November 26, 2020

Making Moves: How These Black Women Made The Switch from Junior To Senior Engineer

We spoke to software engineers Ademusoyo Awosika-Olumo and Taylor Poindexter about their career journey, and specifically, the transition from junior to senior developer.

Ademusoyo is a Senior Software Engineer at Mailchimp. She has a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently works on the Websites Teams at Mailchimp, collaborating on building new features for the Websites platform.

Taylor is a proud alumna of the University of Virginia and the co-founder of Black Code Collective. The organization strives to provide a safe space for Black Engineers to collaborate and grow their skills. In addition to this, she is a Senior Software Engineer for a startup called tech co.

What’s your typical day-to-day like as a Senior Engineer?

Ademusoyo: My day varies depending on how many meetings are on my calendar, but on average, I would say it’s 40% coding 40% meetings, and 20% documenting and contributing to the betterment of the engineering organization [as well as diversity and inclusion efforts]. My day definitely is filled with a lot more Zoom meetings, but it’s roughly mostly the same – so long as I remind myself to take breaks throughout the day.

Taylor: I am currently the Tech Lead for my company’s next initiative, so some days are mostly meetings. In these meetings, my team and I work through the details of how things are going with the project, ways we can improve, as well as discuss technical implementations for work that’s coming down the pipeline. Outside of meetings, I check in on my team to make sure they have everything they need to be successful, as well as complete my work as a Back End Engineer.

What do you like most about your role now?

Ademusoyo: I like the ability and the freedom to set the pace and the tone of our next projects.

Taylor: While I love tech, I consider myself a people person, so I genuinely enjoy feeling responsible for the success of my team. Being able to remove impediments for them and make their lives a little easier brings me great joy.

How did you make the move from Junior to Senior?

Taylor Poindexter
Taylor Poindexter

Ademusoyo: A big part of being a Senior Engineer is not just being able to do the work but being able to work with other people in a collaborative and effective way. I made sure that not only was I able to showcase that I had the technical abilities to solve complex problems, but I can also delegate and help other people work alongside them with me too.

Taylor: To be promoted, I focused on becoming self-sufficient and being willing to accept tasks that were slightly outside of my comfort zone. Specifically, I focused on becoming a more skilled debugger so that if I had to ask someone for help, I had a concise list of what I had tried and a specific list of questions for them to answer to help me along in my journey to finding a solution.

Showing that you have put effort into finding a solution not only makes them more likely to help you, you will also learn more than you would by having them feed you answers.

More senior engineers often have a lot on their plates, so repeatedly coming to them and saying, “Can you fix this for me?” can be a turn-off. Showing that you have put effort into finding a solution not only makes them more likely to help you, you will also learn more than you would by having them feed you answers.

In addition to this, while it was absolutely terrifying, I began to accept work that I felt were slightly beyond my skill set. With a supportive team around me, these stretch goals enabled me to grow my skills and reinforce my confidence by showing me that I could indeed complete a task that I originally thought I could not.

Who were your biggest mentors or sources of inspiration?

Ademusoyo: It’s hard for me to pinpoint just one person or a group of people. I think I find mentorship and inspiration from the people that I interact with on a daily basis, both at work and outside of work! However, at my core, my family and friends are a key reason why I still keep going even if some days, I really don’t feel like it.

Taylor: If I had to pick my biggest mentors, I’d say Chloé Powell and Will Durney. As a Black woman, the tech industry hasn’t always been kind to me; however, Chloé and Will gave me the psychological safety I needed to fully spread my wings and become the engineer that I am today. In addition to this, Georgette Kiser continues to be my biggest source of inspiration. It means so much to me to see a Black woman thriving in a position I hope to one day be in.

What’s the biggest change in the industry you’ve noticed since the beginning of your career and now?

Ademusoyo Awosika-Olumo
Ademusoyo Awosika-Olumo

Ademusoyo: For me, one thing I’ve seen is that more people are talking about their different paths into tech. I feel like when I first started my journey to becoming a Software Engineer, it felt that there was only one way of achieving that goal. Now I’m seeing that there are so many paths and everyone can achieve what they want on their own terms, and people are being so transparent and open about that.

Taylor: The biggest changes I’ve seen in the industry is the influx of Software Engineers without college degrees. I think making it easier for folks to get into tech is a beautiful thing, but I do worry about certain bootcamps promising students the world without painting a full picture.

Too often, I’ve had folks tell me that they think they can attend a bootcamp for a few months and come out making six figures. While I’m sure this has happened before, this is an outlier, not the norm. Software Engineering can be complex and nuanced, so it’s hard to jam all of that into three months of learning. So if you’re planning to attend a bootcamp, make sure you’re ready to hone your skills outside of your class curriculum. Network, and acknowledge that it may take a while to find a junior role to officially start your career in tech.

What do you think the industry could do to attract more Black tech talent?

Ademusoyo: I think the tech industry can stop being so elitist. I feel like the tech industry, specifically in engineering, creates this notion that it’s so hard and competitive, which it is, but only because those who have the influence to change it make it that way. Creating a space where people could learn how the tech industry works and how to make a career within that space would encourage and attract more Black tech talent.

Taylor: Focus on fostering true psychological safety in your workplace and recruit outside of your usual recruiting channels to find amazing Black talent. Usually, when I hear of Black people leaving tech, it’s because, in some way, shape, or form, they did not feel protected or valued. This can be achieved by sticking up for Black employees in meetings if you see they’re being treated differently.

But also, in one on ones, managers should ask Black employees if they feel genuinely supported and protected within their org. Emphasizing that it’s important to the company for them to feel safe. If the employee points out things that make them feel less safe, actively work to fix it, and continue to check in to make sure the employee is feeling the positive effects of the change.

As far as recruiting, companies can’t keep doing the same thing and wonder why things are, indeed, the same. If your workforce is already mostly white, and you rely heavily on employee referrals, chances are, your workforce will be more of the same. Reach out to HBCUs and Black tech organizations like Black Code Collective to find other talent pools.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for any junior engineers looking to make their move to senior roles?

Ademusoyo: Find the people in your professional life who believe in your career now as well as for the future. Learn as much as you can about any technology that comes your way, and be flexible with your learning. Your career is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

Taylor: Focus on becoming a better debugger and network. Debugging is one of the most important skills you can have as an engineer, and so many opportunities will come your way if you have a strong network.

Keisha Morant

A freelance writer with a passion for telling impactful tech stories online.

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