I recently went to a forum hosted by Women In Technology where they invited a large group of young women, some in high school up to some in their first internship out of college, who were there to meet one-on-one with tech professionals to ask questions and interact with some of the industry’s best (not self-promoting; there were many fine, far-more-seasoned-engineers at this event). Think speed-dating but for gathering knowledge, which I’ve dubbed: Women In Tech Speed-Mentoring.
I, of course, promoted data; I promoted the hell out of data!
The event itself was unfortunately quite short, for the mentees anyway, for which we all only spoke one-on-one with three aspiring tech geeks (plus a few chats while waiting in the pizza line). Some were declared computer science majors while others were still unsure of a direction to go in this broad world of tech. I, of course, promoted data; I promoted the hell out of data! However, in doing so, I was taken back by a couple things and pleasantly surprised at others — all of which gave me a chance to really connect with them, I hope. These surprises made me want to write this post…
When I was in college I could tell you what ETL stood for, I could give you a basic concept of moving data from one place to another. But, I couldn’t tell you all the beautiful, nuanced simplicity that comes from taking a massive data collection, often mind-bendingly complicated, and transforming it into something usable. I was lucky enough to have some fantastic mentors early on in my college years to help expose this wonderful industry of data manipulation, aggregation, beautification, rigid yet fragile world of moving data around which we call ETL.
Still, I was sadly surprised when none of the young women I spoke to knew what ETL was; They couldn’t even tell me what the acronym meant! This broke my heart and turned my geekiness up to 10 — I was already at a 7 or 8 mind you. I told my story about my blissful ignorance, how I thought DBAs were the only people who dealt with data — sadly, at small firms, this is true — but that there’s this whole other world where understanding how to properly collect, historize, cleanse, and store data that nobody seems to talk about at some universities.
I hope I was able to drive this point home, but I don’t know. It’s tough to explain the feeling of loading data incrementally and watching something so complicated become so logical and simple with a well-defined process that you develop from the ground up.
What Were You Like In High School?
The forum was moderated with proposed topics to discuss with the mentees and one of them was “What were you like in high school?” To which I explained that I was geeky, spent a lot of time on my computer, and never stopped smashing out code. I didn’t start with complex stuff, either, I began by making websites and wiggled my way into automation — driven by laziness. The drive to find excuses to use a computer to solve problems is what kept me going and keeps me going.
This topic only came up once, so I didn’t get a chance to discuss this with all the girls, but I could tell I connected with the young computer science major with whom we shared our lackluster high school experiences with and was able to relate that none of that shit matters. I think it’s important to see first-hand someone who pulled out of the tail spin.
Nobody Gives A Sh#%t About Sports
Yup, I said it. It was like a breath of fresh air to these young, future professional women. Here they are, standing in front of me, one-on-one with, a 300 pound, 6 foot, 2 inch, geek going off the rails on nerdiness. I’m telling them that nobody I work with gives a crap about sports — or, at least, they don’t talk about it. This isn’t true at smaller companies but, at start-up tech firms, it is a way of life.
This was a warm welcome to, especially, one person who’s eyes lit up and said “Yeah! This is why I chose the college I went to, because they don’t have a sports team and there’s none of that nonsense there.” The others were pleasantly surprised by me saying this and you could tell they wouldn’t mind that kind of working environment at all.
Now, being in a multinational corporation, it’s no doubt people enjoy, discuss, and watch sporting events at work but, it’s rare and I, for one, appreciate the faux pas.
The Hardest Part Is Finding An Excuse To Code
Which brings me to my biggest point and focus of advice I gave to every single person I talked to that night: Never stop coding; The hardest part is finding an excuse to code! I recommended getting a GiHub account and fill it. I suggested to put all their school projects and all side works in there. I stressed the importance of commenting their code, commits, and merges; Tech screeners, before the interview, will smile if they find a well manicured git repository — this I know first hand.
One girl was so excited by this idea but agreed that finding the reason to code was tough. It’s easy to sit down and say “okay, let’s write some code!” But, first you need the excuse. So, I gave her one! I walked through an idea for a chrome extension I have and one that I would like to make but haven’t started yet. It’s a brilliant idea and I got the vibe that she thought I was insane for telling her my idea but, ideas are useless if you don’t apply them. So, I encouraged her to run with it and I hope she’s sitting at home right now smashing out some commits to her git repo!
I truly hope that everyone that evening got something out of it, I sure did, and I hope that I helped someone, too. It was a humbling experience that I hope to do again. Remember, look for excuses to code!