy to feel you understand the interests of the whole based on hashtag trends. I like to believe that none of my greatest accomplishments will be carried out by just me or 100% on my own. I think companies should take the same standpoint. Stop shooting yourself in the foot and hire diverse employees.
This is not a hand-out or Affirmative Action. There’s no debate to why POC are needed within any industry. If you can’t find qualified POC, evaluate your recruiting division. Qualified doesn’t mean they meet your xyz elitist standard. Let me pause here because I quite obviously meet that standard given I graduated from Harvard. But just like any person coming from a place of privilege, it’s my responsibility to call out “isms” when I see them. Elitism is fundamentally racist because every elite institution, educational or otherwise, is predominantly white and built off slavery - its labor and its wealth. Considering a candidate that does not fit the “stereotypical profile” (read: white and an Ivy league graduate) means recognizing that while the curriculum or experiences may be different, the candidates can still perform and if the candidate demonstrates the ability to “catch up” and close the gap within 6-9 months, they are qualified.
Creating a space of inclusion is required and is not “extra work.” Twitter is a trip. I mean I love it and I get so much of my information on this platform. I also see a lot of “free speech” that blows my mind, including stories of people openly asking why it’s their responsibility to make women or POC feel safe if they (read: women & POC) wanted the job so badly. I have to do breathing exercises just writing about this. It is not “extra work” to create a safe space for your employees or coworkers. If companies are being graded on whether or not Women and POC feel comfortable coming to work, 100% of the people saying yes would count as “meets requirements.” Where I’m from, meets requirements is a “C.” Feeling comfortable coming to your job is a requirement of doing productive work and a requirement for job retention. If a personnel team feels overloaded in ensuring the company feels safe, you need a bigger team.
I was so close to mentioning something about reparations but I decided against it. Instead, I’ll wrap this up by saying thank you to Jay for explicitly calling it like we all see it. For the people in varying positions of power and/or privilege, we got work to do.
Okay so it’s been awhile folks but I have life updates on my life as a coder. I got a seriously awesome job at a seriously awesome company and for the first few months I actually forgot about anything else. I’m not writing in Swift for work so it kind of meant I wasn’t practicing at all. Life lesson: if you want to become the multi talented people you fangirl on instagram and youtube, you are required to put in the work. Can someone please rewind to me on December 1st and give me this message? For the second time post-college, I stopped writing once I got the 'prize.' I had kind of a I made it moment and I needed a break. That short break turned into six months and now here we are with a “relaunch.” If you’re struggling to keep up with coding or frankly any skillset, like me, here are a few tips to help you get back on track:
Schedule Time to Learn in Your Work Calendar I have learned that the only things I truly pay attention to are my work calendar and my work email. Apologies in advance if you’ve recently sent me a personal email but there is truly nothing like getting all of my tabs interrupted by a calendar reminder. I’ve started living by my calendar, even down to the commute hours. When it comes to picking up or sharpening my coding skills, I block it off or it's not going to happen.
Join a Meetup Seeing other people succeed does two things for me: 1) It inspires me to know that continuous growth, new skills, and happiness are available to me and 2) it motivates me to be one step better than the best person in the room. I should note that I’m not competitive at all. I run my own race. But when people go through and create experiences we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t learn from them. Meetups are a great place to find people on similar journeys as you as well people who have already done what you’re striving to do. More than anything, whether learning a new coding language or dipping your toes into coding for the first time, you need a community.
Find an Accountability Partner Preferably someone who doesn’t code. My accountability partners do not care about my whining and ultimately they know they can’t force me to do anything. But knowing they are watching and judging whether or not I blossom into the person I say I’m determined to be pushes me. The dreams we keep to ourselves are the dreams we don’t believe are possible. Sharing your dreams with another person is like telling yourself you believe in your ability to make it happen. It’s a vulnerable moment and finding the right person to hold you accountable without judgement, offense, or ill intent takes discernment, but once you find that person, hold on tight.
Enroll is an Online Course The internet is a magical place with an abundance of resources. Never ever forget that. If you’re interested in learning just about anything you can enroll in online classes or even subscribe to YouTube University. If I’m being honest, YouTube taught me more about Swift than some of the materials I was offered while in my bootcamp. So many schools have started offering free Computer Science courses. For example, Stanford offers a series of free programming courses online. Harvard’s infamous introduction to Computer Science course, CS50, is now available for free online enrollment as well. And then of course there are sites like Coursera, and my personal favorite Udemy. If there’s something you want to learn, the resources are available to you, you just have to search for them.
- Commit to Freelance Work If there’s one way to keep you accountable to learning a new skill it’s putting money on the line. Freelance work is probably the number one way to make sure you’re maintaining your skillset while also possibly picking up new ones. In the freelance world you can’t give up unless you’re willing to forgo customer satisfaction and in turn a pay cut. Sharpen your skills and catch a pretty penny at the same time. If you’re looking to showcase your talent, I strongly suggest building an online portfolio and linking that site to your personal page on fiverr, elance, or freelancer.
The holidays happen to be a time when lots of working adults are looking for new job opportunities. As if we needed more pressure from family members pushing us to get married, have kids, or change careers, right? The good news is that some of you may receive, or have recently received, exciting news about securing an phone interview during this season. If you’re looking for a technical position, you’re likely white boarding algorithms and solving logic puzzles. That's awesome! Bu the truth is even getting to the in-person interview is hard, and this first screen is an important step in moving forward. From someone who recently went through several first round screenings, here are some tips for getting to the next round!
1. Research the company's interview process. Try to get an understanding of the interview structure of the company you're looking at. Some companies have one phone screening and an in-person interview, others have a phone screening, a Google hangout and then an in-person, others have two in-person and that's it. The point is, every company is different, and it’s worth it to get an understanding of what kind of hurdles you’ll need to get over. Knowing what's ahead of you can help with your understanding of what to focus on in the first round. Also being on the phone vs. being in a google hangout are incredibly different, so you'll want to be prepared for those distinct experiences.
2. Adjust your resume. Not just brush up, adjust. Companies want to see a set of experiences specifically catered to the company, department, and position you are applying for. That means your internship working with kids in 2011 probably shouldn't make an appearance on this resume. So what if you’re a career changer? You've probably never worked as a Front End Developer, but you can find the applicable skills in your past experience. To make those appropriate adjustments start with the job description. Make sure you get a deep understanding of what the company is looking for and determine whether you have the qualities that match those skills. Perhaps they are looking for someone with managerial experience in software testing. Maybe you didn’t manage in QA but you did actually manage in Operations. Those skills are applicable and important to highlight. Another key thing to note here is that if you don’t know what something means in a job description, don’t assume you’re not qualified. Look it up and see if that skill exists in your experience.
3. LinkedIn Matters. People often ask does my LinkedIn profile really matter? The answer is yes. You may not receive a notification of a recruiter viewing your profile, but trust me they are looking. If you’ve applied to a job and worked on your resume but forgot to improve your LinkedIn profile, it may suggest to employers that there are inconsistencies in your experiences. LinkedIn is a great place to add those experiences you couldn’t fit onto your resume. However, you want to provide enough consistency that it demonstrates your ability to work in the industry you are applying. What if I’m applying to many different roles? If you are open to different kinds of jobs, you can still include your range of experiences, so long as they aren’t so widespread that it comes across as feeling “lost.” Make sure to highlight skills that are applicable to highly technical roles – communication, collaboration, management, being a self-starter, curiosity, being detail-oriented etc.
4. Consider your public image. Freedom of speech is a beautiful privilege of this country. But we all know that prejudice and conflict of interest exists. Protect your speech by keeping some of your profiles private. If that’s not of interest to you (all my profiles are public), then be conscious of how you present yourself online. For example, maybe don’t get into a caps lock argument with a former coworker online. If you're applying for a high profile role for a company with a children's product, you want to avoid inappropriate content as much as possible. Though you should always be conscious of how you represent yourself, you should always, always be yourself. Being weeded out of a job application process based on who you are and what you post will help you find a company that shares your values.
So you got the phone call! You’ll likely be set up for a call from anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes. If your call is on the shorter side, you want to make sure you have enough time to demonstrate experiences that match the job requirements to your interviewer. If it’s on the longer side, you want to make sure you fill the time. 45 min is not that long, but your interviewer may leave you 15+ minutes to ask questions. Here are some tips specifically catered to the call:
5. Know yourself. “Tell me about yourself” is one of the most dreaded questions of the job search. But it’s also one of the greatest opportunities to anticipate and answer inevitable questions from your interviewer. If you’re a career changer, make sure you know your why for leaving your past career and diving into tech. Regardless of where you’re coming from, the most important thing for you to do is to make sure who you are in real life and who you’ve written about in your resume and in your cover letter are the same person. Remember those skills you highlighted? Well, you need to actually have them and demonstrate them as much as you can in this interview. Sounds obvious but I've seen experienced deception first hand as an interviewer. Remember that an interviewer is welcome to ask you about any role, and experience, any skill-set you included on your resume, so make sure you are prepared.
6. Know the company. “Why us?” is another popular question asked in interviews. Having a unique, personal interest in the company is important. For every company you apply to, you should have a demonstrated passion behind your why. This is not only important for your interview, but for you as a future employee. Finding a new job is often an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and to find a career that makes us happy. So why would this company make you happy? If you're not totally sure, you can also take this opportunity to ask some probing questions.
7. Be prepared for some technical questions. While most initial calls are a screening against your experiences, some companies also want to see your demonstrated skill-set for the role you’re applying to. While I wouldn’t necessarily focus on the white boarding algorithms, you should be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the department. For iOS developers that means you should brush up on your understanding of git and github, terminal, Xcode, the most updated version of your programming language, dealing with merge conflicts, bugs etc. Basically, study up because answering intuitive questions is more challenging than it seems.
8. Come prepared with questions. You, too, are an interviewer in some ways. After doing your research, gather up a list of questions you have ranging from the company to the role itself. Remember that different companies use the same concepts in different ways (this is true across industries). Try to get an understanding of the way this specific company works. Make sure you ask smart questions. By that I mean don’t ask questions you can find by logging on to their home page or by simply using the product itself. Ask the kinds of questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework and have a deep understanding of your field.
9. But also ask questions along the way. Curiosity is one of the most important skills, in my opinion, for a technical role. Don’t be afraid to stop your interviewer and ask questions along the way. You can ask clarifying questions, you can probe deeper into topics, and you can ask connecting questions to transition. Don’t be afraid to not know something. How you work through what you don’t know is more important than knowing everything ahead of time.
More questions? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org !
If you didn’t hear about it in the streets (aka my social media pages), I’m here to announce that I completed my 12-week iOS bootcamp! There’s no feeling like this one. I’ve acquired a set of hard skills I previously found impossible to attain. I entered a white, male dominated industry and have the skills to compete. I’ve just changed the trajectory of my life and my career. And guess what? You can too.
Yes, you CAN do it. But the real question is should you? I’ve got the tips for any career changers out there considering a coding bootcamp.
With no background in STEM, can I really code?
My dearest reader, whoever you are wherever you are, take a pause, find a mirror and repeat after me: “I can do anything.” Done? Ok great. So listen, I’m not here to pitch you on a happy go lucky career that anyone can succeed at. And I’m not here to convince you that anyone can learn to code (even though I think it’s true). I am here, however to demystify the stereotype of a programmer.
Myth #1 “But programmers all have CS degrees from Stanford!” I think we can thank Silicon Valley statistics for this myth, but the truth is this is not accurate. A lot of programmers I’ve encountered are self-taught and many did not graduate from college. So don’t let the job descriptions intimidate you, there’s no “STEM requirement” to learning to code. There is, however, a determined work ethic and love of problem solving that is ABSOLUTELY necessary to succeed. If you don’t have that STEM background, you will have to spend time mastering up algorithms and logic puzzles. Invest in books like “Crack the Code” and even a Udemy course or two. But technical interview skills are similar to most job interviews; employers want to see how you think. You should really be focused on your ability to code in the language you know and demonstrating your ability “think smart” in your interview!
Myth #2 “But programmers are all white men!” Hello - Black Woman here. While, the engineering industry is predominantly male, boot camps are reportedly 43% female nationwide. Despite the lack of representation in the industry, women and POC do in fact belong in technical roles, and there of plenty of companies working to prove it. If you’re a woman or POC in tech, look up these companies: Women Who Code, Code 2040, /dev/color, #YesWeCode. Tech Inclusion, & Telegraph Academy. (Please note that I’m currently in Cali and so most of these programs are based over here.) Invest in support from communities that will empower, inspire, and enable you with the confidence and skills to take on this industry!
Myth #3 “I love tech but I don’t have the right background.” Before I decide to apply to my bootcamp, I had never seen a single line of code. My love of problem solving and tech innovation was enough to get me to explore software engineering, and it was a worthwhile leap. I didn’t think I would be a great programmer because of my aptitude for science or math, I knew I'd be a great programmer because I had the a relevant set of experiences and skill-set. Have you had experience with agile project management? Are you detail oriented? An awesome communicator? Relentless problem solver? If you’re thinking about the switch, do some research into the key skills and behaviors required to succeed as a programmer, you may have found your perfect match!
If you’re still doubting yourself I recommend that you 1) do some programming logic quizzes online (logical problem solving is central to all engineering roles), 2) buy a $20 UDEMY intro to whatever programming language you want to learn, and 3) practice on your own skills for a month. If you feel good about the struggle—if finally debugging that one line of code or writing the perfect for loop gives you a natural high—it’s time to start looking into bootcamps! If you feel it’s not for you, don’t count yourself out of the tech industry, there are PLENTY of roles that don’t require a technical background (UI/UX, Product Management, Marketing, etc).
I’m ready for a bootcamp, will I really become a master in 12 weeks?
Let’s be honest here, your level of mastery is mostly dependent on what you do outside of the classroom. But, it also depends on the bootcamp program you decide to take. Here are some tips:
1) Web or mobile? So you’ve decided on programming, but you also need to decide on the platform you want to use. For me making this decision was about what I wanted to do career wise: solve problems for users via the platform on which I find my biggest frustrations. I wanted a hand in impacting my most frequent daily experiences and and so I turned to mobile You, on the other hand, may be looking for more real estate. Perhaps you’re tired of seeing 90’s themed websites and you’re on a mission to revitalize the way we interact on the World Wide Web. Whatever it is, make sure you have a passion behind your why.
2) Location, Location, Location. Where do you want to work? Start thinking about that now because your bootcamp will like focus their job support efforts locally. While you shouldn’t assume you are limited to any one city in the world, you should spend your time during your bootcamp networking and building connections in the city you’d like to build you career. Tech movements vary from city to city and so finding your home for an intense 12-weeks is also about finding your “impact” niche. Research the tech scene in the areas where you’re interested in taking a bootcamp. What companies are represented in that community? I’d also suggest starting to attend tech happy hours and networking events to get an authentic feel of the scene.
3) Find the right fit. Picking the right bootcamp is one of the most important steps in your process. You want to make sure you’re picking a place where you’re going to get a quality immersive learning experience. Tips for knowing your fit? Ask to audit a class or two! Check out if you like the teaching style of the instructors? Grab a student for 10 min! Admissions officers and employees are kind of hired to sell you on their bootcamp. But the people with the real gems are students. Ask them how they are experiencing the course, if they would recommend to others, and what special tips they have as you prepare to apply. Special note for women and minorities. Finding an inclusive space is incredibly important for your experience. Make sure your asking about that as well, and check out Grace Hopper and Telegraph Academy.
4) Intensive really means intensive. 60+ hours a week?! Are those advertisements true? Yes. These 12 weeks are so tiring. You will make sacrifices financially and socially. Your weekends will be spent trying to catch up while also attempting plan ahead. Project week is literally dubbed sweat pants week. You may gain weight (or was that just me) eating the same meal 6+ times a week. And you will most certainly spend more time than just 9-5 learning and studying. Bootcamps are intensives and so they are…intense. But it’s only worth as much as you put into it. I was simultaneously taking a Udemy course while in my bootcamp. I was working with my peers and I was networking. You have two jobs: learn to program and prepare for the job search. So get ready for a ride.
5) Believe in yourself. I really tried to write this in a less cliché way but it turns out it’s exactly what I mean. Imposter syndrome is such an annoying little bug but it happens to the best of us—it happens even more to women and minorities. Here’s the scenario: you completed a 12-week bootcamp, you’ve built four mobile apps, you’ve put in the extra work, you’ve identified your target roles and yet, you still feel nervous? This is to be expected, but guess what? You’re a developer. You. Are. A. Developer. I wake up in the morning and look at a series of post-its affirming my new skills. “Olamide, iOS Software Engineer.” And I have the skills to prove it! Go confidently in the skills you’ve acquired—always learning, always growing, but always believing in what you already are.
So the hard part is over right?
Ehh. Completing a bootcamp is an incredible feat, but now It’s time to put your best foot forward and show the world what you got! Whatever path you choose, it’s up to you to determine what role you’re most determined to take. What’s most important is that you don’t allow anyone to define what your next stage looks like for you. You may encounter different perspectives on the right next step, but only you can determine how to take your newly acquired skills and combine them with your past experiences to create the career you’ve been dreaming of. In reality, the job search is about more than your confidence, and I plan on writing more about that here. I just want my readers to know that we’re all in this together. If you’ve recently entered the job search as well, drop me a line! And look out for my next series on preparing for the job search for career changers.
Last week, I spoke on a panel about recruiting and retaining women in Tech. One of the things I learned was that statistically speaking, women count themselves out of opportunities they are qualified for. As a woman of color, I’ve dealt with this phenomenon throughout my career. I was raised with the mindset that education is the only way to get a seat at the table. Quick question: how many times have you counted yourself out of an opportunity because you felt you weren’t ready? Didn't have enough degrees? Hadn't gone to enough networking events? Meanwhile you are literally Queen (or King) of every activity, study group, and networking community related to your field. Personally, I’ve felt the pressure to over educate myself, far beyond my peers, in order to be considered at the same level. Remember that Scandal scene where Olivia Pope’s daddy tried to put her on a plane out of the country? He chastised her mistakes and reminded her “you have to be the best.” While this mindset has certainly contributed to my achieved success, I’ve also found that the “stretch job” will teach me more than the classroom almost every time. Stretch job? What is she talking about? Let me explain. When I worked at a start up in NY, I grew tremendously, mainly because I was forced to do things I’d never done before. Working in crisis management and quality assurance as a recent graduate was a stretch job. I was constantly expected to perform outside of my past experience. Accordingly I was given the opportunity to supersede my own expectations of myself. Being the best is about knowing how to learn, and that, my friends, is the most important skill needed to succeed as a programmer.
Okay so what's my point? Having more degrees than anyone in your field is not the only path to success, and certainly isn't in programming. If you think you will achieve total knowledge in programming, you picked the wrong career. Programming is a constantly evolving field and you'll be learning new techniques and languages forever. If you’re a career changer like me, you may be intimidated by the CS Degrees and programming experience of your peers. But again, an aptitude for learning is the most valuable skill you can have. It takes a lot to unlearn the behaviors we've become accustomed to. In my pursuit of a technical career, I've come across three common behaviors that hold people back. For any new programmers out there, you'll definitely need to shed these in order to find success.
1) Being secretive
I grew up around a cultural norm of keeping secrets. Whenever I’ve had a creative idea, I’ve been encouraged to keep it to myself and do it on my own. Ok so here’s the thing. Regardless of your role in the tech industry, you must, MUST learn to collaborate and share willingly. Now I’m sure you’re brilliant, talented and can build the next algorithm to change how we live. But you’d probably be more likely to change the world on a team. You’d be surprised how much your idea will grow and iterate simply because you chose to share. This logic applies even more to programming. Do you know how awkward it is to watch someone hide his or her code? I mean literally close their laptop so you cannot see? Don’t get me wrong, intellectual property is INCREDIBLY important, however a huge plus to the programming community is sharing open source code so that other people can learn from you. Pair programming is probably going to be common throughout your career (unless you are the sole programmer at your company). I owe a lot of my growth as a programmer to my classmates at GA. I promise you'll grow exponentially with the help of your peers.
2) Type Casting Your Talent – “I’m not a creative”
Okay so there is a funny thing I found myself doing in my last career, and that was typecasting myself into a “worker bee” role. I remember thinking Quality Control isn’t creative really, it’s more of a technical operations role. I mean I’m writing policies but who thinks policy is sexy? I ended up typecasting myself in two ways. For one, I ignored all of the talents I had outside of my role that were creative. Second, I assumed that what I was doing wasn’t creative. Listen writing policy may not sound sexy, but it can be creative. Your original ideas, in whatever capacity they are used, are creative. I think we learn this behavior in school. You choose a major and all of a sudden you're "the finance guy" or "the science girl." But being a career changer is largely about shedding a singular identity and embracing the breadth of your desires and talent. Don’t count yourself out of the game by downplaying the skills you haven't exercised professionally - you don't belong in a box. Spend some time white-boarding (I prefer post its) about the things you are uniquely skilled to do. Employers want to know about it all! More importantly, the world deserves to experience all of your talents.
3) Wallowing in Your Lack Of Programming Experience
So I get it. A lot programming jobs have biases in favor of CS degree graduates (I’ll talk more about this in my blog post next week), however there are plenty of opportunities for career changers. You have to be careful of counting yourself out of an opportunity or a role because you don’t come from a technical background. The behavior of a good programmer is centered on our problem solving abilities. For me, coming from a QA role in Operations gave me the crisis management tools to look at a bug or defect and say, “let’s tackle this!” Moreover, I know my skills in a non-technical role actually make me a well-rounded programmer. I have the experience of working on cross-functional teams, assessing needs of all parties involved, producing events, all of which are directly applicable to the world of programming. Whatever you did in your past career is a HUGE plus for you. You’re coming from a completely different background and that gives you an incredibly valuable diverse perspective. Your way of working through problems may crack the code to the hardest algorithms in a simple, intuitive way. I find that programmers from a non-technical background are the best teachers. Don’t count yourself out just because you didn’t graduate with a four-year degree in CS. Your experience is needed in this field.
If you’re new to programming, thinking about switching careers or just want to connect, shoot me a line at email@example.com!
If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know I most recently wrote about why Black Tech Matters. I’ve since been preparing myself to write more about tech inclusion efforts here in LA, but also across the country. One of the ways I’m supporting tech inclusion efforts is by featuring black tech products on my blog! In my personal experience, I’ve found that the black community doesn’t “buy black” enough. By that I mean we don’t make the effort to put money into our community by investing in products and brands built by and made for us. The truth is that most people choose the convenience and cost of big brands over investing into small owned businesses. In moving into tech, especially mobile app development, I’m committed to showcasing the amazing products that exist that support, affirm, and empower the black community. Our first feature: Bantu App.
As a black woman, I cannot simply walk into any salon and ask for a trim. Moreover, wearing my kinky hair natural means I can’t even walk into an African braiding salon without hearing “Your hair is too thick. $50 more.” Bantu is transformative for me because it gives me a plethora of conveniently located stylists, access to their portfolio, and the option to book in home appointments. (Can I get an Amen?!) This means no more hair salons and no more fearing the depletion of my edges! I already have 4 stylists lined up for my next appointment in November. I got the chance to talk to Meron Berhe, Co-founder of Bantu, an app that helps women with kinky, coily, and curly hair find stylists around them. Read her story below:
Tell us about your journey into the tech field. Why tech?
From a young age I was interested in STEM. I’m so grateful that I had a home environment that was supportive of and nurtured my interests. At the time, and I'll gather the same is true now, there weren't many women, let alone people of colour in my classes (both in high school and later on in University). In high school, I learned to code, but I was passionate about science. In my University years, I was involved with NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) in a leadership capacity both at my school and more broadly in the Canadian region. Despite not being an engineer, I continued to be involved because it was just wonderful to be around others that looked like you. I held a position in communications and technology for a number of years after University. I was the "tech guy" and people would be utterly surprised when a young bubbly black girl with her bouncing coils showed up. "You're the tech guy we called?" Why yes... I guess I am... A constant throughout my education and in the working world is that people of colour, and especially women, are highly under-represented, especially in STEM. I am now once again finding myself in the tech space but in a different capacity. I'm working on a team that is using tech to provide a solution for black girls everywhere and I couldn't be happier that we are doing this. It's time for us to start carving out our own spaces. Tech needs us.
Statistics concerning diversity in the tech field are deplorable. Some companies are saying it’s because of the talent pool. What are your thoughts?
I think that the talent exists. Absolutely no question. It is my feeling that companies aren't trying hard enough to recruit or possibly retain this talent. It might come down to how hiring occurs in the first place. I think diversity, true diversity, may be a little bit uncomfortable at first. But many great things come from diversity, including innovation and the ability to problem solve. Looking at it from the other end, I do think that it's harder to fit in at times in spaces where no one looks like you. I do not believe there's a pipeline problem, I think it's a shift in practices that is necessary, and some introspection has to occur if companies want to make change.
Tell us a little bit about your product. What was your motivation to build it?
My team and I have built an app called Bantu, which allows women to discover local stylists who specialize in kinky, coily or curly hair. It is free, and available now on iOS and Android. Bantu currently works in the US, Canada, the UK and France. Our hope is to open it up globally in the near future. My partner John, an international student, created the first iteration of the app in 2014 when he noticed that other international students who were new to the city did not have anyone to go to when they need to get their hair done. It is true that when one is new to an area, you lack this network. I completely resonated with this struggle, despite never having relocated and immediately saw that this could help women everywhere. My co-founders and I got to work implementing some changes, introducing new features, increasing the offering of hairstyles, expanding the areas covered and marketing. We're currently working on introducing more features driven by our user-base and the hairstylists listed on our app. Our latest version of the iOS app came out June 2016, and the Android app in October 2016. We can't wait to keep on improving the experience for everyone!
We have a lot of Entrepreneur readers. Be real with us. How many hours do you sleep a night?
Oh wow. I had to check an app to tell you. I'm averaging 6 hours. That's in the normal range, right?
What’s your life mantra right now?
I love this question. For this moment, I keep telling myself that every failure is a learning, and so it is a blessing. Also, not every one knows your failing, so that's also a bonus.
What unique gift do you bring to the tech industry?
One of my favourite things to say, and this is a nod to the fabulous Issa Rae, is that I'm regular. This is in no way meant to downplay my talents. I can offer perspective, coming from a non-technical background. My strengths lie elsewhere and I think that contributes to a better Bantu.
Tell us about how you give back.
My team and I are mentoring three young black women, who are wonderful, all in their final year of University and poised to make their mark in the world. I love that Bantu is also supporting for the most part, black businesses. This is very important to me. We are arming hairstylists with tools and look forward to being able to give them more. Lastly, as a young black woman myself, everything that I knew about hair and my own hair journey, was quite literally hard. I transitioned for quite some time before doing the big chop, and then couldn't find a hairstylist for my natural hair. Black women cannot just walk into any salon off the street and feel comfortable and confident in the services they are about to pay for. Bantu’s mission is deeply rooted in trying to change that. I'm in a position now where I can give women a means to be able to communicate and create a community that is much more global. Bantu is connecting us. In the future, Bantu will provide a way to not only seek advice and different ways to care for hair that makes us more comfortable and creates a sisterhood that we couldn't even fathom before. There are women that never have to feel alone or different or weird because of their hair. right now
What advice do you have to women and minorities inspiring to enter the tech field?
My advice is simply don't stop trying and don't stop learning. Don't stop believing in your abilities. Surround yourself with good people and blossom together.
How can our readers follow your journey?
You can catch up with myself and the rest of the Bantu team on Twitter, Instagram or on Facebook (@bantuapp), at our blog (blog.bantuapp.com) or on LinkedIn. You can follow me personally on Twitter and Instagram (@meronabella).
*You can download Bantu for free on the App Store or on Google Play now!
I’ve spent seven weeks in the tech industry and one thing is abundantly clear: we need to talk about tech inclusion more. To the person reading this who feels uncomfortable having conversations about race, privilege, misogyny and patriarchy in the workplace, yes I said more. In just seven weeks, I’ve had a number of uncomfortable, blatantly ignorant and marginalizing interactions regarding my race and womanhood both concerning the industry and just also concerning my life. I should take this moment to admit something about myself to you. I am unapologetically black. I am proud of and thankful for the beautifully melanated hue of my skin. At times this truth has left me in uncomfortable positions both in school and in the workplace. As a leader of black organizations in both high school and college, I have received negative feedback about the way I live my blackness. In curating safe spaces for people of color, I’ve been targeted as being “too black” as being “angry” or as “talking about being black too much.” From a young age I’ve encountered the feeling of being “overly” and “expressively” black. With that accusation, I’ve been made into an archetype of the angry black woman for simply bringing attention to the marginalization of people of color.
The narrative has repeated for me in tech already. For one, I’m the only woman and only black person in my iOS course. I should note that my expressed interest in supporting tech inclusion has been highly supported by General Assembly (shoutouts to them truly). I’ve had the opportunity to partner with them and dream up some exciting opportunities about inclusion for women and for people of color. And because I’ve been seen engaging in these opportunities, I’ve also experienced a few conversations that make it abundantly clear that the need for diversity and inclusion efforts in the tech field is not well understood. I should take a moment to mention some statistics for the naysayers who don’t understand the problem. A few companies have recently revealed their deplorable statistics about diversity in the workforce. Google noted that out of 46,000 employees, just 1% of its technology workforce are black. At Yahoo, out of 12,300 employees, 1% of its tech workforce, are black. And at Facebook, again, 1%. No, this doesn’t imply i'll be employed simply because I’m black. (Let’s not get into that today.) But it does reveal a larger problem of exclusivity in the industry.
Being black in the tech feels a lot to me like being black at a PWC (predominantly white college). You often have to be the only voice or advocate for the consideration of black experiences, thoughts, or opinions in the creation of tech products. Moreover, just being myself has left me feeling like a caricature of a black woman. I often question myself and if I’m “overperforming my blackness” or if being myself in a white space will inevitably have me feeling that way. Should I stop talking that way? No, I’m going to be myself. Actually I’m gonna switch it up so they see the complexity of a black woman. Is this being unapologetic? Ugh I need a mentor. The thoughts themselves are tiring. I spend my days code switching, trying to be myself, but also trying to ensure that my blackness is not made into joke.
My experience at a PWC was made easier by the safe spaces like Black Students Union and the Association of Black Harvard Women. There are a few “safe spaces” I’ve found in the tech industry, and they’ve been wonderful, but they are mostly for women. I say “but” because my womanhood does not exist in a vacuum. I am both black and woman, and therefore face a whole different kind of marginalization than some of my female peers. Even more so is that on days when I wake up and see another black life has been taken for selling a CD, fixing a car, or having a seizure, being in a predominately white space is just hard, especially without curated conversations for relief and support. What I’ve noticed is that the industry is doing a great job of talking about tech inclusion for women, while the conversation about inclusion for people of color in tech is lagging. I’ve found that people know about Women Who Code and She++, but they haven’t heard of Code2040 or Black Girls Code. People claim to be tech inclusion advocates, but people of color are left out of that narrative. Once again, it seems as though advocacy for women comes first and the consciousness about racial disparities are secondary.
Because of these experiences I am determined to stand with the existing trailblazers, creating consciousness about the need for black voices, ideas, and talent in tech. I believe we need to start talking about race and tech inclusion NOW, at the same time as the rest of the conversations. Black tech matters because our ideas matter. Our input matters. Our products matter. Our voices matter. We matter in the industry and I want to elaborate on my top 3 reasons why the world needs to pay attention.
1) We Use Tech to Rebuild Our Communities. When I attended my first volunteer day with Black Girls Code, I noticed that they emphasized how our girls can use programming to build products that impact the communities they live in. I was like yassss! Teach the babies! Every day, black people are coming up with ideas to impact our own. Take Christopher Gray, the founder of Scholly, an app that helps students find scholarships. This mobile app helps more people get access to college education, which is notably significant for young black students who disproportionately lose out on opportunities to attend college due to the lack of financial aid/grants.
2) We Need Diverse Perspectives in Product Creation. Have you ever seen an app or a product and wondered, did they even think to ask a black person if this was offensive? I mean I’m astonished by some of the app features or products I see roaming around on the Internet. Being an iOS programmer means that I have, in some degree, influence over the use cases and personas being considered when building mobile apps. My perspective matters as we consider potential users and their experience with products that are already on the market. This follows the same logic as diversity in the workplace – its necessary for the creation of products for a diverse population. Simply put, diverse perspectives create better products.
3) We Need More Black Products. Tristan Walker is the perfect example of why Black Tech Matters. He created Bevel, a single blade razor system that makes it possible for men with coarse or curly hair to shave without developing razor bumps. This kind of product is genius because it’s a necessary innovation, and without creators like Tristan Walker, they aren’t even a thought. When I consider the need for black tech, I think of Blavity, Bantu, Bevel, Plum Perfect and all of the products and platforms that cater to my immediate needs and also affirm my blackness.
I’ve come to learn that being a career changer will make me a well-rounded programmer. Similarly, black talent and creative aptitude has its place in the tech field. I honor the beloved deceased Prince as I close with this: like books, and black lives, like black music and like black creativity, Black Tech Matters. And I will do everything I can to help the industry make that widely understood by everyone within it.
*I will be starting a Mentorship Network for Women of Color in Tech. If you are interested in mentoring or being mentored, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want you to absorb one thing and one thing only today: Black girls are EVERYTHING. They are smart. They are funny. They are open. They are magic.
I am on a natural high from the most magical dazzicle day since I moved to LA. For those of you who are new to my blog, let me give you some background. After my quarter life crisis, I quit my job and moved to LA to start pursuing a career in tech. I'm learning to code iOS mobile apps with Swift at General Assembly. You can learn a little bit about my experience in my last blog post here.
When I decided to get into programming, I knew I needed to get involved with Black Girls Code. I wouldn't be where I am today without the encouragement and guidance of my mentors, almost all of whom are black women, so I've been searching for an opportunity to pay it forward. BGC recently added an LA Chapter, and hosted one of their Build A Mobile App in A Day workshops with MakerCity LA, a coworking space Downtown. This past Saturday, I was honored to experience young black girls, ages 7-13 yrs, build mobile apps. Small things matter so I must say, the space was absolutely phenomenal. I mean we felt like we were in the middle of a tech hub with companies like General Assembly, Postmates, and CultureHub holding offices on the floor. The overall experience was incredible, but I'll break down my review into sections below:
The Preparation: Communication was pretty much impeccable leading up to the event. When I signed up, I received an email detailing my role, my responsibilities, and expectations for the day of. There were two required trainings the week prior to the event, one for technical volunteers and the other for technical volunteers. We had the opportunity to meet other volunteers, get familiar with the space, and set up for our girls.
The Girls: I was BLOWN away. 7 yr olds were learning to program. Seven. Years. Old. Even more incredible was that there were experts in the crowd. Under 13...experts. One of the girls I met was 8 years old, and "tinkering" with robotics and gaming. Another girl was 13, wise beyond her years, had already mastered Web Design and was ready for her next challenge. These girls are defying stereotypes and are already closing the skills and opportunity gap in the tech industry.
The Experience: I love seeing the range of personalities and the brilliance of black youth. When the girls entered the space, every single one of them was throbbing with excitement and nervousness about what the day would hold. Parents were buzzing with excitement about the opportunity for their girls. I asked a few parents what they were most excited for and realized that for them, programs like Black Girls Code offer their girls an alternative to a system that doesn't always cultivate young black potential. One parent remarked "My daughter doesn't really like school. She's smart but I'm hoping that having her here will help her find a passion and be around other likeminded girls." Similarly, one of the girls told me that her school doesn't challenge her or foster her creativity and she came to BGC to gain "marketable skills." By the way, she literally said marketable skills and I said YAS QUEEN. Get that.
After this weekend, I came to one conclusion: I never want to hear another person tell me that young black kids are falling behind their peers because of anything OTHER than lack of opportunity. These girls haven proven, repeatedly, that if we give our community the tools for success, they will not only rise to the occassion, they will surpass our expectations. Black Girls Code allows our youth to use their imagination and cultivate a passion for technology. And it also shows our girls that there is more to their future than what they may or may not learn inside of the four walls of a school. If we continue to fuel our community with resources, mentors, and opportunities, we can rewrite the story of success for our youth. I will forever partner with programs like Black Girls Code because it is giving girls who look like me the chance to show the world what black youth can do with their potential. I'm convinced you can't go to a BGC event without walking away astonished by the talent and heart of these little girls. And even more so, I'm convinced that programs like BGC will silence the dialogue claiming that companies can't find people of color with the skills necessary to be successful in the tech.
Before I close, I want to take this moment to acknowledge Kimberly Bryant, BGC employees, BGC volunteers, and BGC partners and investors. Thank you for helping us change the narrative of expectation for black success. Black girls have always been brilliant. We've been writers, painters, musicians, businesswomen, scientists, mathematicians. We've always been creators. Naturally its time for the world to see our creations through code. Because black girls code too.
Wanna experience what I'm talking about? Head over to www.blackgirlscode.com and sign up to volunteer. The Next LA event is November 5th.
I am a 24-year-old black woman joining a very white, very male dominated industry. Thanks to women like Kimberly Bryant, Laura Weidman Powers and Erin Teague, I know what it looks like for brown girls to break barriers in tech. But I still can’t help but wake up some mornings thinking: “What on earth do I think I’m doing here?” Imposter. Syndrome.
In a class that originated with 11 newbie programmers, I am the only woman and only black person. Of course, the numbers don’t seem so bad because of the course size. But I was quickly reminded that this would be the norm throughout my career. When expressing my nerves about encountering that reality, I was told: “you went to a PWC so you're used to it.". Despite the truth about the demographics of my college, my colleague's assumption was false. I don't get it because in college it was never just me. I was not alone. Safe spaces like Association of Black Harvard Women and the Black Students Association made sure I had peers to vent to and mentors to lean on. Here in LA, I’m still finding my safe space and community.
Now, I rarely come off as though I'm scared or discouraged in class, but I've had one or two days where I actually came close to giving up (these were logic lab days by the way). I quickly learned that I needed a routine in the morning to get me ready for the day. I needed "A Winners Attitude" as my dad would call it. Regardless of your field, if you've ever felt worried about fitting the mold or meeting the bar I want you to know this: you may not fit the mold, but you've surpassed the bar. You've defied the boundaries of what is expected of you and that, my friend, is a big deal. Still not convinced? I've got 6 affirmation activities for you to do in the morning.
*Note: You must stand in front of the mirror to say/think/do these things!
1) Say: I deserve my best.
I mean you really do. Most of us would give the world for the people we love, but we wouldn't dare do the same for ourselves. You deserve your very best: attitude, love, affirmation, work etc etc.
2) Say: I am smart.
Not "I am brilliant", not "I am incredibly intellectual". Just "I. Am. Smart." Why? Cause sometimes the simplest thing is the hardest to believe. You don't have to be brilliant to figure out how to code, you just have to be smart. And guess what? You are smart.
3) Say: I'm doing better than I think.
Convince yourself of this truth if its the last thing you do. You actually know more than you ever thought you could. Last week, I didn't know anything about Autolayouts, now I'm an Autolayout queen. Four weeks ago, I didn't know anything at all about Swift, now I know enough to keep going. Remind yourself that you're not where you started. Keep going!
4) Think: I made it to today!
A friend of mine is a gratitude guru and I'm often reminded to wake up and give thanks because of her. Wake up, close your eyes, say a prayer or meditate or do something that reminds you to be grateful for being alive!
5) Do: Laugh at yourself.
If you look at yourself in the mirror long enough this will happen. Not because you look funny, but because seeing yourself, and I mean truly seeing yourself, will bring you joy. I love this one because it's a reminder to stop taking everything so seriously. Stop taking yourself so seriously. You are a beautiful, beautiful human, facing a beautiful, beautiful transition. So laugh a little.
6) Do: A Power Pose.
Thats right. You are superwoman or superman. Need help? Take notes here.
They don’t want you to be an iOS Developer! They don’t want you to win! But they key is never give up and guess what?
I DID IT!!! I built my first app!!! It may seem simple…and it may be simple to “them” (Thanks DJ Khaled). But this is my first major accomplishment as an iOS Developer.
Project 1: Our first project assignment was to create a To-Do List App with add, swipe to delete, and edit functionalities. There were a few more requirements like using OOP and allowing the user to check off items but I won't give you the long list. It's also important to note that when working on this app, we hadn't yet, learned Autolayout so we were eyeballing the constraints for the app. In the coming weeks I plan to go back to the project and add new functionality and features we learn through the course. You can see the demo below:
If you are like me and are completely new to programming, I stand in solidarity with you. Boyyyy this was not easy! It seems so simple upon completion, and even days later once I've learned the concepts necessary to build the app, but I during? I had flashbacks to my thesis days. Now that all is said and done, I can confidently say that project 1 was confirmation that I can do this and that I want to do this as a career! Of course, with the completion of every project, there is learning and that's why I'm writing this post. I had four major "aha" moments while building my project, and they weren't about the code itself, they were about how to code and how to learn in the future. For any aspiring programmers or beginners like me, here are 4 Major Keys to Building Your First Mobile App:
1) Learning to code is learning to learn.
Google is an amazing resource, but it is outdated. What? How is google outdated? Great question! Well, the truth is programming languages evolve so rapidly that resources aren’t always up to date. Google doesn’t have the answer, but it does have the path to the answer. If you Google something like “edit text in UITableViewCell”, you will likely get a range of answers on Stack Overflow trying to tell you how to create editable text on a Table View Controller. However, you probably won’t get information to answer your question in the most recent version of Swift. You’ll have to use multiple resources to confirm its validity. Major key: Learning to code is learning to learn. In other words: if you're looking for a one time only deal in learning to code, you came to the wrong profession! Programming languages evolve. In fact, Swift was created to make learning to program easier. As a programmer, you need to be adaptable and comfortable with continuous learning.
2) The Internet is a look book for mobile app design.
Design is everything. When starting to build this app, the aesthetic was pretty terrible. I hadn’t yet learned how to code round shapes and the UX/UI color wheels gave me anxiety. But I learned a great lesson from a classmate during office hours: “you don’t need to go to design school to create beautiful apps.” Major key: the Internet is a look book for mobile app design. From the app store to dribble.com, you can grab inspiration for app design the same way you grab inspiration for clothing. Just look at examples! The more attention you pay to the look, the more realistic the app will feel. And the more apps you create, the closer you'll get to developing your own style. Design is yet another way to leave your creative mark on your products. I think its just as important to spend time looking up design templates and styles you like as it is to build the functionality of the app.
3) There’s no “right answer” in code.
Let me be clear, there is a wrong answer in code–I realized that every time Xcode crashed or I got a bug when trying to run the simulator. There's even a "sometimes" answer in code (more about that another time). But during this first project I learned about the range and creativity of writing code. There's usually more than one way to get any given functionality in your app. Two important questions to ask yourself are: 1) does this do what I need? 2) Is this succinct? For me (so far), if both of those answers are "yes," I'm in good standing. Major key: there’s no “right answer” in code.
4) What you learn from working with other people is invaluable.
People are resources. I am a first generation Nigerian-American. Relevance? Nigerians can be secretive. I love my people. We are beautiful, incredibly intelligent, creative, hardworking etc. But the number of secrets I was taught to keep from non-family members is astounding. These weren’t even big secrets. It all boiled down to creative and intellectual property. Growing up I was taught that my unique ideas were to be protected, not shared. And as it turns out this mentality is NOT conducive to peer learning environments. I learned this lesson growing up, but from time to time, I still feel a tugging in my chest when I prepared to share an idea. You can imagine the impact of this background on learning to code. But guess what folks? Pair programming is literally everything. Major key: what you learn from working with other people is invaluable. You have to share to receive. And you have to ask to learn. Learning to code at General Assembly versus learning to code on my own was an acknowledgement of the value of group learning. So if you think you have something to prove by doing everything on your own, think again. Whether you’re at home taking an online course or you're taking an immersive course, you’re not in this alone. Build a community/network of programmers and lean in. It takes a village.