Fadumo Osman, Computer Science & Politics Student at NYU
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Fadumo. I’m going to be a third-year student at NYU, New York University. I study computer science and politics. This past summer I was at Facebook working with a product marketing manager as well as a civic engagement team. What I eventually want to do is work at the intersection of programming and government, making government more efficient.
What interested you in technology as a [vehicle] for you wanted to do?
I started college two years ago as a biomedical engineering major. I wanted to work with medical devices. I’m originally from Somalia, and so coming from a background of knowing that there are people that didn’t have access to simple medical devices, it got me interested in the idea technology but nothing to do with programming. So, I came in on my first-semester taking bio and chemistry courses, and I was like, “When I can build things?” And they were like, “Oh! You’ll do that in grad school, just take your science classes for now.” So, I lost interest in the field of tech because I thought that was the route to go.
I then joined the ‘women in tech’ group at NYU and all these gals that were studying CS. They were combining CS in business. I was like, “Oh! You can do that?”
That’s how I switched to computer science because I thought I could work on the programming for medical devices. And lo and behold later on I took a political class, and I’m like, “Wait, this is interesting!”
Being a Black Muslim woman my narrative has always been reflected in politics but not necessarily in the way that I’d like it to be. I got really into politics and picked it up as a minor. Then I figured that there was a way I could combine the two when I attended Grace Hopper for the first time last year, last October. I heard the CTO of The United States talked about how they are making the immigration system much more efficient, how they trusted their young interns to work on such things. I was so used to the idea of needing a lot of expertise and a lot of jobs under my belt to ever be taken seriously. So, seeing these people that were just a couple years older than me, making such a significant impact on the stage made me switch again. I guess it came from the place of wanting to help people and wanting to take control of my narrative and story.
What was your perception of the tech industry before you entered it? Has it changed now since you started dabbling in it?
Yeah, kind of. What’s interesting is my dad was a software engineer, he’s still into engineering a bit, but I grew up hating wherever he worked at. I didn’t ask him much about it, but I just heard phone calls with coworkers, saw the kind of work he was working on, even visited him when it came to “Bring your kids to work day.” It all seem like a boys’ club, not even only a boys’ club, my dad was the only person that looked like himself. I didn’t know that I was too young to ask, “Hey Dad, are you comfortable? How’s the work life, and everything?” But soon after I entered the engineering school when I was a biomedical major, even in my writing courses, I would be the only girl, the only person of color in classes. That never really bothered me because I grew up in an area where my family would be the only ones that look like us. It was the attitudes of my classmates, I would hear sexist jokes, just people never taking me seriously when I told them I was an engineering student. I hated it.
I hate to be pessimistic. I would always be the one to be like, “I don’t care if I am the only one, it doesn’t get to me.” But imposter syndrome got to me, at the end of the first year, I was like, “Is this the place for me.” Even though there are a lot of girls that are in pre-med or people of color in pre-med, even then I felt isolated, and so it was joining the ‘women in the tech’ community. Joining Twitter helped me. I made so many friends that I haven’t even seen in person yet. I’ve had excellent conversations in regards to how do you care for oneself, how to balance being where we’re at, and being OK with needing to step back, and accepting failure sometimes.
Even though my dad was a software engineer, I had never coded before college, so I think you’ve seen this before, it feels like other people have been coding since they were in diapers. I would say things have changed in regards to how I approached different situations. If I enter an event, and I can tell I’m the only one there, I take a deep breath, maybe tweet about it [laughs].
How was your experience with Facebook?
This summer was interesting! I’m sure you’ve heard all of the awful things that have occurred in regards to what’s going on in the nation, and what’s been going on forever, but now people have been using live video on Facebook and recording instances. It’s interesting being a black intern at Facebook this summer because I knew the company noticed what was going on and reached out to us interns.
I felt like a lot of us interns it was the first time being in a place where it’s like, “OK! We’ve always criticized these companies, but now we are here, so what can we do about it.” I feel like we’ve got a whole lot of things done outside of our day to day jobs. After the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shooting, we created the vigil and moment of silence, and the company supported it. What I found absorbing was, we intern got the ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner on Hacker Square in the middle Facebook and everything, and all these articles came out about how Facebook was pretending to care about ‘Black Lives Matter,’ etc. We were like, “What, no. We, the black interns made that happen.” But then PR was like, “Oh, no it’s fine. We have bad stuff written about us all the time; you guys can’t say anything about it.” We’re like, “Huh, are you serious?” It was the whole bureaucracy thing again, and I’ve seen it time and time again being in college and everything. I got to see how interns could make a difference and come together when it comes to things like that. I can also see how things can be twisted quite easily.
It was an exciting summer; I would say I liked being there, and I felt like I made an impact. I would say there’s a lot of work to be done, and the company was open to being criticized by us interns like, “Maybe you should do this, maybe you should do that. We understand you have long-term goals, but there is an immediate funnel of talented black and other people of color that you could tap into, maybe you’re not using all the right recruiting processes to get to these people, but we know them because they’re our friends.” And, they listened. I would say I would come into it with an open mind, and just knowing that you have to push a little, and they’re not going to deny that having a diverse workforce is something that’s beneficial for sure.
Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?
I would say, my dream job would be to work at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. I feel like they have the power when it comes to having the President by your side. You can advise the president: “Hey, you should say XYZ to Silicon Valley to make this, and this happen.”
I would also like to be my own boss. I’ve learned so much just working on my own. Last semester a couple of friends and I put together this website quickly about having our peers respond to disasters [such as the Syrian crisis that’s still ongoing]. We felt a lot of our friends were apathetic, and I’m still indifferent from time to time. The world is pretty sucky, so we built a one-stop shop for our friends to contact their official representatives, donate to different trusted organizations, or just learning more about issues. And so I’m like, “Hey, maybe I can just build my products in the future”, they’ll need funding, so we’ll see.
What tips would you give to a younger self, perhaps three to five years ago?
I would say reach out to strangers even if you feel they are super experienced and won’t have time for you. Even if you have to pull the ‘student card’, they’ll listen to someone younger asking for advice.
I would say be open to change as cliché as it sounds. If you told my freshman year self that I’d be dropping pre-med, wanting to work in politics and that everything that I told myself since I was a little kid wouldn’t necessarily come right. It would be very nerve wracking. So I’d say be open to change.
The last thing I would tell myself is to take care of yourself, it’s easy to get caught up with things, [and I understand as being a student you have to pull all-nighters to get things done] but it’s not worth the stress. Especially if you feel like you’re always comparing yourself to other people and what they’re getting done. Everything will work out; that’s something I still tell myself.
Is there anything that you want to plug?
Right now, no. Just follow me on Twitter, my name is Fadumzz on all handles; I love to tweet.