4 Questions 4…

Spring is almost here…

Many of you are thinking about summer internships while some of you are about to make the big transition from student to full time employee. Our March newsletter will feature insight and advice from tech professionals who have navigated these transitions and have a lot to offer students at the beginning of their career journey.

Kesha Williams (Senior Software Engineer, Chick-fil-A Corporate)

Tenji Tembo (Senior UX Developer, Must Win LLC)

Isaac Elias (Lead Software Engineer, True Link Financial)

Marissa Ramirez Zweiger (PhD Student/Graduate Student Researcher, UC Berkeley/Oak Ridge National Lab)

What advice would you give your 19 year old self?

Kesha Williams: The one piece of advice that I would give to my 19-year-old self is that when it stops being fun, get out! When you’re working hard on a job and find yourself stressed out every day, it is time for you to leave. Life is too short for you to be stuck in a role that you are not passionate about and don’t enjoy. Now, in order to have job mobility, you must keep your skills current with what’s in demand on the job market. Do not let yourself become stuck in a position or at a company because no one else wants to hire you because your skills are outdated.

Tenji Tembo: You’re in that seat for a reason. Never forget that. It’s always good to maintain your humility, but never question your ability. You’re in the place you need to be, and the only right way to climb is up. Always keep learning, always keep asking questions, don’t be afraid to fail. Fail fast, and learn from it, to come back even stronger than before.

Isaac Elias: Calendars and to-do lists can be like an Iron Man suit for your mind. Please continually improve your use of them.

Marissa Ramirez Zweiger: Don’t despair! You have no idea what is in store for you. Don’t spend so much time alone studying. Recognize that networking can be just as important to building your career as your technical skills.

Tell us about your biggest failure. How did you overcome?

KW: My biggest failure occurred early in my career as a software engineer. I failed to realize that success is a team effort and that no one can (or is expected to) do it all alone. When first starting out, I felt that I needed to figure out everything by myself and was often afraid to ask for help for fear of looking stupid. I was a young woman, in a male-dominated field, and often felt like I was under a microscope because I was different. I felt the need to prove myself by being smart enough to figure things out on my own. I think it is good to be able to figure things out on your own, but you have to also use good judgement to determine when you need to raise your hand and ask for help. Because I didn’t ask for help when I truly needed it, I caused the project to miss a critical deadline that delayed us for months. I learned two lessons during that difficult time period. First, when working on a team, the team is working toward a common goal and every person on that team wants the team to succeed. People are willing to help you when they know you need it. Second, it’s okay to ask questions when something is not clear or to ask for help when you need it. I’m smart, but no one can know everything! That failure taught me to collaborate with others more and to lean on team members that have been around longer and that know more than I do. I used that failure as a lesson learned and because I learned from it, I never repeated it again. Failures can turn into valuable lessons, if we choose to learn from them!

TT: One of my bigger failures involved some programming, some miscommunication, and my failure to move quickly on my mistakes. This lead to time & budget constraints, and overall stress not just for me, but for the people I work with day to day, as well as worst of all, the client. After raising my issues, we worked to resolve a solution that all parties could get behind and execute, as well as volunteering time off-hours to help push the product out the door in order to achieve client satisfaction.

IE: After getting out of the Army, getting a Business degree, and teaching myself how to code using PHP & MySql, I was working at a small company as a developer. Then I got laid off right before the holidays. I looked for work for about 5 months unsuccessfully with bills for a family of 5 piling up. Eventually I attended a coding bootcamp and relocated to get my foot in the door as a real engineer.

MRZ: Failing my elementary analysis class in college. It was the first time I had ever worked so hard at something and just completely failed. In a practical sense, overcoming was simple, I just picked myself up and took it again the next semester, but learning how to emotionally accept the failure was the difficult part. I didn’t let feeling like a failure stop me from pursuing new opportunities. I continued to apply to every research opportunity I could, take every meeting I could, and continue my degree. I tried my best to project confidence in my abilities, even if I didn’t feel it myself. Eventually I met someone who didn’t care about my grades and her recommendation helped me land my first job out of college, working with the most powerful supercomputer in the country!

What’s next for you? What are you excited about?

KW: As a software engineer, I am always learning the latest technology and playing with new gadgets, which I find very exciting and fun. My next stage of life still includes software engineering but also introduces mentoring, volunteerism, and giving back to the younger generation. I am passionate about solving the STEM shortage by introducing people (especially young girls) to technology early on. Lately, I’ve volunteered with several organizations/projects that share my same passion: Black Girls Code, Usher’s New Look Foundation, Technovation, MentorNet, Junior Achievement, Code.org, and Colors of STEM. I am excited to be able to use my roles of software engineer and mentor to influence the younger generation to consider a career in software engineering.

TT: I’ve only recently become Senior, and I’m excited for the increase in roles and responsibilities I’ll partake in at Must Win LLC. I’m in a new city with new opportunities, and ready to help the company grow and prosper, as I also grow as a developer.

IE: I’m continually trying to come up with an Android app concept that I feel good about putting out into the wild. Nothing too large-scale or fancy, just a simple thing that’s well made. I’m excited about the continuing and creative efforts for freedom and true equality in these United States.

MRZ: I’m excited to have the opportunity to keep learning more. I’m now focusing on a particular application of mathematics and computation (nuclear physics) which is providing a new, interesting set of challenges. I’ve also been spending a lot of time thinking about the future of supercomputing. Is throwing more processors at a problem always the right solution? What new architectures can we leverage? How can we be more clever with the math? I’m grateful to be learning from and among some of the brightest people trying to answer these questions.