March 7, 2016

Episode 46- Stephanie Morillo


Copywriter at Digital Ocean

Cofounder at #WOCinTechChat

I saw that you worked right now at Digital Ocean. What do you do there and what was your position before that?

Sure. I am a copywriter at Digital Ocean. so what that means is I’m responsible for a lot of the marketing copy, website copy, emails, blog posts, and increasingly now micro-copy within the platform. Whenever users go onto their dashboards or spin up a few servers, a lot of that small copy that says, “Choose your droplet, choose this, choose that”, I actually write a lot of that too. It’s cool; I span from marketing to design and creative products, so I get to touch a lot of stuff and also internal documentation that we use in-house as well.

Before then I worked for General Assembly. I was at GA for two and a half years. I started out as a teaching assistant for the back-end web development course that they have there. After that, I worked on their web development and Mercy Boot camp in New York and then I joined the marketing team.

Tell us what Digital Ocean is and what they do so everyone who’s watching it completely understands.

For sure. Digital Ocean is a cloud infrastructure company. We seek to make cloud infrastructure simple. Which means if you are interested in having your website hosted, and you need servers, we provide the servers for you to use to put up your simple site, or a huge web application

We also publish a lot of tutorials for people who don’t know much about server management or infrastructure in general who want to get their stuff up and to run. We have about eleven hundred tutorials right now. Its great especially for people who don’t know much about servers.

How did you get into tech and the tech space?

One of the instructors at Flatiron School, Steven Nunez, is a good friend of mine. We’ve been friends for about fifteen years, and he taught me how to program in 2012. I was in between jobs, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I thought that I wanted to do more community management type work, and he was like, “Well why don’t you learn Ruby?”, and he started teaching me Ruby. I spent about a year just on my own and classes with him learning Ruby on Rails. Then he was hired at Generally Assembly to develop their ten-week back-end web development course.

He brought me on as his first teaching assistant for that first actual ever course that they had at GA and from there I stayed at GA. I was working in non-technical roles, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I attended my first Ruby Conference. I got a scholarship to attend Madison Ruby in Madison, WI. That was the first time that I ever really inter-faced with a lot of software engineers, software developers.

It wasn’t until I started going to the Ruby conferences and doing the Ruby circuit, that I began to immerse myself more and more in the community. About a year and a few months ago I started to think, “Well maybe I’ll want to go the software developer route.” When I learned Ruby that was the official plan. It was, “All right, I’m going to learn Ruby. I’m going to learn Rails and then I’m going to get good at it and them I’m going to get a Junior Dev job”, but I wasn’t really sure if that was exactly what I wanted to do. I have lots of interests and I’m very much a big picture person, so I like knowing enough about one thing to be like, “Okay I kind of get how that works”, but then I find something else that peaks my interests and I want to know how they’re related. I didn’t know that being a developer was exactly the right path for me.

I had to do a little bit of soul searching, and I’ve been a writer for almost all of my professional career. I had started on strategic communications and PR before I went into marketing, before then I went to the start-up scene, but I realized a few things. I realized I love writing.

I started trying to figure out, “Okay well if a developer isn’t what I want to do, I know I want to work in tech. I know that I want to speak to a tech-minded audience, what do I have to do?”, and I kind of landed on technical writing being the path for me. I wanted to work for a SAS company or a platform as a service company. I know that I wanted to work for a company that had a highly technical product that was geared towards developers. That led me directly to Digital Ocean because I knew for a while that they were looking for writers and they actually had an opening.

Through this whole past year of soul searching a lot of other things happened. I was speaking at conferences on top of already attending meetings. I started talking a lot about diversity in the tech scene. Christina and I founded Women Of Color in Tech chat in June. I was plugging myself into conversations around pay in the tech space, what groups were being left out of the diversity in tech discussions, so the first half of the year I was focusing on the diversity in tech stuff. As time went on, I realized I wanted to focus a lot more on the writing and writing for a tech-focused company. I did both of those things in parallel for a while.

Tell us about Women Of Color in Tech then, because I thought that you guys started that two years ago the way that is had transformed, so to hear that it began in June, I’m like, “Wow.”

Yeah, it happened crazy. There was a lot of things that led up to the Women Of Color in Tech chat. Christina could tell you her side and what led her to that path and then what led me. For me, it started about two years ago when I was working at General Assembly I just noticed that there weren’t many other women of color in my office. I noticed that anytime people would say, “Yay we have X amount more women this year than we had last year.” I would look around, and I was like, “Okay that’s great but why don’t we have more blacks and Latinas and these groups that I see myself a part of.”

I’m Dominican, I’m Latina, so I didn’t see myself in that crowd. In April I penned this blog post where I talk about, it’s entitled something like “Houston We Have a Problem”, as the problem with diversity in tech, and I just lay it out. I say, “Well every time we talk about women in tech, it’s very clear that white cisgender women are the women that we are putting up there, that we’re propping up there for diversity.” Which is great because they are women, and are underrepresented, but for people of color and for other marginalized groups that don’t get that kind of face time they don’t get that kind of visibility. I mentioned how as a woman of color you have to decide which category you fit in. Are you a person of color or are you a woman? Why can’t you be both things at the same time and why isn’t that okay?

I think even the breakdown of statistics also tends to inadvertently erase groups that belong to multiple underrepresented groups. I think it’s very important so this is a conversation that I was already thinking about in April. In May I asked Christina because I knew that she had been a community manager for Code Newbie, if she would be interested in helping me create just a Twitter chat. I really wanted to know what other women of color are out there. Christina and I are both women of color and we both connected through Twitter, so we thought Twitter would be a great platform just to see who else was out there, what people were doing. It was very frustrating for us to be from New York, a major city, a city that’s a massive hub for start-ups and the tech scene, and it’s very difficult to find women of color. It’s very difficult to find black women, Latina women, and there weren’t many places for us to meet. You might meet somebody at a women in tech event, but I wanted it to be very intentional and for it to be women of color in tech.

We settled on the hashtag which had been around since about 2010, but had very little traction; groups would use it a few weeks at a time, but the last time it had been used was about six weeks before we started the chat. It was just going to be a chat. It was going to be a one-time thing. We came up with a list of I think eight questions, five minutes leading up to the chat we didn’t know what was going to happen. It started, and it blew up our mentions. We didn’t have the women of color handle. We were using it from our private Twitter accounts, and it gained traction and people were like, “Okay, when’s the next one?”

Why do you think you were the first ones to do this?

Yeah, for sure. Of course, some organizations have done this to different varying degrees and their aims were entirely different than what we were doing. I think obviously there were a lot more niche organizations, as there are organizations that cater to Latinas, that cater to black women in tech and other groups, but Christina and I wanted it to be more of a banner. We didn’t want it to seem that the struggles of all women of color in tech were the same because that’s not the case whatsoever, so having it this one banner wasn’t to say, “Oh yeah we’re all in the same boat.” It’s very obvious that there are groups that are at more disadvantage than others when it comes to being represented in the tech industry.

We wanted it to be very much about a sisterhood, about feeling like, “Okay we’re kind of like all of the outsiders in a grade, we’re the kids that don’t fit into any other groups, so we’re going to sit around the table together at lunch time.” That’s kinds of what we wanted to do, and we wanted I don’t know. To be honest I think Twitter really helped with that. Christina and I already had a platform on Twitter. We had been tweeting about tech and things going on in tech for a while. I think having that audience was what actually helped us because if you can inject yourself into the tech community on Twitter and of course, there are sub-communities depending on languages and all kinds of stuff, but if you can get into that community, I think that being a part of that community helped us.

This started on Twitter; this was a complete one hundred percent Twitter invention. It didn’t exist outside of Twitter. It’s very easy for people to be like, “Whoa this is cool”, and if they know you, if they trust, if they are aware of your work. I had been writing about diversity in tech for over a year at that point on Model View Culture. Christina had been attending numerous events in New York City. She’s been volunteering through Code Newbie, Black Girl’s Code, so people knew that we were about it, but then to kind of call it what we did, Women of Color in Tech chat with the hashtag making it very Twitter, very 2015, in every sense of the word.

I think that it was just something that could have only happened now the way that it did, and again because we were very clear about it being a group. We wanted it to be about women of color and trying to represent as many different kinds of women of color as we could, and even extend it to non-binary people of color, because there were people that reached out to us. They said, “You know what, I want to be a part of this community, but I don’t identify as a woman, I identify as fem, I don’t fit the gender binary, but nonetheless I really would like to be a part of this community.” We thought, “Okay cool, This is going to be a space for you too.” If it wasn’t for Twitter, I don’t know how this would have been possible.

Awesome. Final question, What advice could you give to people of color who want to enter the tech industry, either if they want to enter it though a technical route or even better like a non-technical route?

Yeah for sure. I can talk a lot about the non-technical way because I have a lot of people who are like,”Okay you’re a writer with experience in communications, and you want to work for a tech start-up, why?” I had to be very careful about framing that story probably, what I would say is first of all if you want to enter a non-technical position, I would still try to learn something technical. Whether it’s learning how to program, starting a blog from scratch or learning how to host something on Heroku, Digital Ocean, so that you get your hands wet.

I think one of the things about the tech industry is that fundamentally the people that work in tech are curious, they’re curious. They’re people that want to learn, that want to get it. They want to understand, and I think that if that’s the audience that you wish to speak to, getting to know even a little bit of it will let you know whether or not tech is for you. Working in finance or operations at a SAS company may seem like it’s the same as working at a financial firm but it’s not. The product is very different and even if you’re not working on the product side, you want to know what the product is because that’s the company that you’re going to be working for. You wish to know if this is the company that is going places that you’re interested in going.

I would say that for people that want to do the non-technical route, that’s the greatest piece of advice, just start reading about what different technologies are out there. Start going to Meetups, start meeting people because the tech, the start-up scene is very different than the corporate scene which is obviously very different from government and other industries.

If the tech company that you’re in now is not the one that you want to be in in five years you kind of want to tell another company, “Yeah I’ve worked in the tech scene, I understand x,y,z.” I’d say get to learn as much about technology as possible. Be curious, that’s the first thing. Be curious, and show that you’re passionate. People that work in tech are passionate. They want to like you, remember that when you go to an interview, they want to like you so show that passion, show that enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid of learning something new, you don’t have to be a master of all trades, just know enough about it so you can have a conversation about it.

Check out their #WOCinTechChat stock photos and events here.

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Ruth Mesfun

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