Kendell Byrd, Buzzfeed Engineer on Tech and Entertainment.
Tell the audience a bit about yourself?
I’m Kendell Byrd. I’m a recent graduate of Swarthmore College where I studied computer science and economics. Throughout my college career which I just finished, I did several internships in tech. I started off my freshman year doing CODE2040 which is one of the best scholarships in the world. In the summer of 2014 I worked at Jawbone as a software engineer intern and season after that, I worked at JP Morgan as a technology analyst, and then in summer 2016, I interned at Facebook as a software engineer intern.
I knew that after college I I tried to connect my interests in entertainment and tech. So, I applied for an interview in Buzzfeed as a software engineer. I’m working in LA now on the production tools for the Buzzfeed.
What drew to tech?
It started in high school for me. I went to a boarding school for high school called Illinois Math and Science Academy, and there we did not have school on Wednesdays. We only had class four times a week. Wednesdays were called Inquiry days. We got to do different research projects or just independent studies, and those types of things. So, during my senior year in High School, I learned about 1871. 1871 is a start-up incubator in Chicago where so many entrepreneurs and people come together.
There were so many different people combining tech in so many different ways. There were medical start-ups, sports start-ups. I just fell in love with it. The rest of the school year I spent my time half doing research in the lab and half working with the start-ups throughout the year. That’s why I got interested in code. I just fell in love with it. So, during my time and learning with them, I started getting on a course like Code Academy, and YouTube and just trying to learn Python and web development. HTML and CSS were my first languages as an introduction. That’s like how I started, and then I entered college and fell in love with computer science even more.
What tips would you give to somebody who might have been in your position a few years ago?
My big tip would be, number one, ask questions. Whether you’re entering a new environment or starting your first CS course, or learning your first or tenth language, just never be afraid to be curious and dig deeper into a problem. Many times when I’ve done Software Engineering internships, I’ve come in and felt that I needed to know everything and know how to solve the problem and things like that, I’ve learned that asking questions and collaborating, working with my teammates allowed me to accomplish things more efficiently and effectively. So, don’t be afraid. First, if you don’t know something asks your teachers and peers. People who have any questions about studying CS, feel free to reach out to me as well after reading this interview. And on that point of just reaching out and collaborating, you can’t do it alone. You get to this build of relationship and network too as you collaborating work with more people. It’s just more fun as well.
Then the other big thing I have is just as I like to say a lot of is “Act like it’s impossible to fail.” Don’t be afraid to try new things. If you’ve been coding but don’t think you’re ready for an interview, apply anyways, trust me your ready. Just in general don’t be afraid to jump into something new. Put yourself out there and reach out to individuals.
What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?
At Jawbone and Facebook, I worked on projects that required me to code in languages I was unfamiliar with. Entering a new environment as well as learning PHP, React, Jinja, and other languages, while trying to keep up with all the tasks I was given was, at first, very stressful. On top of that, at the beginning of both these internships, I was afraid other engineers on my team expected me to know exactly what I was doing and that if I asked them a lot of questions, they would think I was stupid or didn’t belong there. I felt that I had a responsibility to prove myself even more as I was the only black and female engineer on those teams.
However, I believe the uncertainty and self-doubt made me stronger because I developed more confidence in reaching out to people for help and admitting the things I don’t know. Additionally, I learned (and my teams showed me) that asking questions not only allowed me to build stronger relationships with my peers but also helped me accomplish my projects during the summer more efficiently.
Also, another obstacle that I am encountering, now that I have just finished school, is trying to figure out what I want to do in life. I’m currently looking at all the experiences I’ve had so far and talking to my family, friends, and mentors to see ways I can continue to combine my passions. Overall, through facing these obstacles, I’ve learned that the struggles I go through don’t define me, but how I overcome them that do.
Where can people reach out to you and find you?
You can reach out to me on my Twitter which is @flylikeabyrd22. On my Instagram which is at flyerthanabyrd22. Feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in possibly interning or working at Buzz Feed, or just anything like that, or just want to learn more about studying computer science in school, I’d love to talk to you.