Zuri shares her story on switching from Marketing to Computer Information Systems and how she gained experience through hackathons.
Tell us about yourself
Born and raised in New Jersey, I am the oldest of three. I started my higher education at Howard University as a Marketing major in August of 2010.
In my sophomore year, I switched to Computer Information Systems. I graduated in 2015 and 6 months later, received a job offer at The Human Geo as a Technologist doing back-end and front-end development in Arlington, VA.
Outside of my job, I am a Ruby on Rails lead for Women Who Code in DC. I help women who are interested in making a move into the industry and develop their programming skills.
I also attend hackathons to strengthen my skills in all aspects of web development. I have attended around nine hackathons in the past two years since I have taught myself to code.
As for hobbies I love watching American Football and playing billiards. My favorite team is the New England Patriots. I have faithfully watched every game ever since I was 10 years old.
How did you develop your technical skills?
It was my “Management and Information Systems” class by Dr. Morgan that got me inspired to switch my major from Marketing. After that, it was my “Intro to Java Programming” class that really got me into coding.
I see programming as another form of art. I have always loved creating stuff and I felt like I was expressing my creativity when I was writing basic algorithms.
As a college student on a very very tight budget, I attended meetups within the DC area and acquired free material on whatever subject I was studying. I would often use sources like Udemy, Udacity, YouTube, and Codeacademy as my sources. I also used free resources that were shared within Women Who Code DC’s Slack.
I also built up my skills by volunteering as a Ruby on Rails Lead with the Women Who Code community. I did this when I started learning Ruby on Rails. It was nerve-racking for me because I don’t like public speaking and I wasn’t well-versed in the subject but I began to learn.
With the support and encouragement from the other leads within the community, I continued to stick with it and improved my skills.
Tell us about your experience with hackathons. What was your favorite one?
The very first hackathon that I attended was Angel Hack’s Hackathon hosted at 1776 in the summer of 2013. I was pushed by my professor that summer to attend it even though I was new to coding.
Since that hackathon, I have been hooked. I have attended three Angel Hack hackathons, Code for DC Hackathon, Women Who Code Hackathon, Howard University Hackathon, Capital One’s Small Business Hackathon, Hack the Pay Gap Hackathon for the White House, and (my favorite) the NFL Hackathon.
I am a huge fan of the NFL and when I heard they were hosting their very first hackathon in San Francisco in February of this year, I had to go!
I met engineers from NFL and learned about what they do daily as well as mingled with other folks within the San Francisco area. It was practically a dream hackathon for me to have two of my favorite interests combined.
My team and I built an application that took the data that the NFL provided, calculated and mimicked what the players did on the field. College and high school players can use it to study and practice the movement. It was a way for rookies to work on their skill and match up to the greats.
What advice would you give a beginner developer on their first hackathon?
Show up with the mentality that you are here to learn and winning is just an added bonus.
When I first started out in hackathons I was nervous about not being able to perform up to my team’s expectations. However, what I have come to realize is that these events are mainly an opportunity for me to learn and if I need help I just need to ask!
No one knows everything in tech. That is practically impossible in this industry. The more you show up to these events, the more you get comfortable being in that realm, the more comfortable you are at these hackathons, the more you realize that hackathons are about both the technology stack and the business. Learning about both is very important.
For a beginner I would recommend attending Angel Hack’s hackathons and Startup Weekend. These two events have perfected the art of running a hackathon and providing a comfortable environment for beginners.
How did attending hackathons help you in your job search?
As someone who didn’t have a Computer Science bachelor’s degree and was fairly new to programming, it was hard to get into the industry after graduating. Attending hackathon’s was basically the only way I could get experience working in teams and showing off my skills.
The hackathon that truly placed me on the map was Angel Hack and Capital One’s Small Business Hackathon.
My team, SlimSpace created a platform to help small businesses rent out their extra space for co-working. We built everything out in Ruby on Rails and used a template from Themeforest for the front-end. Our MVP looked close to production mode.
We won first place out of 12 teams, which was pretty amazing. After that my team was approached by Aaron Gussman, a Senior Technologist at the Human Geo. He loved our product and what we were able to put together over the weekend. He asked if anyone was looking for a break into the industry.
Then two months later, I was a Technologist at the Human Geo. Hackathons are one of the best events to land jobs. You are either working with a potential coworker or employer. They are able to see your skills and they are able to see how you work in a team.
What are the most important skills to have for someone in your position?
The most important skill for someone in my position as a Junior Technologist is excellent communication. It is a crucial skill that is often overlooked within this industry.
With great communication skills, you can convey your ideas clearly and effectively on why the team should tackle a problem a certain way or communicate the error that you are receiving.
As a junior member of a team, you don’t know everything and you are continuing to learn. When working with new technologies, you need to know what you are asking for when trying to use it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I can go back in time about two years ago when I embarked on this journey to be a web developer, I would tell myself to always get the answer to the question “Why?” and take your time in finding that answer.
As a newbie you can be bombarded with a whole bunch of information and want to dip your feet into everything. But when you do that you miss out on answering the question “Why?”. Ask yourself “Why should I learn this new framework or language?” or “Why use this method or function over another?”
When you dive into these questions you get to learn what is going on under the hood, apply programming/software principles and discover the reason why a particular framework or tool was created.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in tech?
My advice to someone who is considering a career in the tech industry is to find a mentor. I feel like with someone who is in the industry, they can give you guidance on where to start, what to learn, and how to navigate in the industry.
Although I have done pretty decent without having an official mentor, I still feel that if I had one, I would probably be in the industry a lot sooner and be well-grounded.
Where can we find you?
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