10 Questions with Omayeli Arenyeka
Omayeli Arenyeka is an Engineering Resident at Siberia — a global design and engineering firm. This past summer she was a front-end engineering intern at LinkedIn and a CODE2040 Fellow. She is an international student from Nigeria studying Art & Code in the School of Individualized Study at NYU. Follow Omayeli on Twitter at @YellzHeard.
- When did you know you want to be in tech?
I took my first Computer Science course at NYU because I was undecided, and it was one of the 5 professions my parents thought was reasonable to pursue.
I did pretty well in the first class so I took the next one. I had a harder time with that class so I started thinking about how much I didn’t like what I was making. However, a few weeks after we submitted the first assignment, we had a substitute professor who demoed a game in class that he made in Processing, a creative coding platform. At that moment I thought to myself, this is what I want to do. I wanted to make art projects with code.
I spent the next two years (sophomore and junior) trying to get immersed in that world. I did a couple side projects on my own, but it was difficult because all the classes I wanted to take were in my school’s graduate ITP program, and that was also where places I wanted to work — studios like Eyebeam, agencies like Huge, or design firms like frog design — were looking for students to hire.
I got my first “actual” internship about a week before the start of the summer. Because of how hard it was for me to break into that space I shifted focus and started taking more traditional Computer Science courses. I was prepared to try harder to get an internship at an agency or studio the next summer (summer 2016) but one of my friends suggested I apply for the Code2040 program, and one day I just decided to.
Then LinkedIn reached out to me. I interviewed and got the internship. I think it was about 2 months into my internship at LinkedIn that I started to see myself working in the tech industry. The first couple weeks I was dissatisfied with my project because I wanted to be doing more artsy work, but as I got more into it and started thinking about the impact it would make and how much more of an impact tech companies could have (this is also due to my experience at CODE2040), I decided I wanted to stay.
2. Who’s been a role model you look up to?
I look up to a lot of people for different reasons. If they’re in the tech industry, they tend to be people who think outside of it.
My friend Terri Burns is Twitter famous, and I’ve seen her use her platform to raise money for organizations she believes are valuable, which is pretty cool. My CODE2040 mentor from over the summer, Yang Hong, because she came from an Electrical Engineering background and managed to find her way into the tech industry. She’s also really smart, knowledgable and interested in a lot of things. She draws. She’s writing a a book (not about tech) and wants retire at 35. She inspires me to think ahead and live my best life. She’s also really kind and thinks a lot about the world. I think that’s something common in all the people I look up to. They think about the world and their place in it and how they can use their privilege to help others.
“I think that’s something common in all the people I look up to. They think about the world and their place in it and how they can use their privilege to help others.”
3. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The company I’m at right now — Siberia — is really cool! This is the first time I get to work on stuff I can’t talk about so that’s been immensely gratifying for me to say — I feel much closer in my path of becoming a government spy. But on a more serious note, I really like the focus on experimentation and creative ideation. They are working on a lot of cool, futuristic stuff but also very practical and important projects.
The tech industry in general gets me excited because it’s now growing rapidly in my home country Nigeria and in Africa. Mark Zuckerberg recently visited a couple tech hubs in Nigeria, and that’s turned the eyes of the world towards Nigeria and Africa in general. I’m seeing how tech can really transform people’s lives and how the talent in my country is finally being tapped. In those areas, entrepreneurs don’t have the time or energy to waste building products to get your laundry done or clean your place so the projects coming out are much more useful and important.
“In those areas, entrepreneurs don’t have the time or energy to waste building products to get your laundry done or clean your place so the projects coming out are much more useful and important.”
4. What’s a challenge you’ve faced in your career journey?
I went to a really small high school and graduated at the top of my class. It’s probably very common for a lot of high achievers. I came into college with the impression it would be the same as high school. I wouldn’t have to try.
My first programming class solidified that. I did very well. I didn’t really like it, but I continued. I entered the Intro to CS class with the same mindset. I started the first assignment the night before (because I’m so smart right?) and ended up having to run to my friend’s place to help me finish.
From then on it was a struggle. I could barely get through any of the assignments. I started looking up schools / programs to apply to. I was going to transfer out. The only thing that stopped me was the fact the deadline to transfer out for most schools had already passed. Besides, I would still have to finish that semester.
So I did the most sensical thing which I should have done from the start — I got help. I was in tutoring sessions twice a week — one before I started the assignment and one after I’d started writing code. Very gradually, as I started reading more, things started making sense, and I would complete most of the assignment by myself without having to go to tutoring. The CS classes didn’t get any easier from then, but they felt easier because I was approaching it from a “I just need to spend time doing this and I’ll get it” rather than a “You either get it the first time or you don’t” mindset.
“The CS classes didn’t get any easier from then, but they felt easier because I was approaching it from a “I just need to spend time doing this and I’ll get it” rather than a “You either get it the first time or you don’t” mindset.”
5. Describe a time you were proud of yourself.
After my midpoint review at LinkedIn this past summer. My internship at LinkedIn was my first “real” internship. I’d never written code for production previously.
The first month was rough. The issues on my code reviews were lengthy, and I was having a hard time adjusting to the framework we were using. I asked for harder problems, but it was taking me a long time to do them and we had a deadline. So I was a little uneasy. I also was a CODE2040 fellow that summer so I thought if I failed, LinkedIn would be less likely to be involved with the program the next year.
As always, after the first month it got better. The weeks leading up to the review, I was pushing a lot of code and writing tests and all that good stuff. And my review was better than I expected. I was really proud of myself. Not only for doing the work well, but also for not letting it consume me. Even in the hard moments when I felt like I was failing, I didn’t that feeling home with me, which I think is important because that’s definitely not the last time I will feel low.
6. What’s something you want to get better at?
Intelligent giving. I used to volunteer a lot in high school and freshman year of college, but recently I’ve had more money than time to give. It’s really important to me that the money I give is actually being used for the purpose intended and has the maximum impact. I’ve been asking myself how I can be more intentional with my giving. I’m looking into organizations like Givewell and Charity Navigator, books like Doing Good Better and The Effective Altruism Movement.
7. Comfort food of choice?
Hawaiian Bread Rolls.
8. Favorite book?
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates.
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
I would love to be a comedy writer. So writing sketches for a show like SNL or screenwriting for the Mindy Project. I’m *really* funny.
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
You’ll be fine! You are smart and capable. Trust me. Trust yourself.