January 1, 2016

Episode 34 – Awet Alazar

Software Engineer Intern at Microsoft


What made you decide to work in tech?

Growing up, I played video games non-stop with my brothers and it always fascinated me how reality could be recreated virtually. As a kid, I remember telling myself that if I did not make the NBA as a pro athlete I wanted to be a programmer and be around computers and/or video game production. Nonetheless, I unexpectedly ended up in the tech field late in my college career. As I was going into my junior year as an Applied & Computational Math Sciences major, fully expecting to end up with a math-related job, I whimsically applied and was accepted into the Computer Science program. My first internship with Philips Healthcare definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me develop my problem-solving skills. More importantly, it made me realize my passion for software engineering and to see the broad impact that technology can have on the world. However, it was not until my internship with Microsoft this past summer before I knew that this was the field that I wanted to pursue as a career. 

What is your experience being a POC in Tech?

It is interesting being the only black guy in the room (and usually the building), but it is a reality that I have dealt with as young as I can remember and continue to deal with every day. The feeling of social exclusion, the presumption of being less intelligent than my nonblack peers, and the threat of racial stereotypes follow and resonate with me daily. Even though it has significantly diminished over time, the inescapable feeling that I do not belong here haunts me at times when I encounter adversity. Yet, before it sets in I remember how far I have come, how far WE have come, and how far I want to go! Fortunately, student organizations of color have played an integral role in elevating my comfort level and confidence to succeed. As an active member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), it has tremendously impacted my growth as an engineer and provided me with a community of students who relate to my experiences in a PWI and support me when I need it. The amazing network of friends and professionals that I have amassed through NSBE has instilled in me a context for black excellence, as well as a drive to not limit my potential and strive for new heights of achievement. 

Getting to meet more black developers and learn from their experiences in tech has also been invaluable!

What was your perception of the tech industry before entering it, what is your perception now?

I did not have a certain perception of the tech industry, and I generally viewed it as enigmatic. I guess I assumed that only incredibly smart people made it in. After two internships and exposure to companies in various industries, I formed a perception of the tech industry that centers on two key qualities: creativity and passion. It is really cool to see the creative approaches and solutions to the range of problems encountered in tech. And nearly every person whom I have met or worked with possesses a burning passion for what they do. One of the most rewarding parts of my experience thus far is how infectious these qualities are!

What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to enter tech?

1) Explore as much as possible to find out what sparks your interest. Find out what you are passionate about!

2) Consistently work on something, anything. There are so many sites with free material and resources, so go and learn a new language or work on a project!

3) Develop your problem-solving skills and an ability to think on your feet. Once you gain a solid grasp of a language or concept, work on problems that force you out of your comfort zone. These are especially useful when it comes to landing an internship, not to mention when issues arise during your internship.

Shameless Plug?

If you are involved in tech in the Pacific Northwest, specifically the greater Seattle area, hit me up: https://www.linkedin.com/in/awetalazar. As I am new to the tech scene, I would love to meet other POC and learn as much as I can.

Michael Berhane

Co-founder and CEO of peopleofcolorintech.com & pocitjobs.com. Also the co-host of the #Techish podcast! Full Stack JavaScript developer by trade.

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