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.