Episode 26: Adames Hodelin

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Product Manager of Venmo


 

What made you decide to work in tech?

Well, at the time I decided 4 years ago I wasn’t sure what to do, so I decided to start following a few of my passions. One was Vgames–so in a sense, learn how to code. I also did something called Learn Python the Hard Way, from James Shaw, and from then I realized I wanted to do something in tech. A half year later, an opportunity presented itself at FemRow. A high school friend that I had had joined and was looking for someone to join the customer service department. I wasn’t sure if I liked it yet, but I decided to interview and when I finished the interview I realized how much I loved the company and wanted to work there. That’s why I got myself in tech.

Cool. What was your degree?

It was Public Administration and Political Science. My intention was to become a lawyer.

So that’s completely different from what you’re doing now.

I wouldn’t have imagined myself in tech at all. It really wasn’t anything I was interested in. I didn’t know anything about the industry, or what the companies looked like. I just didn’t have that exposure to any of it.

So then what was your perception before getting into the industry?

That’s a difficult one. It’s probably what you’d see in the Matrix, where you have one of those late 90s tech bubble giants with cubicles.

What do you think of it now?

It’s very different, especially the start-up style. That was something I wasn’t aware of: the start-up culture–that is, until I joined one. I didn’t know what it was like. It was a bunch of very few people committing a lot of their life to working on a project they really liked. It was very scrappy and informal, and I like that.

So what is your day-to-day life in Venmo?

So I spend the morning catching up on articles or emails and things like that, making sure I can just organize myself and get a to-do list for the day. Then after lunch is when I start hitting the pavement. I get caffeinated and I start doing my critical thinking. That depends on the kind of project I’m working on. It may start with the analysis of a previous project; just going through some of the data we may have collected on a project we recently worked on. Or if I’m looking at a new project which will be more creative, what I’ll be doing is collecting information from different sources. What I’ll be doing is writing an email to people trying to get different information on user problems.

Interesting. What has been your biggest obstacle that you have had in tech? It doesn’t have to be coding or programming specific, and it doesn’t have to be in Venmo, but either someone’s perception of you, or experiences in the tech sphere.

I’d have to say because I work on a social product the fact that you can become derailed by social media is somewhat dangerous. I think some of the most difficult things are your mistakes being so public because the user base that we have is so young and vocal. It really keeps you honest, but that’s an obstacle too.

 

What has been your experience as a person of color in tech?

There aren’t many of us. It’s funny because my background is even more different than my skin color. The fact that a lot of the people I am working with were raised with some…they were raised with money or with opportunities I didn’t have. For me I think, what I see most is feeling more different from people because of the options I had growing up, and how I look, and unfortunately that’s often related to other people of color that I am working with in tech. The thing we have in common is not the color of our skin (even though that is the same), but the fact that we were often raised with very few opportunities or had a very alternative college experience or something like that.

So would you mind going into your background? I know you mentioned that before.

I just wasn’t raised with much money and I was homeschooled when I was really young, too. I didn’t have a classic school experience, things like that. When I went to high school, I went to high school in a really wealthy town. One of the reasons why my mother wanted to put me in a school was because she wanted me to learn success from people who are successful, and that kind of exposure was really important for me. Especially because she is a woman from the Bronx and also had a pretty tough upbringing; she saw the benefits of putting me in a different type of environment. One that had way more opportunities and money.

My final question is this: What advice would you give to a young person or a person who wants to get into tech?

I would say find mentors is one important piece of advice. Finding mentors is so incredibly helpful in this industry. It just gives you a lot of open doors, because there are some things you can only learn from them and acquiring people who have the experience in tech companies is really helpful. How you find them is a different question.


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Michael Berhane, Founder of POCIT
Ruth Mesfun

Co-Founder and Blogger for POCiT. She is also piloting the first Computer Science curriculum as a teacher at Excellence Girls Middle Academy in Crown Heights. She was selected for the CS Educator Fellowship at the Flatiron School and is also a member of Teach For America-New York's Ambassadors Program.

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