Omosola Odetunde

Software Engineer at Clue, Formerly at Shopify

Omosola Odetunde is currently a Software Engineer at Shopify on its Fraud & Risk team. She couldn’t choose between her wide range of interests, including security, privacy, linguistics, psychology, and lots in between, so she chose Computer Science so she wouldn’t have to.

She earned her BS and MS Computer Science degrees from Stanford in 2013 and 2014, respectively. She was a KPCB Engineering Fellow, an AAUW Fellow, and a Google Anita Borg scholar amongst other honors and worked for a variety of companies including Microsoft, Chegg, Shopkick, and Babbel.

She’s filled with a constant urge to do big things and try to positively impact the world around her as much as possible during her lifetime.

What got you into Computer Science?

My interest in CS started with educational software. My first memory of computers was sitting at my family’s computer at age 6 and playing my favorite game, “Smiley Face Subtraction.” My parents probably lucked out to some degree that they had a six year old whose favorite game was Subtraction.

My teachers saw my interest in computer games pretty quickly and pounced on it after they realized I was very talkative and finished my work quickly, a deadly combination for an elementary school teacher. To make sure I didn’t distract other students, my teachers would put me in front of the computer and let me play games after I finished my work. The more I played the games, the more I loved how fun and interactive they made learning.

In middle school, one of my classmate’s parents who was a software engineer at Oracle came to our class and taught us about the parts of a computer in a fun play where I played the Computer Bus. That was when I first started getting a sense that this whole computing thing was actually a thing. It felt awesome learning about the inner workings of something that I used every day, and I had to find out more.

From there I took any chance I could to learn more about technology. I took a tech module in 7th grade, a web design class in 8th, my first official Computer Science class in 10th grade, AP Comp Sci A & AB in 11th and 12th grade, and never stopped taking CS classes from that year on until I graduated with my Masters.

What is your proudest accomplishment and why?

I’d have to say a lot of my proudest moments over the past several years have had to do with seeing the progression and excellence of students I’d been a TA or tutor for or people I’d given advice to (which I love to do).

Seeing a student go from begrudgingly taking one CS class just to fulfill a requirement to becoming a full-fledged and passionate CS major and/or software engineer is incredibly exciting to me.

Seeing someone go after an internship they didn’t think they could get and not only getting it but excelling, is an amazing thing to watch and be a part of.

A year ago, one of my friends, who is an incredible developer and making big moves at her company now, told me while we were chatting that I was one of the main reasons she stayed in Computer Science and that my advice, our talks together, and her seeing me make my way through the CS degree at school were big inspirations for her.

Hearing that was one of the most incredible feelings ever.

You go from day to day and you’re never 100% sure of the impact you make, though you hope it’s for the best.

There’s an incredible sense of encouragement and validation of your efforts you get when you hear something like that.

Have you ever felt discomfort or discrimination in the workplace or classroom? How did you handle it?

Luckily, I grew up in a very technically accomplished family. My mom is a family physician and one of the smartest people I know, so I grew up with a great role model as a young black girl. My dad, a professor and aeronautical engineering PhD, and my relatives are all highly educated and talented people.

That helped shield me from stereotypes floating by me for most of my time until college. I just knew so many smart black people around me that I was able to go through my childhood blissfully unaware of stereotypes assigned to people who look like me.

It wasn’t until I got into colleges and then during college that I began to experience and notice significantly more stereotyping and discrimination. Since I’ve lived in the same town since I was six, most people growing up knew me and my skill, but in college and in a new environment, people were less aware of my background and more likely to immediately make assumptions about me based on how I looked.

Courtesy of Omosola Odetunde

Sometimes that was people telling me I only got into the universities I did or my Masters program because of my race or my gender. Sometimes it was people second-guessing the answers I gave as a TA, just to have other TAs, students, or professors confirm that I was in fact correct. Sometimes it was people ignoring only me in a technical conversation, assuming I wouldn’t understand what they were talking about, even if I was the most knowledgeable about the topic in the group (or even if I was a speaker who was about to present).

There’s also always a slight (or sometimes significant, depending on the group) sense of discomfort you get being the only person of a particular kind at a place.

Even if people aren’t negative or don’t necessarily look at you differently, walking into a new room and being the only woman, the only black person, or the only black woman, can be uncomfortable, and I’m almost always a visible minority in a room of technical people, even amongst other minority groups (e.g. female dev meet-ups).

It’s not something I let get to me and not something that always stands in the way, but the discomfort definitely happens at times.

For people who aren’t the minority in their field, imagine if you walked into a room where every other person was a different race, or a different age, or a different gender from you. Even if no one said anything mean or rude to you, or even if people didn’t really notice you, you would likely still feel a sense of unease or discomfort. That’s even when you might be surrounded by friendly supportive people, and that’s not always the case in my field.

Also feeling like you somehow represent the entirety of a group can put added pressure on you. If you excel or don’t excel and you’re the only woman or the only black person someone has worked with, they may say “Most women XYZ” or “Most black people XYZ”.

The first thing I had to do was realize that there’s little I can do to convince some people that I deserve what I have accomplished and received. It can be frustrating sometimes seeing some of my peers immediately accepted as skilled with no question, while I may not get positive responses until others have seen or heard about all of my qualifications.

However, I’ve learned that no amount of high test scores, university acceptances, academic accolades, fellowships, etc. will convince the people who need to be convinced — the people who don’t simply accept that you know what you’re doing because you’re in your role.

So instead of focusing on proving myself to them, I focused on doing what I wanted, following the opportunities I wanted, taking the classes I wanted. Life became more enjoyable that way.

I also try to surround myself by people who recognize my skill and who won’t let stereotypes or prejudices cloud their view of me. I’ve been lucky enough to find lots of those people in my jobs. Managers who trust me to excel, coworkers who appreciate what I bring to the table, classmates who have been with me for a while and trust my talent.

I plan to be in tech for a long, long time and I hope that the longer I’m in it, the more and more inclusive I see it become.

What makes being in tech awesome?

There are so many awesome things about being in tech, but I tried to pick just a few.

Speaking to all of your Interests
An amazing thing about tech and Computer Science for me was that it let me pursue a field without having to give up my many interests. I’ve always been all over the place with activities and interests: I played trombone, competed in gymnastics, loved math, foreign languages, design, etc.

With Computer Science, I never had to pick one of my interests. I could learn skills which I could apply to any or all of my interests.

Tech Lifestyle
An easy one for me is the flexibility. You can work from almost anywhere you want as long as you have WiFi. There are a ton of job opportunities, so you can move around to different projects/companies/teams/etc. that interest and excite you. I like traveling as well, so it’s awesome to be in a field where I know I could find jobs in a large majority of cities around the world. That’s definitely something that I recognize as a great privilege.

Being the Builder
Another amazing thing about being a technical person is that you can take an idea and build it. You don’t need to wait around for people to craft it. You take it immediately from your brain into fruition, which is amazing.

Courtesy of Omosola Odetunde

What advice do you have for any girls pursuing futures in tech?

Surround yourself with people who think you have potential or who think you are great. Even having one ally who supports you and knows your talents well can help you feel more confident in your skills if you are ever surrounded by negative people. For me, those kinds of people included some teachers, friends, family, and fellow CS classmates.

Look for a role model. Find someone who you identify with. It doesn’t always have to be someone who looks like you, but I think that helps a lot. When people are busy telling you that you can’t do something or people like you don’t do XYZ, you can point to your role model and fight back the negativity.

When you are struggling with something, assume that there’s at least one other person struggling with the same thing as you.

So often people don’t share the problems that they are dealing with, and we go around thinking everyone else is doing amazingly and we’re the only one dealing with our problem — but I’ve found this to rarely be the case. So if something is going on, talk to someone about it. You’re rarely doing the worst, and you are rarely the only one dealing with a given issue. Vocalize what’s going on, so people around you can try to help.

Finally, if you enjoy what you’re doing, keep pursuing it, and try not to let anyone stop you.