Episode 4. Ebonne Cabarrus

For this long-form blog post/interview, I talked with Ebonne Cabarrus who is currently a student at Make School. She is studying Applied Computer Science and hopes to use these skills to solve real-world problems for underrepresented demographics.

Ebonne Cabarrus



The audio turned out a little rough for this episode so I turned it into a long-form blog post instead!

Frances: Hello and welcome to the Tech Queens podcast. A podcast focused on featuring stories and advice from women of color in tech. In this episode I’m talking with Ebonne Cabarrus, who is currently a student at Make School. She is studying applied computer science and hopes to use these skills to solve real world problems for underrepresented demographics. Hey, Ebonne, welcome Tech Queens. So happy you could make it on the podcast. How are you?

Ebonne: I’m doing good. How are you?

Frances: I’m great. It’s Wednesday, so super productive. Wednesday is supposed to be the most productive day of the week, apparently. Anyway, let’s get started. My first question for you, Ebonne, is going to be like, what is your story? What is your background? What brought you in a tech? You don’t have to answer all those questions all at once, but just give us a little brief intro to yourself.

Ebonne: Definitely. I think I have a unique story because I’m 25 and I basically got into tech in my mid 20s. I was previously living in Texas and I was serving tables at The Myriad and at different restaurants around Houston. I wanted to do something more with my life. I wanted to feel like I have a purpose and I can make a difference. I guess it’s how like, you know tech is like everywhere and I’m like is there any tool that I can use to kind of do the things that I want to do for my community and also just to like make a decent living? I felt like it was a good industry for me to get into. I started like logging on to Team Treehouse and doing all these free coding boot camps and tutorials, but it kind of wasn’t enough. Definitely not enough to start a career and eventually I found out about Make School and it really seemed too good to be true because Make School is like this two year program, you get your degree super quick. They help you get a job and you don’t pay anything up front. For me, that was my biggest barrier, I feel like, getting into computer science was that a lot of these programs are really expensive if you weren’t trying to go to like a four year college and get all these student loans. I didn’t immediately applied because didn’t believe them. Then a year and a half later I was still doing restaurant jobs and I was like, okay, just go ahead and apply. So I applied to the program in maybe like April, I was accepted by the summer and then I came here in August 2018. I’ve been studying computer science ever since and I really love it. I have grown and changed so much since I’ve been here. Of course, it comes with certain challenges in this industry, but I just think the background that I bring has kind of enabled me to navigate it and also getting a different perspective on my projects.

Frances: Wow. Yeah. There is a lot to unwrap there. One thing that really popped out to me was your mention of like student debt. I think that’s actually a huge, just systemic issue, especially in this country. I think student debt or student loan debt rather is the biggest kind of debt the United States has. Also, it kind of reminds me too of the college admission scandal and how people are killing themselves to get into college only to come out with a lot of debt and maybe not a degree that they are really using. I think that was interesting and how you pointed out that Makes School doesn’t have the typical sort of tuition plan compared to other programs where they actually, I guess, don’t charge you until you get a job, right? How does it work?

Ebonne: It’s very outcomes based. They are kind of like, “We are holding ourselves accountable to what we promise you”, which a lot of colleges don’t do. They don’t care what happens to the students after you leave, whether you get a job or not. They are like, look, you owe us money. It doesn’t matter. Whereas Make School, unless you are making a certain income level in this industry, like as promised, you don’t pay them back. But once you are in the industry, you are making what they said you would make based off of the skills gain here, then you start to slowly pay them back from your income over 10 years or so or however long you choose to pay them back.

Frances: Okay, gotcha. So it’s really flexible in that sense and it’s definitely unlike, I think most college programs. I mean colleges just don’t operate like that at all. I think the whole sort of coding boot camp or sort of even alternative CS degree initiatives that have been popping ever since, I think 2012 is when the first coding boot camp appeared, is very fascinating and I think that it has gained a lot of traction too. Thanks for sharing that story.

Ebonne: You’re welcome.

Frances: The next question I was going to ask like, where is your family from and what was your favorite part about growing up in Texas?

Ebonne: Yes. Well, my mom is from Texas, a small town called Port Arthur and my dad is from basically Virginia, New Jersey, so just like on the east coast. They met in the military and got married in Korea and stuff like that. We ended up living in Texas. That’s pretty much where I spent the majority of my childhood. I think my favorite part of growing up in Texas was definitely the food. The food in Texas is so good and it means a lot as far as family bonding because I found that when we did come together it would be for like a Crawfish Boil, a Fish Fry or Thanksgiving. Food and family to me are so intertwined and it kind of just played a big part in my comfort growing up and knowing that that meant that I was going to get together and have this positive experience. I do miss that living here. It actually caused me to learn how to cook because I couldn’t cook before and I was so spoiled down there, but came to San Francisco and I was like, I kind of want to still eat the same way that I was able to eat there and just to kind of remind me of home. So I started to kind of cook those dishes for myself now.

Frances: Nice. Yeah, food and family is super important and I guess in the Latin culture too. So it’s nice to see that kind of connection there.

Ebonne: Yes.

Frances: Also, I’m from Virginia too.

Ebonne: That’s so awesome.

Frances: Yeah. So Ebonne, last personal life question, what do you like to do for fun or rather what are you passionate about outside of Make School?

Ebonne: Okay. I’m really passionate about reading and writing. I’m a very analyze type of girl. I keep dozens of note books just kind of full of my thoughts. I think it’s very therapeutic. I love reading. I’ve been doing my book collection since I’ve got here. Aside from that I really love to go to concerts and just rage. That’s my way of kind of getting my emotions out. So I’ll go to a concert by myself and just kind of party with whoever is there that night and go home, come to work the next day. That’s what I’ve found that I like to do since I’ve been in this city.

Frances: Nice. Okay, sweet. We are going to shift gears a little bit and we are going to go more into like your experiences as a minority woman in the tech industry.

Ebonne: Okay.

Frances: I know you talked about this already, but could you expand more on what experiences drew you to the field of technology?

Ebonne: Yes. I just really wanted to be able to make a difference. That has always been my goal in whatever I do in life. To be making a positive impact on a community level and even global if that was possible. I noticed that technology was becoming more and more prevalent in my everyday life and I also saw it being used in unique ways. I just would have friends who would bring up app and website ideas and stuff like that and I’m like, “Ah, you know, I think I could do that”. I started learning how to code online and then from there it was just… Also, I really love language. Like I said, I have this love of words. Computer is a different type of language than like what humans naturally speak, but it is all about syntax and stuff like that. I was just really fascinated in kind of learning how to make a computer run in different languages and picking up these languages. Just kind of like a super power. That’s what one of our instructors, Danny Souza said. It is a super power. I truly believe that. It has just really given me the tools to be able to address certain things going on in my life that I felt like previously I didn’t feel like I had the most control over and what can I do about that? Now I am able to.

Frances: Yeah, that’s very powerful. I think as to like your instructor pointed out, the whole superpower analogy, I like to compare it to being a wizard and sort of having this editor that you can use to sort of make something appear out of thin air. Exactly like with a good text editor, right?

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: I think those analogies are really fun and I think they do make sense for the most part. I think we are the closest thing to a wizard in the modern world.

Ebonne: Definitely.

Frances: Great. I wanted to again shift gears and talk about specifically your experience as a minority woman in tech. I’m wondering so far in your multiple year journey of getting into technology and studying it, have you faced any challenges or obstacles specifically because you are a minority woman in the tech industry?

Ebonne: Definitely. Really for a number of years I didn’t pursue it for that reason. I just really, especially since I didn’t see anyone around me doing anything close to this. I mean, I just simply thought this was one of those opportunities that people like me don’t have access to. That was like the biggest lie I was telling myself. In a sense it’s almost like the Imposter Syndrome came before I was even in the industry. I just was like, that’s not for you. You can’t do that. Then once I got here and I realized I could do that, that was nice. But it was still such a big adjustment socially and personally just to be in an environment where there aren’t very many people around me that I can identify with. Then also still having the same confidence and like being able to assert myself despite being a minority. Because where I grew up, it was mainly black and brown people. I never really felt like other or as if I was like… If anything, we were the majority in that particular area. Kind of being able to come to terms with that and still be myself and be able to accept help and let my guard down. All these things were very hard for me I think coming into this industry, but I’m learning slowly overcome that.

Frances: Directly related to your last point, how have you been able to overcome that? Like those obstacles, have you used any specific tools or strategies or what has been your method of just tackling these obstacles head on?

Ebonne: I’m still learning, but first of all talking about it. For a while I just was trying to ignore it or act like it wasn’t happening. When it is a very real experience and I don’t think it’s healthy to ignore the fact that you may feel a little uncomfortable or out of place. So I had to first be able to address that head on and once I did it was as simple as reaching out and asking for help. I mean, I talked to some of my instructors. I talked to the dean in my college, like, “Look, I’m struggling a little bit with this adjustment from my old environment into this new environment, especially being that we are in the minority in this industry”. They were more than willing to like help me find a mentor. We are starting a resource group on campus for women of color. Just all these things that seem so small, but they have just really made me feel better to know that there were people around me that even if they didn’t know how to best support me off the rip, they were willing to learn or like help me find someone who did.

Frances: Yeah, I think that’s really important. Unfortunately, I don’t know if this is always the case in the workplace where there is a supportive environment like that where they are receptive and willing to take action on what they have heard from you already. So I’m curious as to if you thought of that too.

Ebonne: I totally agree and I think if you don’t find that within the environment that you are in, I would seek outside resources. I know there is a couple of just meet ups for different social groups that can maybe relate to your specific identity. I think it’s important to have that community. Also, I know when I pick a company that I want to work for, that’s something that I’m going to look for, because I think to be truly happy and for me to grow as an engineer, as a tech professional, I need to be with a company that’s investing in that. So I think that’s just something to consider even when just on the job market.

Frances: In terms of investment, how does that look like for you? Like if a company is investing in you, how does that look like?

Ebonne: Well, for me, I feel like that comes on different levels. I’m in a school environment, so for me that would mean hiring a diverse staff. I think it would mean creating a safe space for students to form their own groups with each other and be able to support each other. In the work environment, I’ve seen some great employee resource groups at different tech companies that I feel like I was really impressed with or I liked. I even liked them just reaching out to, for example, I was at Lyft headquarters and they were talking about how they went to Mexico, I think it was to try and find new talent there and hire employees. I felt like I was really kind of impressed with that initiative because we are typically excluded in a sense from a lot of these opportunities, so I think it’s important to purposely create those for people who didn’t previously have them. Those are things I look for where I feel like, okay, I might be supported in this environment because I can tell that they care by the fact that they are trying to like, not rectify anything, but just kind of [inaudible 13:46] would help people in areas where they may not have been helped before.

Frances: Yeah, for sure. I completely agree. I think this actually does remind me of what you said earlier, like you weren’t even sort of considering going into the tech industry until later on because you didn’t really see yourself in the tech industry. There weren’t many people I guess, who you could relate to leading by example. So I’m kind of wondering, what do you think that young women or someone at an earlier stage would need to see or hear or know in order to consider technology as a career option? Even earlier on, so let’s say you were again a young girl in Texas, what would have really made you passionate about technology at a younger age?

Ebonne: I think that to see women of color who were doing the job would have made me feel like, well, I can do that too. When I see all these companies, they are like large companies and maybe when I see them in the news or when they are presenting their product I don’t see a lot of faces that look like me. I’m sure that they do have people of color that work for their companies and that make great contributions. I just think that visibility and representation is so important. I think companies need to be mindful of that as far as their like, public facing selves, like how diverse will actually come across because I think it can be discouraging or encouraging for different types of people to want to aspire to be where you are or to join your company when they are like, oh, they probably would not hire them.

Frances: Being in the tech industry now, our at least studying, do you know of any women that you can say inspire you now?

Ebonne: Yes, definitely. I’m very inspired. There was student that went here, her name is Tia King. I don’t know how she would feel about me mentioning her, but she is so inspirational to me because she was… She went here last year and from what she told me, at the time she was one of the few women of color here and she was just such a beast within this program. She kind of just show me like what being determined and working really hard and not being afraid to be the only woman in the room or the only woman of color in the room can still like get you. I kind of feel like she inspires me and then also, I’ve met so many wonderful women of color in this industry since I’m actually in the Bay Area and I’m able to visit these different tech companies. They have all gone out of their way to help me or give me advice or just have a conversation with me. That meant the world to me because it showed me that people are receptive to me being in this industry. Those interactions are probably too small for them, but for me it was just like the little push I needed to keep going.

Frances: That’s awesome. And yes, I think in general a lot more tech companies are trying to be more receptive. I don’t know if they are succeeding, but I think they are at least trying. This kind of relates to my next question. Obviously, especially in the United States, not everyone gets the same number of privileges and especially when I think about it throughout my tech career, if I think through the lens of, okay, hypothetically if I were a white man, like what would’ve been easier for me? One of the things that pops out to me is like confidence. Like the amount of confidence I would have in saying no or just saying yes to something even. Like for example, let’s say that there is an active bug on the website and I need to get it fixed and so I propose a solution. I tiptoe around how I propose a solution sometimes even now because I don’t want to come off as too assertive. Whereas, I think if I were in a more privileged position where people automatically just have this confidence in me because of my gender or race or because of my position in the tech industry, that’s just like the reality of it, I think I would just be able to just say whatever I want without really having to think about the consequences of how I say it per say. I’m wondering so far on your journey if you’ve ever had this thought or hypothetical sort of scenario in your head, like what would be easier for me if I were a white heterosexual man in the tech industry. I think this is something that we should consider too as we are trying to make our workplace more fair for everybody and in order to do that we have to recognize that there are already people who have more privileges in the workplace.

Ebonne: Definitely. I totally agree, especially about the confidence aspect. I think that’s like a given for sure. That can be something that can be challenging and I think if I was the white male I probably wouldn’t have these thoughts or hesitations. Also even just getting into the industry, I did some research for a project and I actually found out that women pioneered the coding industry and then when that changed was basically when people started getting personal computers in their home. So now that boys started having access to personal computers, they started to code. But what they found out was, it wasn’t because they were more skilled. It was because they were more likely to receive support from their family for pursuing computer science. When it came down to it, like if it came to buying this boy a computer, they would do it for him versus a woman or a young girl. That wasn’t something they felt like she should be focusing on. I just think the support from your family… and then when they got in the classroom, the boys came in with more skills because they already receive that support from home. I just think getting into the industry from what they’ve shown, is a lot easier just from a young age and then when you get in the classroom feeling confident enough to learn alongside these boys who may come in with more experience. That has definitely been me while at Make School. A lot of these young men that I’m in school with have been coding since they were like 12 years old and here I come, I just started coding last summer and I’m expected to produce the same result. At times that can be very intimidating. I kind of feel like had I grown up in a different environment, my aptitude for this would have been discovered a lot sooner and maybe I would’ve came in already building chat box or like whatever, I don’t know [inaudible 20:22]. So just from that, I think that comes along with the confidence thing and just feeling like you belong because there is a certain culture in Silicon Valley, this like bro culture. So as a woman that can be very uncomfortable. [Inaudible 20:37] they found women were uncomfortable in the classroom because the talk that a lot of the male software engineers had was similar to locker room talk. Just being able to like having to sit with these and still push through while all they have to worry about is showing up, doing their work, going home. They don’t have to worry about being uncomfortable socially or someone who came in behind in a lot of ways. I feel like if I was a white male, the whole experience would probably be easier and I just wouldn’t have to live with this duality of realizing that I’m minority and it’s really cool that I’m breaking through, but at the same time that comes along with its own issues essentially. Sometimes I would prefer to not have to live with that.

Frances: Yeah. Because it all comes down to sort of our intersectionality, like not just being a woman who is already underrepresented and already has to deal with a lot of shit, but also just being a woman of color and it just gets even worse.

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: Just like even statistically, we see that like for salary, equal pay day was pretty recently as you know. When they were sharing the graphs, you could see it, they had to break it down by race and it got worse for women of color. Yeah, I definitely hear you, wish it was better, but it’s definitely a huge systemic issue.

Ebonne: There was a study done that I saw where actually, they sent off 50 resumes for a recruiting company, but they left the names off and like most people got, or it may not have been 50, but it was how many resumes and like all sort of people got a call back, but when they added names to the resume or something that pointed out what the gender of the person was that number drops significantly. It’s like literally having a feminine name, a lot of people have this internal bias where you are seen as less competent. These are all things that we kind of have to fight against while at the same time having to build all these like [inaudible 22:36-22:37]. So it’s a lot, but I’m still thankful to be here.

Frances: Yeah, same. I think that it’s true. Resumes I think are really flawed in general, but it definitely allows someone to discriminate you on so many different data points on your resume. It can be your age because they can see your graduation year. It can be your name because they can see your name. It can be your location, even and your school and where you’ve worked. They can discriminate you on all these different data points, but it’s just hard to think of an alternative to resumes. But what people have been trying to do to combat it is like have blind resumes. So they try to get all those discriminating parts out. I don’t know how well that works. Another one that they try to do is, I believe, make sure that for any of their hiring groups they have at least two diverse candidates, whatever that means to them. That’s another way they try to combat that so that they can hire more diverse populations, like these tech companies. That’s what I’ve heard. But I think the most systemic issue is that resume part because a lot of people don’t get it right and it’s usually people from underrepresented populations and even if they do get it right, they can still be biased against because of the data points on their resume. I don’t know how we are going to solve that. I’m sure there are companies trying to work on resolving that, but I don’t know how well they are doing, to be honest.

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: Okay. That was a lot. I wanted to again shift gears. If you could give any advice to your younger self as you were starting out, what would it be to accelerate the process even more? I know that you mentioned earlier you had considered Make School, but then you decided against it because you didn’t believe it would actually work, I think.

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: So do you think your piece of advice would be to just pursue it earlier or what would be the prime thing you would recommend to yourself if you could go back?

Ebonne: I would tell myself to just believe in myself. I experienced actually like a severe loss of confidence after graduating high school and just realizing how hard it was going to be to climb up almost any career ladder as a woman of color, especially coming from a poor community. So I just kind of lay down like a dog and just looked like, well, this is my faith. I’m accepting it. I wish I could go back and shake myself and just be like, you can change your fate. You can do amazing things. You have the skills, the intelligence. It’s going to be a little harder, but I would definitely just kind of tell myself like, stop feeling sorry for yourself and just go do it.

Frances: Yeah, I definitely needed that advice a couple years ago too. Oh Man. It’s so funny how like stories can be so similar.

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: Yeah, for sure. Oh my gosh. I’m just thinking about it. You mentioned Imposter Syndrome earlier and I think that really just ties into directly what you said. Imposter Syndrome, if you don’t know is basically this feeling of not feeling worthy enough and feeling unconfident about your ability to do something, even if you have a lot of experience in it already. This can happen to anybody from any background. I’m wondering if you realize that was Imposter Syndrome at that time or when did you find out about Imposter Syndrome and what that meant to you?

Ebonne: I really found out when I came to Make School and even then I was like, oh that’s not me. Like I just did it.

Frances: Oh, interesting.

Ebonne: But then over time as I was going through the program, I started to feel a little disconnected. I was showing a lack of confidence and it really showed when I got on a team project. I’m normally a very assertive person and I take leadership and I just did not at all. I realized, it took me until the end of semester and I obviously that project did not go well, but I realized I did not take my usual like assertive position or I didn’t do more for the project because I didn’t believe in myself as an engineer. I was like, “Wow, where did that come from?” Then my girlfriend actually pointed it out. She was like, “Well, that sounds like Imposter Syndrome. Like you pretty much don’t believe in your skills. You don’t believe you deserve to be in a position that you are in, but why would you be here? Why would you have been accepted into this program if you weren’t capable? Surely there after I did the most amazing project I’ve ever done, but it first took me confronting the fact that I didn’t believe in myself and that it was something that maybe have been in my head for years. That’s why I didn’t even pursue the program originally.

Frances: What was that project that you made that was really awesome?

Ebonne: Well, it was like, it was [inaudible 27:34] super advanced for at least my level of programming. I ended up doing a sentiment analysis on prison reform, which is like prison reform. I knew I wanted to do a project concerning that because it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart.

Frances: Oh, wait. What is sentiment analysis? Could you define that?

Ebonne: Oh, yeah. Sentiment analysis is when you analyze the text for a positive or the negative emotion. So I just put like a subreddit on prison reform and I wanted to analyze it to see how people felt about the topic. So it just takes the word and then it’s able to tell whether the word is negative or positive and how many negative or positive words are in this body text. The overall sentiment was emotional. I found some positive out. But it was just so amazing for me to even tackle a data science project without taking a data science classes. I have mostly done very fluffy projects. They are just very safe. I just took this [inaudible 28:35] and I wanted to assert myself as an engineer and I was able to do that. Now I feel like I can take on heavier projects and I won’t be scared to like pick up those framework or language and the next time I’m on a team I think I can show up a little better for that.

Frances: I think it’s really good too that you challenge yourself and you decided to go outside your comfort zone tackle this topic that is a very popular topic now, data science in general and machine learning. You kind of just went head on and also kind of related it to something that maybe you were passionate about too. Were you passionate about prison reform before Make School as well?

Ebonne: Yes. The crazy thing is I was going through my notes in my iPhone from 2014 and this was before I was even in tech or thinking about it and I had an idea where I wanted to do something tech related to prison reform. I literally forgot about that. So just the fact that I still manifested that to myself was so important, because I was at a time in my life where I had all these ideas, but I didn’t have the tools yet. Now that I do I’m able to go back and kind of just make it happen.

Frances: Yeah. I think that’s great too because I don’t think many tech companies think about those kinds of topics, honestly. I know that there is the program, The Last Mile, if you want to speak on that. But basically The Last Mile is this program that tries to take folks who have been incarcerated mostly for nonviolent, drug offenses. I mean, the prison system is just pretty fucked up in this country anyway. But what they try to do is they take those folks who are about to get released, they make them go through a three month program through a coding boot camp like Hack Reactor, which is a local one here in the city. Then after that they pair them up with a tech company for an apprenticeship. If they do well enough there, they get a full time offer. So they are already like, they are on a way forward, which is the most tough part. Once you get out of prison it’s like you are not able to find a job because you have all these like barriers and all of these biases that companies come with where they say, “Oh, you were in prison, like we are not going to hire you”. Here instead we have this like pathway where they can get a full time job and really be able to move forward. I’m wondering just in general what your thoughts on programs like that are and how they kind of intersect both prison reform and technology.

Ebonne: I did find out about The Last Mile while I was doing my research for this whole project. I was so impressed with their initiative and just them kind of taking these people and like just giving them opportunities and their humanity back and it says like I do believe you can contribute something useful to society if you paid your debt. I think they deserve jobs and freedom just like everyone else. I don’t think those jobs should be limited to just the jobs that most people don’t want to do. I think that they could be great engineers.

Frances: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Ebonne: You know, I even had a number of relatives affected by the prison system and some of them are like just truly, really good people. I couldn’t imagine like them coming out and no one thinking that they are worth taking a chance on. I love what The Last Mile is doing and how they are linking them to take internships. I hope other companies take note and start tipping into this reserve and just create that pipeline from prison to programs that can help the world.

Frances: Yes, likewise I also have relatives that have gone to prison mostly for drug offenses. They have all been released since then, but I don’t think that after they were released they even realized like programs like this existed. I do you wish that these kinds of programs expand because there is this massive opportunity in the tech industry to even at entry level come in with such a great salary, such great benefits and it’s an amazing opportunity. If you can just take three months, which is what a coding boot camp is offering, or four months to learn these key skill sets and then get a good paying entry level job or even just an apprenticeship, that’s an amazing opportunity. It should not just be limited to people who already have degrees or are coming in with more experience. I don’t think it should just be limited to them. It should have a much wider reach. So I think programs like The Last Mile are really great and I hope that they can expand even further to target all these different kinds of populations that need those kinds of opportunities, honestly.

Ebonne: Yeah, I agree. So do I.

Frances: Ebonne, we are closing in here. I have just a few more questions for you before we move into our many takeaways. One of my last questions, if you were in a position of power at a tech company, like I’m thinking CTO, CEO, C-suite in general and you had the power to change how DNI was enacted at this company, what is the first thing you would do to try and create a more inclusive space? For those who don’t know, DNI stands for diversity and inclusion.

Ebonne: Yes, I believe diversity and inclusion starts on the educational levels. So I would like to see more companies try to go to ACP user, go to a primarily Hispanic University or create programs for high school students and use inner city communities to learn how to code so that they shouldn’t be, not shuffled into the industry, but so that they can have a direct path into the industry or that you can offer them internships. Maybe if you go to HBCU, look students that you can give internship to. I think it starts on the, you know starts at the smallest level and then from there they are able to bring their unique skills and their unique experiences to the industry starting out. Because I think the higher up you get, it can be harder to do diversity initiatives. Your employee pool isn’t very diverse, but I think you can make it more so by preparing students to come into this industry and by providing them with opportunities to do so within your company. That’s what I would do. I love programs like Black Girls Code or even Make School. You know what I’m saying? I would be going to the schools that have students of color and be trying to figure out how can we get them into our companies or how can we set them up for success? It’s not in our company, but whichever tech company that they would like to go to.

Frances: I agree and I think that tying into like, I guess starting at the lower level and kind of working its way up. I’m also thinking about just currently most employees at tech companies are not women of color. I’m wondering how we can sort of help them help us, you know?

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: To form that as a question, how can someone who doesn’t identify as a woman of color educate themselves better? Because I think that expectation right now is like, just don’t say anything that’s going to rub people the wrong way. That’s the only expectation right now on someone who doesn’t identify as a woman or a woman of color like at a tech company. Just don’t say the wrong thing, but what else can they do beyond just that to help us and educate themselves too better on our issues that we are facing so that we can just all be together. We can all just grow together better as a company.

Ebonne: Definitely. I think that there is certain training that can be done, especially when it comes to like management or instructors, any type of upper level staff. I think that oh, the phrase is escaping me right now. Implicit bias. I think that implicit bias is such a big thing and I think that there shouldn’t be any company right now that is trying to do or any person that is not a person of color, you need to be aware of implicit bias. I think that tech companies can train their employees on that better. I also think that on a personal level, it’s kind of up to you to like do your… Go on Google get some literature and just really try to unlearn and relearn how you think about things, especially as it concerns to the workplace or getting people opportunities. How you may we judge people that don’t look like you. Because all these small things that go on in their head, [inaudible 37:24] thinking are impacting people’s real lives. That could be to like getting a job or not getting a job or that could be them coming to you and then you dismissing them and not taking their concerns seriously. I just think you have to be willing to acknowledge that how you may have grown up or how you came into this or the mindset that you came into it with may not be best for all people. You wouldn’t have known that because you weren’t in an environment with these types of people previously. Then also just be intentional about the opportunities that you give. Like if you are in a position of power, I don’t see anything wrong with purposely wanting to give opportunities to women of color or creating programs that specifically help them. I think that suppose, like I said, they’ve have done a great job. Just being receptive to feedback and wanting to learn and create panels, then hire more diverse staff. It’s just all about… Like, it’s okay if when your company started you weren’t perfect, but are you willing to adjust and learn as people and as a company to kind of expand your world view.

Frances: Right. I think something that I struggle with though is how often do I need to educate someone versus how much should they be educating themselves? Because there is that sort of story, I guess where there is someone who doesn’t come from privileged place and it’s trying to explain to the privileged person like, hey, you can’t do that You can’t say that because x, y, z But then there is that burden on me to explain in the first place I shouldn’t have to do that But then I feel bad later because if I don’t explain it, who will? I guess that’s just the extra cost of being the minority It’s like you always have to explain and if you don’t then there is still a disadvantage anyway What do you think about that? Because you talked about education too and training, but just like on a personal sort of employee level, like one on one, what do you think about those kinds of interactions?

Ebonne: Yeah, I was talking to a friend about this recently and I don’t think it’s our job to teach them how to interact better with people who women of color. I think when someone does say something that makes you uncomfortable or they say something prejudice, like absolutely speak up. But as far as getting into the why or having an in depth conversation, I feel like they should just say, “You know, okay, what I said was inappropriate”. If they [inaudible 40:00] should go and do some reflection as to why or you know [inaudible 40:05], but I don’t think that it should be our burden. We already show up and we already are doing this, so knowing that we are minorities and we have to deal with these certain things. I don’t feel it’s fair for us to take on the extra burden of also educating everyone around us. I feel like if they truly, truly do want to be quote unquote an ally or they want to treat people with respect, then it’s up to them to build the character and the knowledge to do so. I’m not here to teach grown people how to treat other people, but I will just call you out if I feel like you are being inappropriate.

Frances: Yeah. I think even in the workplace too, people have trouble even calling stuff out unfortunately. There is a whole… You’ve got to have the enough confidence to even be able to call somebody out because it places you in a position, especially if it’s someone really high up, that hey, you might be risking your position if you call out the wrong person for the wrong reasons, even if you think it’s completely legitimate on your part. So I think that’s a very fair assessment. In terms of allyship, I think it’s always important to note that you cannot call yourself an ally. Someone has to call yourself an ally. I’ve noticed that, I think on LinkedIn, some people call themselves allies who don’t identify as a person of color or a woman. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to go about it. But anyway, that’s a story for another time. Okay, sweet. So we went through all the questions. Thank you again. Is there anything I left out that you would like to address or talk about?

Ebonne: No. I would just like to reiterate just to have confidence. I feel like confidence came up so much, but I feel like that’s probably the secret ingredient in everything. Things will be hard or you will face certain challenges, but I think if you believe in yourself and you are confident in your position, you will be surprised that the difference you could make and even how you can alter the environment around you. I would just bring that to the table and trust that your perspective as a woman of color matters. I think you bring something special considering the industry is comprised of mostly white men or whatever the case may be. That means that sometimes maybe their perspective or their solutions to certain problems can be limited, so you can be the person that can bring a unique perspective and I think that makes the company a better place. Just wouldn’t let being uncomfortable deter me from bringing my own special sauce to the recipe.

Frances: Oh, I like that special sauce. That is really nice and that ties into like what you talked about like learning to cook and that was something you enjoyed doing. That’s awesome. Yes. I think that’s honestly why, at least part of the reason why I decided to start Tech Queens, because I wasn’t hearing, first of all, enough people like myself talking. If you can’t hear yourself talking, how do you know you are even represented, right?

Ebonne: Yes.

Frances: Especially if you are new to the industry. So I’m hoping that this conversation and the conversations that come through this podcast really help our earlier versions of ourselves come to the tech industry feeling more confident like you said.

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: Okay, so time for mini takeaways. What is a useful app or platform that has helped you grow in your career? #AppAdvice

Ebonne: A useful app? I really like Headspace meditation app I believe when I was dealing with a lot of…

Frances: Wait, what is it? I’ve never heard of it.

Ebonne: Oh, Headspace. It’s an app and it gives you mini meditations that you can do. I would do like a three to five minute meditation before work or something. It really centered me. If you are just feeling a little anxious before you have something due. I think it’s just good way, a good soothing way to kind of quell that. What is another app that I use? Spotify. I know it sounds crazy, but music and podcasts…

Frances: Spotify is great.

Ebonne: Yeah. Music and podcasts get me through my day. If I do ever feel like, I don’t know, I need a little bit of an escape from my environment or all this can be becoming too much I’ll turn on my favorite podcast and I just laugh to myself and it makes me feel better. So those are the ways that I kind of get through [inaudible 44:46].

Frances: Yeah, I love podcasts too. What are some of your favorite podcasts besides Tech Queens, of course?

Ebonne: Yes. Well, I really like this recent podcast. It is like they just talk about pop culture and mental health and like being a queer person of color and stuff like that. It’s called The Read and sometimes it gets a shady or a little vulgar, but the take away really is just like to kind of love yourself and don’t be afraid to walk away from situations that don’t serve you. You get to hear a lot of different people’s perspective and just here like, “Hey, I’m going through this too”. It has just been a big comfort to me lately.

Frances: Right. Just being able to relate to the situation and just being like, hey, I’m not the only one dealing with this crap.

Ebonne: Yeah.

Frances: That’s awesome. Okay, so next mini takeaway is, what does the term burnout mean to you? If you’ve never heard the term burnout, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. This often happens when you are more senior or even entry level it happens sometimes too within the tech industry. I’m wondering… and it can happen too as a student. I’m wondering if you’ve experienced this state already of burnout or how you feel about the term in general because I think especially being a woman and like having to think about in the future if you decide to become a parent, having to deal with that, that could be something that easily comes to you like burning out as you have to juggle these multiple roles. So I’m wondering if you’ve thought of that at all and if that term specifically means anything to you.

Ebonne: Yes. I experience burnout quite often, more often than I would care for because I’m earning a four year degree in two years, so we have to learn everything really, really fast. I’m building a new project every seven weeks and it just gets really hectic. I will find that I start to feel, I guess a little detached or you know I still need to take mental health days, that’s what I call them. But it’s like, okay, I’m not showing up, which I need to be. I found that it’s not so much the work that causes burnout, but not taking care of myself while under all this stress.

Frances: Hmm, interesting.

Ebonne: So not eating or sleeping or drinking water. I’m drinking five shots of espresso a day. Okay, I wasn’t, but two or three shots of espresso a day is not compensating with enough water to be replenishing my body.

Frances: Right. That makes sense.

Ebonne: Yeah. I slowly started to break down and then by the end of the term like the level of exhaustion that I feel [inaudible 47:30] is not cool. That’s another reason why I started cooking because I’m like eating McDonald’s and drinking Starbucks is not going to get you through this. [Crosstalk 47:41].

Frances: Oh, yeah, that’s true. Starbucks has a lot of sugar.

Ebonne: Yes and caffeine [inaudible 47:47], but yes so…

Frances: Yeah, that’s true. Okay. That’s fair. Yeah, you should definitely cook at home if you can people out there. I mean, I fall into that trap too where I get really lazy and I get a Starbucks or I get a smoothie and it’s just like all this sugar or I just go out and get some sweets from like Suzy Cakes or something, which is this bakery near me. It’s not good. It’s not good. I need to do less of that. I think I have recently, but it really fluctuates. It fluctuates for sure. Okay, cool. So next question. What is an organization or affinity group that you would recommend joining? #Friendlies

Ebonne: If you are a product designer or an inspiring product designer, which is like an area I’m very interested in, there is a group and if you are a black woman, Bay Area Black Designers, or a black person. I’m sorry. You don’t have to be a woman. But this podcast is for women.

Frances: True.

Ebonne: So if you are a black woman, if you are a designer or you want to be a designer, they have been great. I went to like… So far I’ve only been able to go to one of their meet up. But I met so many wonderful people there who not only just wanted to help me, but just kind of share industry knowledge and the food was good and the environment was very positive.

Frances: The food has to be good, yes.

Ebonne: Yes. They actually had barbecue.

Frances: Oh, mice. I love meet ups that like will provide you the food, the nice people. They just do everything for you and you just kind of have to show up. Yeah, that’s really great. I’m actually curious, who is in charge of that group right now? I might know who they are actually. Just like out of curiosity.

Ebonne: I would have to look up her name. It’s like in my head, but I know I’m not going to…

Frances: It is the Kat Vellos?

Ebonne: Yes, yes, that was it.

Frances: Oh my gosh. Okay, Kat. Yeah, I actually… I know her. She works at Slack. That’s funny.

Ebonne: Yes, she is [crosstalk 49:39].

Frances: I think she has mentioned the group. Yeah. Awesome. Okay, cool. So last mini takeaway. Where do you live online and how can people reach out to you? #GrowYourNetwork

Ebonne: Sure. I am on Instagram and Twitter. My Twitter handle is EbonneSIMONE. That’s Ebonne Simone.

Frances: I can share that later in the website. That’s for sure.

Ebonne: Then my Instagram is EDOTCLAIRE. That’s E dot Claire. Am I on anything else? On LinkedIn, oh, sure. You can find me on LinkedIn as well, my first and last name. I think that’s it. I try to stay on my social media presence, but I believe that’s it.

Frances: Awesome. I’ll definitely share those links in the episode notes and on the website, of course too. Okay, great. Thank you so much, Ebonne. I really appreciate you sharing your story and advice That’s it for today.

Ebonne: Thank you for having me This was a lot of fun.

Mini Takeaways

#AppAdvice: What is a useful app or platform that has helped you grow in your career?

Headspace Meditation - it gives you mini meditatition so I would do 3 to 5 minute meditations and it really centers me.

Spotify - music and podcasts get me through my day.

#LearnThatTerm: What does the term burn out mean to you?

Yes, I experienced burn out quite often because I’m earning a 4 year degree in 2 years and it can get really hectic. So that’s why it’s really important to take mental health days and to take care of myself like sleeping and drinking enough water.

#Friendlies: What is an organization or affinity group that you would recommend joining?

Bay Area Black Designers - Bay Area Black Designers is a dynamic and supportive professional development community for Black designers living in the Bay Area.

#GrowYourNetwork: Where do you live online or how can people reach out to you?

Episode Description

Hello and welcome to the Tech Queens podcast, a podcast focused on featuring stories and advice from women of color in tech. 👑

In this episode, I’m talking with Ebonne Cabarrus who is currently a student at Make School. She is studying Applied Computer Science and hopes to use these skills to solve real-world problems for underrepresented demographics.

The audio turned out a little rough for this episode so I turned it into a long-form blog post instead. You can find the full interview at techqueenspod.com/episode-4. References and links can also be found there.

If you’re interested in being on the podcast yourself, check out the Tech Queens episode format page for more details on how you can get started.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your tech journey - whether you’ve been in tech for months or decades - I want to hear from you and I want to share your story.

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