Introducing Margaret Ikeda
Welcoming new talent to the tech community
Next up in our #C4QIntroductions series we have an interview with C4Q Access Code developer Margaret Ikeda. Margaret spoke to us about her experience these past 9 months of learning iOS development, during which she has built apps and her own confidence. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
C4Q: Hello, Margaret! Let’s go back to the beginning: where are you originally from and what was life like growing up?
MI: I don’t really have a hometown; I’m from up and down the East Coast. I was born in Baltimore and raised in the South (Georgia) and went to high school in upstate New York. The biggest town I resided in was in the South— in a booming suburb — but I visited New York City when I was 14 and knew right away that I wanted to live here. As far as coding or computer stuff, my dad was one of the original MacHeads, so we had a broken Apple IIc that was just the right size for kids that we were allowed to play with. That was my first computer.
C4Q: Who were your role models growing up and how did that shape your decision making?
MI: My biggest role models of course are my parents and they had a very strong work ethic. My dad is a research scientist and a professor, and my mom always worked (either part- or full-time) growing up — first as a social worker and later with SAP at IBM. Both of my grandmothers worked as well, which was unusual for their time. My mom’s mother was an anaesthesiologist and my dad’s mother was a pharmacist. So I had strong female role models and always knew that having a career would be a defining part of my adulthood. I knew that probably both of my grandmothers might have gone on to be doctors if they had been born in a different time, so other women have paved the way for me being where I am. I think they’re the reason I’m not intimidated by a male-dominated field like software engineering as well as the reason I think it’s so important to bring up other people behind and with me. That’s the only way to keep positive change in a field growing.
C4Q: What were you doing before Access Code and why are you interested in tech?
MI: Before Access Code I was recovering from an illness. Previous to that, I had gone to school for illustration, worked as a freelance illustrator, worked as a medical secretary and in publishing. I actually learned about the need for software engineers and dev bootcamps while at a career rehabilitation center offered by NYC. I was always interested in tech, particularly as a means to express myself. I taught myself HTML and CSS in high school so I could build a website to share my interests in theater as well as bad Photoshop collages I’d made.
C4Q: How did you hear about C4Q? Why did you decide to enroll?
MI: I heard about C4Q from an email from Workforce One, which I had joined the previous year while looking for a day job. I decided to apply because I was looking at dev bootcamps at the time but I knew I couldn’t handle the upfront payments and I was also worried about how much I could learn in only three months coming from a non-technical background. I was also attracted to C4Q’s community model as opposed to other orgs which are super “Type A” and seemed hyper-competitive. I wanted something more holistic and a chance to develop real connections and friendships with the people here, which I feel like I got.
C4Q: How did you develop during your time in Access Code?
MI: I think by doing something so challenging, it drew into high relief what my strengths and weaknesses were, and I realized that seeing both at the same time balanced out into who I was as a person in this moment. I was able to build on my strengths and when I was discouraged by my weaknesses, I realized that my strengths had once not been strengths too. So if I was able to improve in those areas, I could improve elsewhere. And it really helped my confidence a lot because my strengths and weaknesses balanced out, the weaknesses didn’t outweigh the strengths. Also, the support of the community helped remind me of things I was good at when I was down about not doing well on a test or struggling with a concept. I especially learned a lot from Marty, who is a great self-teacher and highly motivated to better himself. I met him in the program and am so lucky to have him in my life. During the program, I realized that I could depend on other people as well as myself.
C4Q: Your focus on personal growth and development is really inspiring and reminds me of your capstone project, could you tell us more about it and what inspired you to build it?
MI: Story Tell is an app that allows readers to read and write their own choose-your-own-adventure stories. I was really excited by the fact that we were creating a tool that would allow other people to express themselves and in particular children who were reluctant readers. I’m an avid reader and writer myself and I know how much both have taught me, opened up the world to me, and allowed others to see into my world too. Being able to help other people find those opportunities for themselves was a big drive to make the app the best that it could be.
C4Q: Did you face any challenges while building Story Tell?
MI: One of the challenges I faced in the creation of the app was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and trusting myself to take on a part of the app that was a core functionality, instead of letting everyone else take on the really meaty work when it mattered most. It’s easy for me to volunteer for things I know I can knock out like design or project management aspects, but these things don’t allow me to grow as an engineer in ways that really count. I had to trust myself to learn on the job and under pressure when it really counted, not just in a “side project” environment, and I’m glad I took that on.
C4Q: What’s next for you?
MI: I want to push Story Tell into the Apple app store, because I think it’s an idea that deserves to be there. In my career, I want to work my way up to a place where I can be mentor and help others, especially people from historically marginalized groups. I’d also like to start speaking at meetups and conferences and giving back to the community in that way.
C4Q: It sounds like you have a really broad perspective, what point of view can you share with the community?
MI: I bring a holistic point of view as an engineer. I have a bit of an eye for design and color, so I empathize with where the designer specs are coming from, and I have interests outside of tech that mean I’m an end user (e.g., I use tech when I garden, visit art museums or theaters, and participate in social media), so I care how the end user feels while they’re using the app or product as well. My outside interests and background also help me keep a jaundiced eye on tech industry hype, as well as have an open mind as to how the tech industry could change for the better.
C4Q: Are there other barriers you’ve faced getting to this point in your career?
MI: Wow, people were not kidding when they talked about impostor syndrome. I went to panels about it, participated in workshops about it, read about it, and I still didn’t recognize it when I started applying for jobs. I found myself slipping back into old habits and applying for the kind of positions I would’ve applied to before C4Q. I was afraid to leverage the developer skills I’d worked so hard to acquire! I started having a lot of negative self-talk about how people would see me in interviews. Luckily, through the support of my boyfriend Marty, and another friend I made in the program, they helped me see the error of my ways. I’ve since recommitted to my growth as an engineer.
C4Q: What advice can you offer other women who want to join or impact the tech industry?
MI: I would remember that the things that make you different are actually the strengths you bring to the industry, even if they are not thought of in the same way that your other skills are. You can be a soft, feminine person and still be self-possessed, which is really important if you want to be in the tech industry. Tech is a very young industry in many ways, too, so if you are a woman past your 20s, you can provide support to other women and bring them up. When you look for jobs, look for women in the C-suite who might be able to serve as mentors for you. Take advantage of all the groups for women in tech, and do all you can to make sure they are safe spaces for others (e.g., women of color, women with disabilities, immigrants, women of trans experience, women from non-traditional/non-privileged backgrounds) so the community can be much stronger going on into the future. Beware of pitfalls like colorless diversity. I’d also say don’t be afraid to challenge the prevailing image of a developer and present and share your truth. You’d be surprised how many people, including people in more privileged positions than you, are waiting for someone to say something different and real. After doing so, there’s a chance people who empathize will find you and that will keep you and the community going and growing for the better.