“When I can’t stop thinking of new ideas for something, that tells me to pursue it more.”
Tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like for you.
First thing every morning is playing with my dog Gobi and taking him out for a walk. He’s always so happy and it’s great to start the day on a good note. Then I’ll have some coffee and breakfast while looking over what I need to do that day at work and in my personal life. I’ll get ready for work and head out for the day. At my previous company I was writing code all day whether it was new features or fixing bugs. I’m excited to start [my new position] at Module, I’m the first technical hire and I’ll be designing and building their web application. The web application will be the platform for customers to be a part of the home construction process. They’ll be involved in everything from buying land all the way to interior design and decorating. After getting home from work I’ll walk the dog again and spend some time relaxing with him and my cat, Oliver. Depending on the day I’ll either cook for the week for a few hours or watch some tv or read whichever book I’m on. Lately I’ve been doing some Ruby on Rails development to prep for my new job in January. I try to get to bed early but more often than not I end up falling asleep on the couch with Gobi next to me.
How do you stay passionate in your career?
I surround myself with other people who are passionate! I’ve met some amazing people who love what they do and it’s awesome to share and learn from each other. It’s also important for me to do what I’m really excited about. When I can’t stop thinking of new ideas for something, that tells me to pursue it more.
Did you have a traditional path into tech (i.e.: CS/IT degree transitioned into tech job)?
Not quite. I started college as a Molecular Biology major and I had a decade long plan that involved getting a PhD and potentially an MD and then go on to become a toxicologist and work in drug discover and reassignment. The second semester of my freshman year I took an intro to programming class in Java and I loved it. I had never coded a day in my life before that but I was hooked. I would run around my dorm floor and get anyone I could to use my command-line programs that I had made in class. I kept taking a programming course every semester and eventually I switched majors to Computer Science. Around my junior year I started having a lot of problems both academically and personally. I couldn’t figure out what was happening to me but I knew that something was wrong. I had no energy, insomnia, I wasn’t feeding myself until I felt faint, and I was so scared all the time. I remember I was afraid to leave my apartment because I was worried that a car would swerve and hit me while I was walking down the sidewalk. I was then diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and started getting treatment through cognitive behavioral therapy as well as medication. It was the toughest time of my life. Therapy was hard work and I would often feel raw and exhausted after sessions because there was so much inside me that I was finally letting out to breathe. I was having panic attacks at least once a week from the anxiety and having classes on my mind was making everything worse. I decided to cut down on school and become a part-time student and this was when I started working as a student worker. Having a job helped me so much, it held me accountable and made sure I got out of the house everyday. Working in technology confirmed that it was what I loved to do and that I was right to pursue it. Classes were a different story. I got to the point that I couldn’t walk into a classroom without feeling a panic attack coming on and even when I could get to a class, I couldn’t focus because all my energy was put to making sure I was breathing regularly so that I wouldn’t break down in front of everyone. Anytime I would make progress on my mental health, classes would take me two steps back. Eventually I decided to leave school. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Growing up I never imagined that I wouldn’t have a degree or not graduate from college, it was expected and taken for granted. In the end, I knew that if I kept trying to finish school that I would be sacrificing my mental and emotional health and that wasn’t worth it to me. I loved working and coding so I made sure that I kept at it and now when I interview, it doesn’t matter so much that I didn’t finish school because I can prove that I have the skills and experience to be a great developer. Nowadays I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been. I still have depression and anxiety and some days are worse than others but now I know how to manage it and take care of myself so that I don’t find myself spiraling back to where I used to be. I’m very proud of how far I’ve come. I feel like I was in a deep deep grave and I dug myself out and now I can walk around and experience life in a way that I thought I never would be able to. The tech industry is known for working people hard and this can lead to serious burnout. Everyone should take time to take care of their physical and mental health. Without our health, we have nothing.
Are there any apps, software, or tools you cannot live without?
Todoist and Google Calendar! I have the two always open as widgets on my phone screen. I tend to be a bit forgetful and these two help me keep track of all aspects of my life from personal care, professional events, to keeping up with what I’m learning at the moment.
It’s common knowledge that women often face obstacles in the tech industry based on their gender. Have you ever had to deal with this type of experience and if so how did you handle it?
I’ve been asked far too many times if I was a receptionist. The teams I’ve worked on, I’ve almost always been the only woman developer. It’s a bit disheartening to see that this problem is still persisting but also great to see how many companies and people are working to fix this at every stage of the pipeline. Another issue that I still struggle with is imposter syndrome. This isn’t an issue that affects just women but many of us can relate to it. It’s something I’ve been working on by learning more about technology on my own and trusting myself and being confident in my abilities.
What’s your favorite thing about being a woman in tech?
Other women in tech! It’s such a great supportive community. The women in tech that I’ve met are always bringing each other up and advocating for each other. It’s awesome to see how we all come together and become this unstoppable force and it’s only going to keep growing.
How have you given back to the WIT community?
My journey with the women in tech community started the summer of my sophomore year when I relaunched Pitt’s Women in Computer Science club. Before then, WiCS wasn’t even recognized by the university as an official student organization and there were very few meetings. Myself and two others volunteered to become officers and spent the summer writing up a constitution, making plans for the first semester back and creating relationships with other groups at Pitt. I was also a founding officer at Pitt’s Computer Science Club which was starting up at the same time. Later on in the fall I helped plan an organize the first SheInnovates, Pittsburgh’s first ever all-women hackathon, as an Event Chair and host. That year was also the first year of RedChairPGH. RedChairPGH is part of NCWIT’s Sit With Me Campaign and Julia Poepping got a few people together to bring it to Pittsburgh. We just had one event that year and now we’ve grown so much. We provide resources for local companies on how to recruit and retain a diverse pool of talent as well as providing leadership scholarships for women in tech in Pittsburgh. Everyone involved with RedChairPGH is a volunteer and all of us are so passionate about these issues. I started as a student volunteer with them and I designed and built the first website. Currently I run the RedChairPGH twitter account and go to different tech events in the city with the chair to promote diversity and inclusion. We have some plans for 2019 that will make us a better resource for the community that I’m very excited about!
What is a piece of advice you would give to others wanting to or currently pursuing a career in tech?
It’s okay to be intimidated or scared. What matters is that you love what you do and you’re excited to learn. Finding your passion is what will ultimately drive you. Plans will fail and sometimes that can be the best thing to happen to you.