Elpha Interview (Not Published)

Transcript from interview for Elpha that never ended up being published.

I did an interview for Elpha but it was never published.

The writer was kind enough to share the transcript since I did share a lot of info.

Interviewer Speaking

So first question, pretty simple. Can you just talk a bit about yourself, your education interests and the likes?

Me Speaking

Yeah. Sure. So I’m currently a software engineer specializing in UI development on the customer acquisition team at Slack, if you’re not familiar with what customer acquisition is, it’s essentially basically anything on the web side of our products. So anything on slack.com is what me and my team of seven people own. So it’s separate from the mobile product or the desktop product, it’s really just anything on slack.com till I teach people who have never heard of Slack potentially more about it and to also showcase our new features.

And so I’ve been there since June of last year. I’ve been working professionally as a developer though since 2015. So coming up on four years now. And I got my bachelors … I took the traditional route so I got my bachelor’s in computer science from Hanson University, which is in HBCU in Virginia. That’s where I’m from. I’m from Norfolk, Virginia. That’s where I grew up and then I proceeded to get a masters in computer science from Cornell Tech, which is a graduate University in New York City.

So very much took the traditional route, but I did attend bootcamps throughout that journey. So I attended Fullstack Academy which is a coding boot camp in New York City and that was pretty awesome. That’s how I ended up getting my first part time job was through the skills that I learned through that boot camp.

So I have a weird take on formal versus informal education and I’m definitely a proponent of both and I see value in both as well. Outside of work, I’m the Co-director of Techqueria which is a 501c3 nonprofit that serves the largest community actually of Latinx in Tech in the US.

I’ve been in that role for only a few months now, maybe even like just one month. But I’ve been involved with the organization for two years and I’ve been a board member since March. So I’ve been involved in some capacity for two years, but I only just became a co-director with my other director Felipe Ventura and we’ve been just like handling that. So it was my full time passion outside of work is like my nonprofit work with Techqueria. And then I guess outside of Slack or Techqueria, I really enjoy doing open source work when I can, doing public speaking.

So I’ve spoken at 50 plus events since I believe 2014, and it’s been mostly tech events or conferences. So that’s a big passion of mine. And then sometimes I’ll mentor other folks, but I’ve actually leaned towards not focusing on that too much because it does take up a lot of time and people sometimes they’re not willing to pay to get mentored.

So I’m trying to focus on things that I also not just enjoy doing but can also get paid for it because I was usually more free with my time back in the day. But now I’m more strict about what I put my time into because it’s just … I recognize how valuable it is. So that’s kind of my spiel there, my background and what I’ve been up to.

Interviewer Speaking

Very cool. I just wanted to clarify one thing, you mentioned that you did your undergrad in software engineering and then you also went to Fullstack. Is that right?

Me Speaking

Yeah. So I did both. I tried to get the best of both worlds with a formal education with a bachelor’s and master’s in computer science. But I also attended a coding boot camp called Fullstack Academy back in 2015, the summer of 2015.

Interviewer Speaking

So what made you want to also go that route? Because I mean in general for those of us who don’t understand coding as well as you do, you think that college would have prepared you in a lot more detail than a bootcamp. So what made you go down that route?

Me Speaking

Well, see that’s the thing I actually disagree with that stance. I think that college does prepare you for some aspects of being a good software engineer but not every aspect. And I think especially even with superly colleges that come to mind, like Stanford, MIT, Harvard. I still … I don’t really think that they teach you the skill set that is needed for being successful day one of the job.

So that’s why I decided that if I really was going to feel confident in my role, whichever role that was going to be, I wanted to do extra by doing the coding bootcamp during the summer while I was still studying computer science. And thankfully Fullstack Academy at the time and then they still have this program, it’s called the Summer of Code and it’s specifically tailored for actually computer science students.

People who are still in college studying or in graduate school studying computer science. It’s kind of a supplement. And so after that program, some people actually decided to stop studying computer science because they actually had everything they needed to get a decent starting offer as a software engineer. Maybe just like a junior associate level but still that’s a start and then go from there.

And so I think there’s really many paths for success for a software engineer. I tried to make my path as successful as possible and I’m still pretty salty about some of the decisions I’ve made. I don’t know if I made the right choices sometimes, for example my masters in computer science in the grand scheme of things probably wasn’t really necessary for a software engineering role at a tech company.

But I still enjoyed it a lot and I still learned a lot, not necessarily super relevant for my job, but in the higher sort of higher level like product management, product design, computer human interaction, things I would’ve never really thought about, I was exposed to in some capacity during my masters. So I don’t regret it but it wasn’t a practical choice I would say.

Interviewer Speaking

Sure. That’s really interesting. You’re exactly the opposite of how most people do. I actually did a boot camp as well just to intro myself to the space in general and the vast majority of people I know really went in exactly the opposite direction, but that’s really cool. I wonder if you’d recommend that to people to go that route.

Me Speaking

Honestly, so my partner he got his bachelor’s in computer information systems from a small state university in Ohio, not really recognized school. He didn’t really learn any of those super relevant skills that are needed for I think a software engineering job in the Bay area at least. And so now he’s actually enrolled in mixed school, which is this alternative CS degree program.

And there are some disadvantages to it because first of all it’s still really expensive. At least that program like mix school and there are still … because they still give you a CS degree, there are still requirements by the state that you have to go through. But with two years, I mean that’s really accelerated and he’s really learning all these latest technologies and really understand how to think a software engineer from what I’ve seen and the curriculum they have is very impressive.

So we’ll see. I’m hoping that from that he’s going to be able to get the role that he wants because he really didn’t feel confident even after his bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, which I will note is somewhat different from computer science. But we’ll see if that actually pans through. But in terms of what I would recommend, well I think it depends. I think for me personally, my ambitions even during undergrad were like I want to be a CTO one day for a profit tech company and it looks like most of these CTOs have higher degrees. So I should probably have that too.

And I will also note that as a woman of color, as a Latina who is vastly underrepresented in the tech industry, there is that question of credibility and having to make up for being the minority in a tech industry and having to just prove yourself more. It’s all very real. And so I recognize that part and I wanted to also consider that too. And so on paper at least I feel I’m very qualified now, but for me it’s always been more about what’s not on paper and what work have I actually done to showcase that I’m a good software engineer.

Interviewer Speaking

Very cool. Okay, awesome. So I mean you did touch on this quite a bit, but can you talk briefly about your career trajectory? It looks like based on your LinkedIn profile, you’ve been involved in a bunch of different things, have unique mix of interest in education and software. How did that … how would you explain your LinkedIn profile?

Me Speaking

Yeah. I’ve gotten that feedback before, it’s like fancies kind of all over the place. And I’ll be frank, I’m still pretty early on in my career and I still I’m interested in a lot of different things and I’m very impatient. I have a very impatient personality and if I think something is interesting, I’ll just look into it and I’ll start learning a lot about it.

I did that with venture capital, I became a finalist for the Cape center’s VC, associate program. I didn’t get in but I learned so much even through that finalist interview process, I did that with product management through attending product school and also with my masters in CS they covered that a lot and startups and entrepreneurship they actually covered that a lot in my master’s as well.

In terms of education, both of my parents are educators. So, I actually have leaned towards trying to mentor or teach I guess other folks the basic web development skills. I’ve kind of gravitated towards that sometimes, but it’s not my full focus, it’s just something I’ve kind of done on the side sometimes. So, I have advised Udacity for their new front end Nano degree, I’ve done that. And that was like consulting basically, it was just like on the side.

And then general assembly, I did some stuff for them as well. Just three classes on basic web dev, like html, CSS or what is like to be a developer and little things like that. But it’s not … I think it’s just something I realized would help me iron out my own skills like teaching, if you teach others you just understand it better yourself. But it’s not something I’m super focused on pursuing full time. I’m mostly focused on being a great front end engineer. I’m senior front end engineer and growing more in that role.

So, I guess to answer your original question now, explaining career trajectory, I’m really just pursuing whatever is of interest to me but I’m hoping to cement that and become a master at whatever I ended up deciding to cement in. Right now that looks like that’s just going to be web development, which I’m totally fine with because it’s something I’m really passionate about. I think the web specifically, the mobile web is the most accessible platform by anybody in the world.

And that’s just not the case for a lot of different tech fields. So, when you think about AR and VR, there’s cost barrier there because we need to have the device. If you think about autonomous vehicles, there’s a lot of barriers there because we need to have a vehicle. But with the mobile web all you need is a phone and you don’t even need a smartphone necessarily, you just need a phone that has access to a mobile web browser.

So for me, I feel that’s the most accessible way for most humans to get connected and that’s like there’s a lot of opportunity there. So, yeah.

Interviewer Speaking

Awesome. Ah, so you seem to have a deep interest in the nonprofit space. How did that start? Is it … do you think on the … on your parents status as educators?

Me Speaking

No, actually it was really by accident. So for nonprofits specifically, do you mean Techqueria or other nonprofits?

Interviewer Speaking

I thought it was just Techqueria, but if there are others that I’d love to know about those as well.

Me Speaking

Yeah. I mean so I’ve been involved with women who code and it’s mostly in speaker capacities. I’ve been involved with a lot of different organizations like CORO Northern California which is big on policy, there’s Women Who Code which is like a huge women in tech organization. There’s WriteSpeak code, which is also I believe a nonprofit that’s dedicated to women in tech and non-binary women.

So there’s so many of these organizations that are focused on DNI and tech elevating folks who are not as represented in tech, that I’ve been a part of and have probably … maybe you can see it from the website has spoken it for on behalf of that organization.

But yeah, I think the whole … actually doing executive work for like a nonprofit. That all started by accident to be honest. I think I first joined Techqueria two years ago. I was pretty passive. They have a Slack community. So I was pretty passive on there and they have a lot of other social media platforms too. But then I started getting more active because I was ramping up on my job search and I was trying to look for my next new role and I was able to speak with four different people who worked at Slack from Techqueria.

And I wasn’t able to give that kind of level of support from any other community I had been a part of since joining the tech industry or even studying. So for me that was wow! This is really amazing and I was obviously able to get that role at Slack because of all these people who were willing to give me advice and give me an understanding of what it was like day-to-day to work at Slack.

And those people still work with … not on my team directly but they still work at Slack today. So that was super interesting, I decided to get more involved after that because I felt like hey I should give back to this community who has already given so much to me. And so I decided to help revamp their website because I obviously really loved the web and their website was not very good at the time and I got the okay by one of the co-founders to go ahead and revamp it however needed.

Through that work I won an open source grant to continue to work on the website and make it a lot better and just funnel more partnerships and more money through the website. So I got the $10,000 grant from Century and that was pretty recently to do that. That was back in February or March I think.

And then that’s also around the time that I became a board member this year because outside of the website I was also just starting to propose a lot of new ideas that the leads had not really thought a lot about. Which is how do we become a more data driven nonprofit because all these companies are looking to us now as the largest organization for Latinx in tech to connect with all of our members. And it’s like how do we balance that while also being like ethical but also understanding that yes, more data on our members is going to be better because then we can cater to their needs and also cater to the company needs and all these different things that they had not thought about.

And so the board member role for Techqueria was just to think about national strategy but it quickly became obvious that I was getting really into it and for me myself and then also the other leads and board members. And so at the time Felipe was the executive director and he was like, “Hey, you’ve been helping out so much, I feel we’ve grown so much since you’ve joined, you should become a co-director with me”. And now we’re really ramping up. So that has been … and this is all pretty recent to be fair.

I think I only just joined as a co-director a month ago and then a board member in March. But since then I’ve definitely taken on a more bigger capacity and responsibility there. But thankfully it’s still to the point where I can handle it and have a full time job because I think that we have a lot of good volunteers in Techqueria, we have a group of 30 people and we offload a lot of the stuff to them thankfully, Felipe and I. So It’s still feasible. But I think that in the long run it may even be a career transition for me, to go full time on Techqueria a couple of years in the future. But for now I feel like I’m happy where I am and it’s like a full time engineer and doing Techqueria on the side.

Interviewer Speaking

Very cool. Okay. So can you talk about FPC productions a bit? How did you get started and what your mission is with that?

Me Speaking

So FPC productions is really just the way I encompass everything I do online, whether it’s through freelancing, through speaking engagements and mentoring and all of that stuff I charge for now. So before I think I first got started with FPC productions officially as a freelancing thing back in 2014 I believe.

And it was like, one of my dad’s friends had this IT Company and they were like, “Hey we need a website” and my dad was like, “Oh my God well my daughter can help you with your website”. And I was still pretty new to everything, but at the time I was like, “Yeah, I’ll go for it”. And so I got like my first $500 from doing that website and I was like wow! I can like make money while still studying and doing this freelancing thing, which I didn’t know a lot about.

But that’s how I started. The reasoning behind the name is because I wanted to be a movie director when I was really young in middle school. And so I branded it myself with these little movies that I would make as FPC productions because typically FPC movie production companies has the word productions in them somewhere. And so I just took my initials, put the word productions after it and boom I had a name.

But I kind of just stuck with that ever since even though I’m obviously not interested in doing movie stuff at all right now. I still love movies. I’m super obsessed with watching them all the time, but it’s not something I do. So that’s kind of what that is all about.

It’s really just to encompass all the side stuff that I do that where I get paid. So if I’m invoicing you’ll be from FPC productions, but it’s not an official company or anything. It’s just more to encompass my freelancing brand.

Interviewer Speaking

Got it. Okay. So stepping back to Techqueria for a minute. What would be your goal? I guess you mentioned you might make it a full time thing in a couple of years. What would be your goal for the Latinx community in doing that?

Me Speaking

Yeah I really … I think it just ties to the general mission of Techqueria, which is to become the strongest and most robust network of Latinx in Tech across the world. We’re still obviously not there even within the US because we only have five chapters. And so a part of that would just be ramping up on getting more chapters.

But even though that’s the longterm goal, I feel events don’t really scale that well unless you keep hiring more and more people or getting more and more people to volunteer. So the model that Women who Code has is very similar where it’s called chapter based and they have a lot of events and most of them are in person and they also have a conference and they have multiple conferences.

So longterm Techqueria could go that route of Women who Code and just go full on events, full on conferences like meetups and whatnot and have a lot of members across the world. But I’m also thinking maybe down the line I’ve had conversations with Felipe about this too.

It would be actually maybe more interesting to try and go into the nonprofit tech space instead and create this platform to connect Latinx in Tech specifically and also are the Latinx ERG leads instead of trying to focus on ramping up on more events across the world. Because I feel like if you think about it, events don’t really scale as well as an online platform does.

The way that most people connect across the world is through some kind of online platform. And so that’s what I would want with Techqueria is for … for Techqueria to become the de facto platform for any Latinx in Tech individual to join. And that way it’s not limited to just, Oh if you are part of Techqueria, you’ve attended an event or something. If that makes sense. So really just a better way to connect everyone in Techqueria beyond just events.

Interviewer Speaking

Awesome. So sort of in that vein, as a Latina in Tech, what have your personal experience has been like? Do you think that with these strengths that you’ve had are typical of the community, are yours particularly unique?

Me Speaking

It’s hard to say. I mean the Latinx identity thing in general, it’s just so hard to pinpoint because it represents a huge diaspora of different identities from different countries. I am someone who grew up in the United States and so my experience is going to be very different from someone who was born in a country in Latin America. And then depending on what country, it would be a very different experience to like Brazil.

So Brazilians are still considered Latinx, but if you use the word Hispanic for example, they’re actually not part of that word. And so as we’re speaking now it’s Latinx slang, sorry it’s Hispanic heritage month, but we have deferred to using Latinx heritage month whenever possible. And it’s like all these little things related to identity.

But I guess for your earlier point, as someone who grew up in the States, my parents immigrated from PeruSpeaker 3: It’s 1:30.

My parents immigrated from Peru in their early 20s. But I was raised in Virginia, feel like my experience is not that unique actually because I’ve read from few research that there’s a good number of people who identify as Latinx or Hispanic who had been born in the States.

But I guess specifically what is more unique about my story is that I decided to get into tech. So being specifically at that intersection of being a Latinx female or a Latina in the tech industry, that intersection is actually quite unique. And according to what I’ve done research on, only 1% of women in computing according to the Bureau of Labor in 2016 identify as Latina. So it’s a super small number of people who are basically doing the kind of work I’m doing while also identify as Latina.

To me this has been super isolating initially, it was not a pleasant feeling to like … Well, I think for any minority woman it’s not a pleasant feeling to feel you have to represent women or your background whenever you’re in a room, especially if you’re in a room with mostly middle age white men. Which was the case, for my first job actually it was like, I was the only woman let alone the only minority woman.

And so thankfully that role was not negative because if it was maybe I wouldn’t even be in this, maybe I wouldn’t even be talking to you. I feel first impressions really matter. And so I feel sorry for the folks who have had a really bad experience in their first role in tech, because I think that can really shape things.

But anyway to answer your question, I guess as a Latinx person in the US, super not unique but as a Latina in tech, it is a unique position and I find myself getting in bounds from people who are like, we’d love it if you could talk about your experience as a Latina in tech. And sometimes I’m a bit wary of this because at this point. It’s like I don’t even know what that is exactly. It’s just my identity at this point. And so yeah I hope that hopefully that answers your question.

Interviewer Speaking

Yeah. It definitely does. Awesome. So you’re an engineer at a company as well known as Slack. So what are your opinions on how well they handle diversity? Just in general, it doesn’t have to be specifically for Latinx Community.

Me Speaking

I think they handle it better than most do, but I still think overall the tech industry is just pretty bad at it. There’s this joke that I heard from somebody else where it’s like, “Oh Google has the world’s best search engine but they can’t find enough people of color to hire”. So it’s like there’s this fundamental issue where it’s not about the tooling that they’re using. It’s not about the lack of people, but I think there’s just some disparity there.

And I am no expert by all means in this space. Some people think I am, but I’m really not. I Identify first and foremost as a front end engineer and then secondly as someone who’s leading Techqueria. But I’m not an expert in the DNI space for what can be done to improve DNI, because being in the tech industry, I mean I don’t know what that looks like.

I can think of the little things that could help. For example, what Slack does, which I find really interesting is that for our job descriptions, we use this platform called Textio and essentially it gives you a score on whether or not your job description is biased. And it turns out it can be super biased if you include phrases like, winner take all or always on top, because that’s sort of showcasing this culture where it’s always trying to be on top of things and being super performing and everything.

And they found that companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google were using those kinds of phrases and ergo being more exclusive to women or people of color. So I thought that was really interesting. So Slack makes sure that all the job descriptions are as inclusive as possible.

So those are little things I feel like will help. But in terms of really moving the needle, I don’t know what that looks like because as far as I know within the last 10 years or maybe even longer, DNI in tech has been a core issue and companies have claimed that they want to change it. And then I have all these ways to improve it, but I’m not really seeing that. So it’s hard to say. It’s hard to say for me.

Interviewer Speaking

Sure. Well that makes sense. So last question, if you had to give just one or two pieces of advice, two Latinx in Tech reading this on LFO, what would you say to them?

Me Speaking

Let’s see. Okay. So number one is a bit of a cliche, but number one is find your tribe or find your community. It is so easy to feel isolated if you’re the only one in the room or on work that looks like you. But if you find a community that you vibe with and you feel understands you, that can really empower you.

And so that even when you’re not … even when you are at work, if you’re … connected to that community somehow you can still feel okay about the grand scheme of things and where you are. So I think I didn’t recognize the power of community or being part of a tribe, which sounds a bit like we’re that word tribe. But I think in the grand scheme of things that’s how humans operate unfortunately or not.

And so for me, being part of the community, I never really thought that would be useful. But then when I actually did join communities like WriteSpeak code or Techqueria or women who code or Latinx in Tech and all these other communities that are out there and really inspiring and great. I became way more empowered and my network became way stronger. And if you have a really good network that you’ve built from those communities, things are a lot easier. Things can get a lot easier. So, that’s my number one tip, is just build your community, join … find your tribe, something along those lines.

The second piece of advice is well` that’s a really, hold on. I’m trying to think now. So that’s definitely the first one is just a big one for me. So I’m trying to think of the second one. I guess for me it’s more nuanced, but like my second tip would be to always try and automate things if possible.

I found that before I really got into it, that I would be doing a lot of manual labor just because I didn’t know about this tool that could help me get it done way faster. So I think a good example is that I use this app called Alfred. And have you ever heard of Alfred by any chance?

Interviewer Speaking

I have, yeah.

Me Speaking

Okay. So I’ll use Alfred all the time, but obviously at some point I did not know about it or use it. But I think since using it, I probably decreased the amount of time that I search for stuffs on my computer or I do simple calculations or I even … I can even do terminal commands from Alfred and it’ll open up my terminal.

And that has saved me like a couple of clicks. And if you think about it, a couple of clicks doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you repeat it a thousand times over which all of us have clicked things a thousand times, at least this week, maybe it really will save you a lot of time. So whenever possible, try to find good tooling that will help you automate processes that you were doing manually before.

Interviewer Speaking

Awesome.

Me Speaking

That has helped me stay super productive as well.

Interviewer Speaking

Sweet. Wonderful. Yes. So that’s the … my questions … the questions I had for you, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Me Speaking

I also have this podcast but I didn’t want to touch on it too much because I’m trying to offload it actually to someone else. But I mean I could still mention it because I think a good call to action would be like, “Hey, if you’re a one woman of color on Elpha, I have this podcast and I’m looking for someone to take it over because I’m trying to focus full time on Techqueria and my job”. So do you think that that makes sense?

Interviewer Speaking

Sure. Yeah. I think that’d be a great CTA. Can you just tell me a little bit about the podcast and maybe I’m the kind of person you would be looking for to replace you.

Me Speaking

Yeah for sure. So the podcast is called Tech Queens. It’s the first and only podcast to my knowledge that focuses on the stories and advice shared by women of color specifically in tech. I’ve had nine episodes released, it started back in March. A lot of things started in March of this year and I have four, no five episodes that are going to be published really soon. They actually just got finished … they just finished editing. Well, my person finished editing it yesterday. So I have to look over that.

But the point is there, I’m looking for someone who identifies as a woman of color in the tech industry and has enough bandwidth to take this podcast and help it grow and sustain it. Essentially the commitment would just be them hosting the women of color that I have in the pipeline to be interviewed because that’s quite a lot. I have a bunch of upcoming episodes as well and so yeah.

So that’s essentially what I’m looking for and I was going to make a call to action at some point, but I just haven’t had the time as of late. But maybe if I do it through alpha it’ll be easier to streamline that process. But so that’s where it is right now.

Interviewer Speaking

Awesome. Great. I will definitely include that. So if you don’t have anything else, I will write up a draft get back to Juan one with the info, and then once we have it sufficiently edited, we’ll be sure to send it over to you to make sure you’re cool with it before we put it up. And in the meantime, if you have any questions, anything you’d like me to throw in there, any additions you’d like to make, just let me know.

Me Speaking

Okay, cool. And then in terms of the lengths, you should be able to find everything on my website that I’ve talked about. I’m pretty good with maintaining that because I have … I forget things really fast, that’s why I have everything on there just to remember for future reference. But thank you so much. It was a pleasure being interviewed by you.

Interviewer Speaking

Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you. Have a good one.

Me Speaking

All right. Cheers. Bye.

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