Interview with a developer, Alyse Dunn

Interview with a developer, Alyse Dunn

AW: Hi Alyse. Thanks for taking the time to visit with us.

AD: You’re welcome.

AW: What did you study in school?

AD: I have a B.A. in Business Administration.

AW: When did you decide you wanted to become a developer?

AD: So, back in 2008, I was working in a non-tech capacity. I was a project manager and I just kind of lucked out. I was working with an engineer and out of the goodness of his heart, he offered to teach people in the company how to code. It was a twice-weekly class and that’s how my developer journey began.

AW: Do you feel any aspects of your journey were unique to you as a Black woman?

AD: Possibly. Well, here’s what happened. In November of 2012, my father became ill. He was diagnosed with diabetes and MS. When I visited him, he was unable to move. I moved him into a facility where he could receive help 24/7. My dad died on November 3, 2014. I wrote my first line of code that Thanksgiving.

As far as compensation, I was doing fine as a project manager, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from feeling like I was drowning all the time. I began to notice and even became a little envious of the benefits engineers had. I wanted to have that high six-figure salary, the unlimited time off. I wanted to be creative and make things. After my father died, I said enough. So now, my mom has Alzheimer’s and I can take care of her without that impending sense of financial frailty.

AW: Do you feel there is a professional support community for you?

AD: Surprisingly, yes, I do. When I first began this journey I experienced zero support. I did fully experience the young white men who did not want to help me but I can honestly say that at this point, these are the guys who have helped me the most.

AW: Have you ever experienced racism at work?

AD: Modern racism is a tricky thing to pinpoint. It’s less about what is said to your face and more about who gets access. Modern racism is more insidious and difficult to prove. It’s hard for me to say that I was denied access because of my ethnicity. There have been certain comments made to me and I spoke out.

AW: What advice would you give to people of color and women who want to be or are currently in tech?

AD: Black youth need to know that you can do this, even without a degree. I would also say to people of color already here that knowing and understanding that when people offer to help you, take the help! There’s usually a mutual benefit, mutual opportunities. We should not see these opportunities as a handout. A lot of people learn by teaching.

To decision-makers, I would ask that they be forthcoming about their intent. Don’t say you care about diversity and inclusion, don’t pay lip-service, if it’s really not a core value. That’s where tech companies get into trouble, I think.

AW: Alyse, thanks for giving us your time today. One final question: what are your goals and hopes for yourself and for tech?

AD: Personally, I want to make as large an impact as I can. I am the first black female engineer some people have ever met. We don’t have visibility – we need to be more visible if we are going to have a lasting impact. Maybe one day I’ll start my own start-up or create a new coding language. I’m going back to school now – my company pays for it. They invest generously in me and people who look like me. Going back to school wasn’t on the table for me but that’s okay. This is the narrative I want for my life. My parents were both physicians; my entire family believes in education.

In regards to my hopes for the industry, I worked in AI for two years. AI is valuable but dangerous. Once you see how the sausage is made, it becomes apparent that processes can be nuanced and it’s the nuances that can get us.

Alyse Dunn is a senior software engineer at Venmo.

Returning to the Workforce

Returning to the Workforce

After a lengthy hiatus from working in the corporate world, it’s essential to keep a few things in mind. Returning to the workforce can be challenging. If you have long gaps in your work history and are wanting to return to work in the same field, then this article is for you.

Let’s get started!

Gaps in Your Resume

Having a long hiatus on your resume has the potential to make you appear fickle. Or it may give the appearance that working in a team environment is too challenging. So if you are preparing for interviews, it is important that you find a positive way to frame what you did during your time away. It is important to discuss how your hiatus enriched your skillset.

Did you take any part-time work? If you did, then great! You took some time off to try your hand at consulting, but later realized you enjoyed the collaboration of a team environment. Now you are eager to return to a more challenging role. If you took time away to be with your family, talk about what that experience taught you. Raising children is a job too!

Transferable Experience and Skills

Has it been a few years since you’ve been in the game? We know that change is a constant, especially in the fast-paced world of technology. So when returning to the workforce know this: A number of companies would rather hire someone smart and capable, even if that person lacks some hands-on experience.
Transferable or “portable” skills are qualities that can be transferred from one position to another and even across industries. Indeed.com lists qualities like adaptability, organization, and dependability. These skills can be taught and practiced…and should show up on your resume.

Another transferable skill is the ability to form effective questions. Smartstorming.com identifies several questions that can be asked with the goal of challenging pre-existing assumptions. Questions like “If we didn’t have any limitations, what could we do?” open up the process of problem-solving. In fact, learning how to ask effective and timely questions is a key part of expert communication praxis. Julien Mirivel is a founding scholar in the emerging field of positive communication. In his 2014 book, The Art of Positive Communication, Dr. Mirivel expands on the idea of effective questioning. “All questions influence what people will say. Some questions constrain the next speaker’s possibilities and give more or less freedom to what they can say.” So framing questions that open up communication instead of closing it is another skill (if you choose to practice it) that can show up on your resume.

When to Opt for a Remote Role

It is always a daunting task to take time away to start a family and then decide to return to the workforce. Work-life balance is difficult. Period. If having a new family is a top priority, I recommend broadening your search to include roles that are fully or partially remote. According to Forbes.com, roughly 23% of the workforce now works remotely at least part of the time. A study from Ultimate Software indicated that this part of the workforce is thriving! Ryan Robinson’s website (ryrob.com) has put together a long list of companies that hire remote workers. And pay well. So consider deeply if remote work would work for you.

You’ll be in good company.

Is it Time for You to Change Jobs?

Is it Time for You to Change Jobs?

If you’ve been in your current role for a while and can’t even remember the last time you went on a job interview, then this article may be for you. 

But changing jobs can be scary.

These tips will help you think strategically about a new search and increase the odds of your landing the perfect job. 

First, when is the “right time” to make a career move?

The answer to that one is actually pretty easy. If you are consistently bored at work or feel like you’re no longer being challenged. It could be time to launch a search.

Be honest with yourself: Has the pep in your step slowed over time?

Do you find yourself zoning out in meetings?

Has your work performance, the quality of your work product, or your productivity declined significantly? 

These are all signs that it’s time to make a move.

A less frequently asked question is whether or not there’s a right time of year to change jobs. This comes as a surprise to many, but there is! 

Allow me to introduce you to the winter job search! For many companies, their fiscal year ends in December. So they’re trying to use the last of their precious budget dollars in hopes their funds won’t be cut the following year. 

Another reason winter is the best time to search is that simply put, fewer people are out looking. It is well known amongst HR teams the world over that the bulk of hiring needs to be completed by the end of October. Come November folks start leaving town in droves. Visiting family, holiday travel, winter vacations, and pending bonus payments all take priority over snagging interviews. Those few unicorn candidates who stay on the market during the winter months are more valuable than gold. 

Where should you look for your next job? The answer to that one is short and sweet: Everywhere! Always be networking. Most companies prize in-house referrals much more highly than unknown applications because employees have an opportunity to pre-vet candidates. There’s more quality control. Many companies even offer referral bonuses to incentivize their employees to refer to well-qualified candidates.

Many firms have a mandatory interview policy for any referred applicant. This is so that employees are not discouraged by having someone they submitted ignored or instantly declined. 

Once you’ve decided to move and the search is on, it’s time to prep your resume. Place the most relevant stuff “above the fold” and the transferable or less relevant experience closer to the bottom (we’ll cover the best way to present transferable experience in another post). Finally, add a unique font and pop of color (recruiters are people too and their eyes need positive stimuli). 

After prepping your resume, it’s time to move on to the search itself.

Self-selecting roles can be a challenge. What if you don’t have 100% of what the job requires, but the role seems really interesting? 

Allow me to introduce you to the 70/30 Rule. This is when you have 70% of the job requirements and you may have a transferable experience that addresses the other 30%. 

Go ahead and apply!

I always say there are two types of hires: the experienced hire and the aptitude hire. Experienced hires can hit the ground running with very little ramp up time. This adds immediate value to the company. But experienced hires can also be unyielding and single-minded. Often, they can be myopic in their approach to problem-solving.

An aptitude hire makes up for what they lack in experience with enthusiasm, ingenuity, and a fresh perspective. Those are transferable assets that will add value to a position. 

It’s important to manage the thrill of new challenges while also mitigating the boredom of performing the same tasks. So while I do not advocate job-hopping, I encourage you to challenge yourself. 

You deserve it.