Ashley Gaie on Being Okay With Failure, & The Power of Practice over Theory!
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Tell Us A Bit About Yourself?
So my name is Ashley Gaie, I’m a Functional Analyst at BetterCloud. I did my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from North Carolina State University and am currently getting my Masters in Software Engineering [via Distance Education at East Carolina University]. I’m originally from Connecticut, and I’m a first-generation American [both of my parents are from the Caribbean, my dad is from Haiti and my mom from Barbados!].
How Did You Get Involved In Tech?
I was in a lot of AP programs in high school.
This was when Myspace was huge. I was making my own backgrounds and playing around with the code and learning HTML and CSS.
A teacher of mine saw that and put me into his AP Computer Science class. He explained that there aren’t a lot of women or black women in Computer Science, and encouraged me to pursue it as a career. I also then ended up joining the National Society of Black Engineers in my junior year of high school.
What was your perception of tech when you started? How has it changed now that you’ve got experience in the industry?
Even though I went to an excellent program, I did not get a lot of hands-on experience. There was a lot of theory, but not a lot of actual practice. Luckily I had two internships in college [which I got through NSBE] which helped. Prior to my internships, I wasn’t aware fully of what my degree would allow me to do [aside from coding]. I initially didn’t start out as a tester, I didn’t even know there was an option where I could remain ‘technical’ and not be a full-time coder. College didn’t teach me that.
Another realization was that I tended to get a lot more exposure to different new technologies working at a startup [versus a larger company]. They’re generally a lot more encouraging. “Oh, you want to try security? Cool. Work on this project with this person” etc.
You mentioned the National Society of Black Engineers earlier. How important are those types of communities and organizations for underrepresented people in tech?
For me, at least it was tremendously important. My support system at my NSBE chapter became my friends. They are the ones that I felt comfortable to say, “Hey, I don’t know if this is what I want to do anymore“. Even getting prepared for my first internship, my NSBE advisor was the one who sat me down and helped me with my interview. She’s helped me navigate what to wear for my first day of work, or what to wear to a career fair.
What things do you wish you could tell a younger Ashley?
Being okay with failure is vital
I thought I needed to know exactly what my path was at graduation, and I didn’t. Being okay with failure also is vital – my grades did not allow me to go immediately into grad school, and I’ve come to understand that that was okay. I’ve even been laid off before.
Another thing – just because you got your first job after graduation doesn’t mean you can start buying things. Start saving, start putting away money, start looking into things like your 401k. Financially just make sure you’re ready.
Internships, internships, internships
Also, internships are huge. Internships, internships, internships. I have friends who did not do internships in college, and they are struggling now because you’re now expected to come out of college with work experience. Internships are huge in the industry.