Aliseya Wright, Senior Software Engineer

What made you decide to work in tech?

Coming into college, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to major in. I knew I wanted something that blended science and art, but I didn’t know what that something was. An advisor suggested CS, but it didn’t seem like anything I wanted to do.

That summer I had an internship at Sandia National Labs, and I was exposed to web development. I took to it immediately, but the extent of what I could do was limited by the fact that I didn’t have a programming background. So it was decided–I wanted to build websites, so my major would have to be Computer Science.

 

What was an obstacle you faced and how did you overcome that obstacle?

I think I was fortunate in that by not looking like a typical CS major, I had to deal with impostor syndrome very early on. In my first CS courses in undergrad, I remember being very self-conscious about being a girl. I was nervous to answer questions in class–despite knowing the answer. As each quarter progressed, I got a better understanding of what I was supposed to know and where I stood in relation to everyone else. A lot of the problem was just not knowing where the bar was. So, I got past it with exposure and experience.

 

What is your experience being a POC in Tech?

While I know this isn’t the case for everyone, for me it’s primarily been positive. Everyone notices your race and gender when you first meet. It’s naive to say race and gender don’t matter since unconscious–and conscious–biases exist. However, companies are always looking for strong engineers, so I focus on being that first. I also was lucky that in my freshman year I had a friend insist that I join NSBE. Being active in NSBE provided invaluable support, industry exposure and leadership experience. For even the most brilliant students, getting an Engineering degree requires a lot of hard work. Having support from people that have been there, want you to succeed and know what it takes makes a difference. However, I want to also point out that I had diverse sources of support. Not only did support come from expected places, (NSBE, my undergrad and grad schools’ minority outreach programs) it also came from my sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha), internships, and mentors of all races.

 

What was your perception about the tech industry before entering it? What is your perception now?

I didn’t have much of a perception of the industry at all before entering tech. It wasn’t as high-profile as it is now and I didn’t know many people in tech. My older brother was in a technical role at Boeing, and he certainly had a strong influence on me, but I had no idea what a day at work looked like for him. And it never occurred to me to ask.

I was lucky that throughout college I had internships at companies with mature intern programs. Those internships gave me exposure to what working for top companies was really like. Not knowing would have made applying for jobs later an intimidating process.

My perception of tech now is that it really is an amazing industry to work in. It’s a field where your work can have huge impact and it attracts brilliant and visionary thinkers. However, the actual work is very low key. There is a lot of hard work that goes into any significant product and most moments aren’t the high-profile ones. To make it for more than a year or two, you have to be in it because you truly enjoy it.

 

What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who want to enter tech?

1) Remember that the material is challenging, but worth the effort. Getting stuck is normal. Getting something wrong is okay. Breaking the build is part of the process. Keep at it. Keep learning. It gets easier with experience.

2) Keep exploring until you find something you really enjoy doing and somewhere you enjoy doing it. Tech is more than programming,  but even within programming, there are different kinds of programming jobs. Also, companies have drastically different cultures. One bad job, boss, or coworker doesn’t have to the the end of your career; it just means you should keep looking.

3)  What matters most in your success is if you think you can do it. If you want to be a software engineer, you don’t need anyone’s permission. Go write some code.

 

Any projects/ programs/etc. you are working on?
It’s known that tech has a retention problem. I struggled with wanting to leave tech early in my career largely because I had no idea what to expect, and if what I was experiencing was normal. So I’m writing a book about my experience in tech so that others can replicate any successes I had, while avoiding my failures.

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Michael Berhane, Founder of POCIT
Ruth Mesfun

Co-Founder and Blogger for POCiT. She is also piloting the first Computer Science curriculum as a teacher at Excellence Girls Middle Academy in Crown Heights. She was selected for the CS Educator Fellowship at the Flatiron School and is also a member of Teach For America-New York's Ambassadors Program.

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