Episode 69 – Paola Mata
iOS Engineer at BuzzFeed
Coalition for Queens Alum
What made you decide to work in the tech industry?
I was initially in an administrative/office management roles. It wasn’t planned. I started a blog, and I became interested in learning how to code and started looking into boot camp programs. A lot of people who I knew had changed their careers and I thought maybe I could do the same since I wasn’t very happy doing what I was doing. I was eventually accepted into a program at a nonprofit called the Coalition for Queens. They were running a pilot program teaching IOS development. I knew nothing about it but it was an opportunity, and I took the course.
What were your primary obstacles regarding getting involved in the tech industry?
It’s a pretty big learning curve. And at the time the access code program was still in pilot, so I didn’t graduate from that programming job ready, but I was connected with an internship.
I think that’s probably the biggest challenge, knowing what I needed to do to get hired, to land a job. Basically, for me, it was a matter of actually going to interviews and asking the employers what you are looking for, what is it that you would expect from somebody coming in here to be able to do. From there I realized that I still needed to learn some things specifically in IOS development, not just about software in general. So, I took the time to get stronger on that front, to build my portfolio. It’s a matter of gaining the confidence to be able to walk into an interview situation and be able to speak confidently about your code.
What did you need to brush up on?
What I needed to learn was very specific IOS related things, getting better at writing code, or just cleaner code in general, and get better with design patterns. It was mainly more experience, having worked on different types of apps.
Tell us a little bit about NYC Tech Latinas. What was the reason that you decided to start it?
Sure. My friend Yvonne, she also works here in New York City. We went to a lot of meet-ups on our own when I was just getting started. I wanted to get exposed to different types of things and new people. What we noticed is that there had been one Latino Tech meet up and when we showed up there were maybe one or two women out of a group of maybe twenty-five or thirty people.
We thought it would be great to create a community of Latina women, because we know we’re out there. In the beginning, it was a slow start, and not many people had heard of us, and no one knew we existed. It was a matter of growing the community and getting our name out there. Now, we’ve been around for three years, and we host monthly events, and we have a website where we list our events and also do some great workshops. We host a variety of topics that are open to people.
Were there any preconceptions you had about tech before you entered the industry and had any of that changed?
Yes. I learned to program back in High School; my High School required a major. I chose Computer Science at that point. So, I was learning to program, and it felt incredibly dull because I didn’t get to work with anything visual, [we were just writing BASIC]. The Internet at that point wasn’t what it is now; we didn’t have smartphones. So, I originally had this notion that the tech was boring and specifically non-creative, which is why when I graduated high school I chose English, I thought I would be a writer. What’s interesting is going back into tech and being introduced to mobile it’s just how creative you can be while being technical.
Are there any tips that you would give to somebody who’s thinking about making a career transition?
Sure. I think for me it was just doing research, getting information, specifically talking to people who are in the industry already and learning how they learned. Learning from their experiences and what worked and what didn’t work. I always try to answer any questions, a lot of people approach me and ask how I did it. So, if anybody has questions, I’m here.