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.

Interview with Executive/ Coach, Meghna

Interview with Executive/ Coach, Meghna

AW: Thank you Meghna, for making time for us. To get the conversation started, who are we referring to when we say “firsts and onlys”?

MM: You’re welcome, Adrienne. The term refers to folks who are either the first from their family or community to be where they are or the only one like them in the room.

AW: What made you want to start coaching firsts and onlys?

MM: My parents emigrated here years and years ago. I was a consultant for many years. I made every mistake in the book when I started in the corporate world.  It was about ten years ago that I started to learn about executive coaching and started doing more people-oriented work.

AW: What does coaching “firsts and onlys” entail? What are the issues that are most common to them?

MM: There are a few. One of the issues is that because they are the first or the only, they don’t have anyone from their family or community who understands the “rules” of the game. I like to share an example from when I was in second grade. I was in a spelling bee and I misspelled the word “deceived”. The next day there was a news report about the spelling bee. The reporter said, “If only she had known the rule, i before e except after c, she would have won.”

I have always remembered that. Knowing the rules makes your life easier.

The second issue I refer to as “imposter syndrome”. Many firsts and onlys from South Asian culture, for instance, have and show a lot of deference to those in authority. When they move into the American corporate world, there is a need to push back or, at least, respectfully ask questions. Firsts and onlys ask themselves, “Why is this harder for me?” The answer is simply that they are managing relationships differently than they did in the communities from which they came.

A third issue is that firsts and onlys are unique and tend to be externally validated. People-pleasers. They tend to wonder if they are fitting in or if they are excelling…so issue number three emerges from the two previous issues.

AW: That sounds incredibly exhausting and potentially painful. How do these challenges impact the professional lives of firsts and onlys?

MM: These challenges make it very difficult for firsts and onlys to sustain success. There exists a feeling of disconnectedness or always getting the short end of the stick. Some feel like they’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do but these feelings persist.

AW:  So, what are some solutions?

MM: Well, it’s really, really important that firsts and onlys seek to build community. Try to have one or two professional friends who have a different perspective, who see things differently than you do. Secondly, cultivate mentors.  Of course, hard work is central to moving up but having an advocate is also super important. Who is going to “bang the table” for you? Connect to those above you because they can help you move up. Try to have coffee with someone who is senior to you on a regular basis. Try to learn what they are learning.

AW: What are your goals for the American workplace?

MM: I want to see a rainbow nation of leadership groups. I want to see different experiences reflected in the workplace because it is diversity of thought and experience that makes companies stronger.

Meghna Majmudar can be found on LinkedIn and The Permission.

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.

Getting Fired Can be a Blessing

Getting Fired Can be a Blessing

So you were fired. It might feel like the end of the world…but it’s not!  

This article is not meant to retrain your brain like Clooney’s almost-heartless character in Up in the Air. Quite the opposite. This could, in fact, be the start of something exciting and new. This is a call to self-defibrillate – to retrain your heart.

 

  • You hated that job, they did you a favor.

Getting fired or as I like to call it -not quitting fast enough- can be a blessing in a remarkable disguise. 

 

There’s a reason you got fired. 

You wanted to quit. 

You’ve wanted to quit for a while but you just couldn’t bring yourself to do it. 

 

It may have been financial obligations or the overwhelming sense of missed opportunities. Maybe you were in denial about your unhappiness or maybe it was just the idea of being a freaking failure.

 

Whatever the reason, others could tell. It was affecting your work and your demeanor. Now someone else has solved the problem so you don’t have to suffer through it anymore. You’ve just been liberated from a crappy job you hated. 

 

So, smile. You owe it to yourself! Now, let’s create a plan and work it!

 

An opportunity for introspection.

You were probably let go (the exception being wrongful termination) for poor performance. Does this mean you’re a failure? No. 

 

Does it mean you are lazy? Mostly likely not. I don’t believe in laziness. I believe in malaise and a lack of inspiration.

 

Are you a bad person? No way. You were in the wrong job. In Shadan Delaveaux’s Fortune commentary entitled “Here’s why even the best employees get fired”, he surmises that sometimes your skillset is simply not what your company needs at a certain point in time. It is not a reflection of you. It is simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

So, the good news is that it really is an opportunity to take your first step toward doing something you really, really want to do.   

 

So, what do you really, really want?

 

In Eckhart Tolle’s inspirational book,  A New Earth, he claims that the process of making thinking the servant of awareness is key to determining your life’s purpose. This process, and the amount of time it takes, varies from person to person. But the first step is to take your daydreams out of your head and start acting on your desires.

 

Step 1: What did you spend all of those hours researching? 

 

What is your recurring life fantasy? The one you’ve been dreaming about on your lunch break for the past five years. Write it down. Many researchers believe that the act of writing a dream down helps to take it from the abstract to the concrete.

 

Step 2: How can you take the first steps toward pursuing it?

 

After you write it down, make a list of steps to pursue. Maybe the first step is to reach out to someone in the field in which you want to be. I have a friend who reached out to everyone she knew in the field. One person, from those dozens, walked her resume into a senior vice-president’s office and a month later, she was hired. 

 

Step 3: Don’t give up! 

 

Tolle encourages us, once we recognize what we really want, to recognize that the most important thing has already happened: the separation of thinking and awareness. What you do and who you are are separate things. Once we begin living in alignment with our primary purpose, the things we are put on Earth to do will become more and more evident with time. Don’t ever, ever, ever give up!

Interview with a Developer – Thomas Williams

Interview with a Developer – Thomas Williams

Family background – Thomas is the brother of Adrienne Williams, Founder and Principle at ETP.

TW:To start off, entrepreneurship runs in our blood. Our paternal grandfather ran a grocery store. Our dad did a lot of government contracting work.

Adrienne has a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in her. This is something that is rudimentary to our identities. Adrienne is the oldest. Then Spencer – he is also a web developer- then me, I am the youngest. Adrienne is ten years older than me.

AW: How did you learn to code?

TW: I learned to code, well dabbled in it, growing up in the 90’s. Game development. I used game design programs that people could use without programming knowledge. I wanted to do more so I learned how to program after college. I went to business school – Krannert School of Management at Purdue. I earned a business management degree there.

AW: What was your first year on the job like?

TW: I first worked as a consultant but didn’t like it too much. I wanted to develop games. I joined a programming bootcamp – it was a one year program. I studied web development ten hours a day and after six months I worked on my first project.

AW: What about now? What is your experience like now?

TW: I work at Benchprep now. It’s a start-up. It’s very diverse. That’s why I chose it. It’s not perfect, of course. But I do feel heard. My current manager is reasonable. My team is small and tight-knit. That plays a huge part. Also, we’re all about the same age so that camaraderie is significant.

AW: Have you ever experienced racism at work?

TW: So, I have. In the past, there has been this implicit racism. For example, in a certain corporate environment, there was this soft pressure to adhere to a certain standard. Even down to clothes. I felt I had to wear J. Crew. (TW chuckles a little.) J. Crew is not meant for African-American body types. One thing nice about tech-development, it gives you more freedom in terms of what you can wear. We have more liberties; of course, it might also depend on where you live.

AW: What advice would you give to people of color who want to enter the tech field?

TW: I would say find a source of inspiration in tech. Everyone I know had an interest in games or something like that. Develop a sense of wonder so that you don’t feel lost.

AW: What are your future goals for yourself or for the industry?

TW: I want to put myself into a position to create things that benefit humanity. I want users of my creations to have healthy and wholesome concepts of humanity. I want to be an active and helpful member of the human race.

AW: So, little brother, what’s your next big thing?

TW: My company’s name is Grand Scheme Games. My mission statement is to “Make games that warm hearts and bring smiles to faces.” For people who have felt trapped in a beleaguering circumstance, the game I’m creating now aims to provide the player with the opportunity to have faith…in something.

For more information, go to grandschemegames.com.