You ever have a moment where you blink your eyes and you wonder how you’ve gotten to where you are today? I’m having one of those moments right now as I sit here to share my story with you. It’s bizarre to think of how far I’ve come because I truly thought that I was not good enough to be where I am today. Let’s get into it.
As a child, I was always around technology. My dad was a computer scientist and considered it a great idea to get each of his four children their own computer so they would stay away from his. So as the years went by with system administrative tasks being “one of the hard-knocks of life”, I went off to Drexel University in 2005 to pursue a degree in Computer Science. I remember when I walked into my first class and instantly saw how different I was. Everyone was white. Everyone was male. And I was not. In fact, I couldn’t even check off one of those boxes. I was opposite. I was female and I was black.
The first year pursuing my degree actually went really well and finished off the year, completing my C++ final project to create a matching cards game using objects and classes. All was swell. I found that I was doing just as well as everyone else. And I found that was struggling in certain areas just like everyone else.
Next semester came and that’s when the more difficult course load began. There was one class in particular called “Data Algorithms & Theories” that was incredibly and frustratingly difficult. As someone who always wanted to do well and is inclined to beat herself up for not being “perfect”, it was an incredibly stressful time for me. But once again, I was not the only one who was struggling because the class was difficult for all of my classmates. But as the class progressed, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and ask for help. This was the first time I would actually utilize the teaching assistant (TA) that was often present during this class. So our scheduled meeting comes around and it doesn’t go as I’d hoped. It wasn’t at all a welcoming atmosphere.
The demeanor of the TA made it clear that he didn’t want to be there but my happy-go-lucky personality brushed it aside.
To make things worse, I wasn’t understanding the “simple” concepts that he was explaining and was subject to the TA’s dismissive glances of judgement and shame. I remember at one point, my mind shifted into trying to make him like me rather than realize that he was discriminating against me. Then he said to me “You know, maybe this just isn’t for you. I’ve explained this to you multiple times and you’re just not getting.” This was a very upsetting moment in my life because someone who was supposed to be helping me learn was telling me that you’re too stupid to learn. Needless to say, I left that session very upset and I ultimately ended up changing my major to something “easier” because apparently it “wasn’t for me”.
Accepting A Career
After I graduated in 2010 with my degree in Information Technology, I moved to DC to pursue an unfulfilling Systems Engineering career in government contracting. Don’t get me wrong. I learned a plethora of valuable skills that I will use for the rest of my life. But I wasn’t doing something that was enriching me. Not only that, I was often made to feel ostracized in the work culture because of the lack of diversity.
I’m not sure if anyone’s told you…but it’s extremely hard being a minority and working with people who don’t look like you and who can’t relate to you.
If someone said something racially insensitive or offensive (and there have been multiple instances), that was always a battle I had to fight on my own. And to be honest, sometimes I didn’t fight because I knew no one would give a damn and the person would get away with it with a slap on the wrist.
So in the mist of all of this, no matter how upset, beaten-up and angry I felt after a work day, I could always come back to my love for the metal music genre. I would spend so much time listening to new metal music after work that co-workers nicknamed me “the DJ”. Which isn’t completely untrue. In college, one of my extracurriculars was to host a weekly metal radio show on the college radio station. But I didn’t have that anymore so I essentially felt a bit lost.
That’s when I decided to get it back! Not in the form of an actual radio show. But in the form of a metal music blog. Outside of having played around with making marque-filled pages on GeoCities and changing the backgrounds of my MySpace and Xanga profiles to be neon-colored or highly pixelated images, I didn’t have any experience making a website. So I GOOGLED it! And in that research I learned how hosting providers work and the best blogging platform for me to use for my blog. And that platform was WordPress. So in 2015, I launched my first website ever on WordPress: metalandcoffee.com. And this point I didn’t really know anything super WordPress-nerdy outside of being able to select a theme and add/organize content on the navigation bar. But I finally had my own voice live and anyone can see it!
Now – the year was 2017 and words cannot describe how miserable I am in my current work position. I thought transferring to a position within the company that brought me back to Philadelphia would help my pain and suffering but it only numbed it for a couple months. I still didn’t like the environment, I didn’t like what I was doing, and although I was able to look at the occasional code snippet that would give me a spark of confidence when I understood what the code was doing, I wasn’t given an opportunity to be on the other side. This is what lit a fire under me to finally do everything in my power to move towards a developer career. I felt like that was where I was supposed to be. Sure, I was told that I wasn’t smart enough to be anywhere near code but why did it excite me to see it and recognize it? Why was I able to troubleshoot errors even though I wasn’t a developer? Why was I excelling at quality assuring software by being able to understand the code’s logic thus thinking of scenarios that were unaccounted for?
So I signed up for a couple online courses focused on web development and eventually found myself having been accepted to a front-end developer fellowship program that provided me with an amazing mentor and a final project to work towards. For my final project, I chose to learn how to create a custom WordPress theme for my Metal & Coffee website because the current one that I was using did not fully suite my needs.
And there you have it – throughout the next 9 months, the doubt and shame instilled in me since college kept coming up and I kept having to find ways to break through it whether it’d be a pep talk from my mentor, talking to developers who look like me (black women) or using meditation to help me through the anxiety.
And by the end of that, not only did I finish my final project (http://metalandcoffee.github.io) and come to really love WordPress theming, I got a job offer from Tracy Levesque and Mia Levesque to work at their WordPress web agency, Yikes Inc.
Finding My Place
Now, I’m a full-time WordPress developer and I couldn’t be more satisfied. Working at Yikes has sent my developer skills soaring over mountains and valleys. My curiosity is allowed to run wild and I’ve actually been diving into the plugin world, completely re-coding an internal plugin from the ground up and learning essential web programming practices in the process.
My next goal in the WordPress community is to see more WordPress developers who look like me. And one step I’ve taken towards that goal is to co-teach a Intro to WordPress workshop at Codeland 2018 which I’m very excited (and nervous) for. And I’ll continue to be as visible and outspoken as possible to encourage diversity in this community.