The Stories Behind BlackTechPipeline, @WomenTechBot, @React_India, and @WomenCoders01
Not long ago I started a series of articles on women in technology at our corporate blog, at soshace.com. And so far I’ve managed to publish just one that featured five outstanding women who were promoting coding education among children, teenage girls, mothers who recently delivered babies, and different other minority groups. I am passionate about promoting equality and diversity in various fields, be it science or creative writing. Unfortunately, back where our company’s based, in Russia, we’re far behind those practices, but there is definitely a nascent trend for inclusion. Writing articles such as these, about women and minority groups, is an essential stepping stone in spreading awareness globally and locally.
For this article, I searched for women who had some prominent initiatives to promote diversity or build communities of like-minded people. And I’ve happened to be very lucky to find three amazing women who contributed one way or another to popularizing web development among female and minority demographics.
Hereinbelow, you’ll find the Q&A session with three female web-developers, Manjula, Pariss, and Sarah, who kindly agreed to share their stories, passions, and childhood dreams, difficulties they faced along the path in technology, and initiatives they were currently promoting.
Q: Hello ladies! Can you, please tell me about yourself? What is your story?
Manjula: I am Manjula Dube, a Web Engineer currently working with a company based out in Berlin, Germany. Originally I am an Indian and have been staying since my childhood in Mumbai, India. I have been professionally programming for more than more 4 years now. But started with coding during my sophomore year of three years Bachelors in Information Technology. Although I spend my major time learning data structures and computer programing, I am also a professional hip hop dancer. Dancing and programming have been my passions since then, but these days I hardly get some time to dance. I did my high school from Mumbai University, that’s when I saw people taking up computer engineering and medicine as their majors for bachelors. I too decided likewise, and that’s how I took the decision to step towards making my career in software engineering. My childhood was super fun, I still remember since my kindergarten I was been pushed into extracurricular activities apart from my regular courses. My dad played a very important role in this, where he involved me and was a constant supporter of all small competition which I participated in school. I guess this has been my roots that helped me gain interest in public speaking and doing more community work.
I lost my father at an early age when I was 11 which made me more responsible both as an individual and elder daughter in my family. I had been focused throughout my entire academics but didn’t yet decide over my career path, since there was no one to guide me. But eventually while studying in my final year I got opportunities to do the internship with various tech companies; that’s when I got to know I enjoy coding and wanted to pursue the same as my main career. Meanwhile, I used to choreograph dance performances for some renowned dance houses in Mumbai. This way I kept the balance of my passions and career. After doing a few internships I took a full-time job as a software developer in Pune based tech firm. As we were a small team I was kept more product facing and got a chance to lead a team. I ended up progressively self-learning a lot from the internet and implemented the same to make the product better each day. This not only helped in making the product better but also made me far better as a software engineer. I worked at a few startups in India where I was the sole front-end developer on the product. This gave me more confidence as an individual.
Pariss: I grew up in Cambridge, MA which is a really dope city in Boston. Cambridge prides itself on being very diverse, progressive, and resourceful. It’s also home to Harvard University! I attended a bilingual school called Amigos from Kindergarten to 8th grade where I learned to speak Spanish. I can’t give all the credit to school though, I’m half Puerto Rican and come from an English/Spanish speaking home.
For high school, I attended CCSC (Community Charter School of Cambridge) which then, was a new charter school that opened up and my class was their first graduating class ever. We were their guinea pigs and till this day, it’s still one of the best charter schools in the U.S. Funny enough, I wasn’t looking forward to attending. I wanted to go to the public high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, with the rest of my friends but I had an IEP and needed smaller classes where I’d receive individualized attention and CCSC was able to provide that for me.
During my 4 years there, I struggled with Math and Science heavily. I had to attend summer school every year and nearly didn’t graduate. My failures were due to me being young, not caring and daydreaming about how I couldn’t wait to become a famous actress so I’d never have to care about Math and Science again. Super naive. However, I was very good at writing. I won tons of awards and aced any class that required me to write an essay. I wanted to write and direct movies then star in them. During my last semester as a senior, I was told that I wasn’t going to graduate because I was failing math and that scared me straight. I got my sh*t together and stayed after school for tutoring, studied, did what I had to do to make sure I graduated. Not only did I graduate, but I also got into my top choice university- Pace University in Manhattan, New York.
I majored in Film and Screen Studies at Pace University. As much as you’d think getting into my top choice university would have changed me, after nearly flunking out of high school, it didn’t. Classes were boring, I wasn’t learning anything about film and for some strange reason, I was placed to a dorm in Brooklyn Heights while all of my friends got placed to the dorm on the main campus in Manhattan. While I was busy slacking off, there’d be nights where I was too lazy to meet my friends in Manhattan to go out so I’d lay in bed and watch ‘the making of’ movies and blooper reels. I became obsessed with everything that happened behind the scenes and it made me want to be an actress even more. I decided to finish out my year at Pace University and then move to LA to really pursue my dream.
I moved in with my friend who lived in Santa Monica. Los Angeles was very unique and interesting, like New York. The deal with moving in with my friend was that I’d stay with him for 6 months to a year until I saved up and found my own place while his roommate was gone on tour for a year and had no idea I’d be coming. Long story short, it didn’t work out. I was living out there, making money by doing background acting on a tv show and movie sets until my friend’s roommate came home from his tour months early, found me in his room and kicked me out. I flew back to Boston that night.
Returning to Boston was another rollercoaster ride. I enrolled in a 6-month program to get my aesthetics license so I could become a professional makeup artist. I ended hating makeup but used my license to become a wax specialist. I actually loved waxing but the pay did not balance out with my lavish lifestyle habits so I enrolled back into school part time to get my AA in Communications. Throughout my time in school, I kept hearing about coding but I never understood what it was. One day, I asked my college counselor about it and she let me know there was a hackathon being held that weekend by Resilient Coders which is a coding bootcamp. I attended just to see what it was and ended up signing up for their program and getting in. I quit my job a few weeks later and focused on the bootcamp and learning to code on the front end full time.
I chose to take my career transition into tech seriously because I was tired of pursuing things for a while and then quitting. I wanted to follow through with what I wanted and coding was it.
I had this misconception that coding was boring and there was tons of math and science involved but it’s actually a lot of fun. I’m still getting to be creative and use my brain to think of different ways to approach a problem. I still get to bring ideas to life but now, it’s with code.
Sarah: I went to Belmont University for my undergraduate degree and double majored in Music Business and Marketing. I went to Belmont for law school right after that (with the intention of becoming an entertainment lawyer) and two months in, knew I wasn’t cut out for lawyer life. All throughout that first year of law school, I found myself on teamtreehouse.com and codecademy.com and freecodecamp.com instead of studying contract law. I quit law school after successfully finishing a year, and started learning to code more seriously on my own. After about a year of soul searching and working as a project manager, I decided to go to Nashville Software School to get a good foundation and learn things that might’ve taken me years to learn on my own.
Do you work remotely? In the office? What do you do? What programming languages, frameworks do you know? If you work remotely, why did you choose freelance? If you’re working from the office, then why did you choose office? Did you have a chance to choose?
Manjula: I moved to Berlin in 2018 and I work from N26’s GmbH HQ at Kufustenstrasse in Berlin which is just nearby the Berlin Zoo. I am really enjoying working in this huge office. Previous to this, I had been working in corporate offices only, as I never got the opportunity to work remotely. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to but would someday work remote.
Now that I’m 2 years in, I’d love a remote role. If I could, I’d work from home every day but I don’t have that luxury if I’m required to be in more days than not. Being remote means working from anywhere in the world and that’s absolutely something I’d love to take advantage of.
Manjula, I’ve also seen you’re a GoogleDevExpert. Can you tell us more about the award? Was it hard to achieve such a status? What advice can you give women who think of applying for an award?
What difficulties have you faced on your way in tech? Did you ever felt like you were a minority or that you were not treated as equal? Did you face and experience any bias toward women in technology?
Pariss: I’ve never felt more different until entering the tech industry. Yes, I am a black woman and have always dealt with things like odd looks, assumptions, discrimination, and racism but that was dependent on where I’d go. If I knew I was traveling somewhere or entering an area/store that rarely sees people who look like, I know what to expect when I enter but that only lasts for the time being. Working somewhere and needing to physically be in an environment every day where you’re the only one who looks different and gets treated differently is very uncomfortable.
I’ve dealt with more racial exclusion than sexism. Either way, both are terrible. I worked in a company ran by a woman, and over 90% of the employees were also women-all white. They always conversed around me but wouldn’t include me. Plans would always be made, I wouldn’t be invited. I was left out of a game the whole office participated. We had to submit baby pictures and we’d guess who was who. Everyone’s picture made it to the game but mine, somehow. My theory for them leaving it out is that they either didn’t want to include me because they simply didn’t like me or it wouldn’t be fun guessing the picture of a black baby who would obviously belong to the only black person in the entire company.
Another incident was when a white woman told a “funny” story about how a black man rang her doorbell, he had food in his hands and she slammed the door in his face and called the police. The man turned out to be Uber Eats and had the wrong house. Incidents like those are the ones where a black man gets shot and killed by a cop and I don’t find that funny at all. Everyone else did.
At the end of the day, for me, it always came down to being the only black woman. I’ve had people speak to me as if they were scared of me, use ebonics when only approaching me or just totally avoided me. There were uncomfortable topics or things being spoken about that were offensive to me and people like me. When these types of things happen, it’s difficult to explain to a majority of people who have the same background and understand each other, how it makes someone like me feel. The environment didn’t truly feel supportive or progressive, even working with mainly women.
Sarah: I’ve fortunately never been treated horribly in the tech industry, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories.
While I was in college I didn’t even think that computer science was something I could major in just because it was a man’s world over there. There was no explicit force that said I couldn’t major in it — it was just kind of known that I should major in something less manly/nerdy. Turns out I’m a huge nerd and fit in well here now.
Manjula: I want to be perfectly clear that I have almost never faced these circumstances in my professional life. I have, however, witnessed my colleagues going through a miserable and often unfair time in their lives. It saddens me when I see them unable to resist and fight back.
I often feel the man women comparison is just in mind. However that said this might be just my case, but I feel if someone ever faces a difficult situation. Just fight back. Don’t ever take bad stuff from anyone. Be vocal about it and talk to your friends and family.
If there’s a bias toward women, why do you think it is still there, in the 21st century? Can we, as a society, do something to eliminate this bias?
Pariss: There’s definitely still a bias towards women and it’ll take a few generations for it to hopefully die out. Like anything, everything starts at home. Children watch their parents and parents teach their kids. If you raise your daughter to be dependent on a man, she is going to grow up being dependent on a man unless she’s that black sheep who breaks the rules and says, “I can do it my damn self!” If a son is raised to believe that he has to pay all the bills in the house but sees his dad treat his mother like she’s expendable, he may grow up paying a woman’s bills but treating like she’s helpless without him. Words need to match actions.
Helping eliminate biases is by talking about them. People are scared to talk about these sensitive topics but if they aren’t being talked about then things aren’t changing. This is something that should be addressed at orientations for school, jobs, conferences, etc. “This is not okay, this is why it is not okay and this is why it won’t be tolerated. Sign here.” There’s a very old mentality that society has a hard time letting go of because the people who were raised to think that way are still here and propose that this is how things should be. Society is becoming more progressive though, people are speaking up (both men and women) and we need to keep that up and not let any incident, no matter how small, slip under the rug. Fight the good fight. Teach others, especially the youth. If this is the change we want, we have to be that change and continue to believe in it and fight for it till our last breath.
Manjula: I think it is just in our mind. If you are talented and hardworking nobody can steal it from you. So it all about being confident and striving towards reaching your goal. Focus on things that help you in achieving your goals. Society is just an imperial part.
Sarah, I’ve noticed that you’ve created a Women In Tech Retweets bot (@womentechbot), why did you decide to make it? What’s the story behind this initiative? What’s its goal or mission? What does your bot do?
Sarah: I wanted the experience of building a Twitter bot (which was created while I was in school at Nashville Software School), and also wanted a way to exemplify all of the content that was including women in tech.
I wanted an account that would always retweet the hashtag #womenintech to show the world that there ARE plenty of women in our industry and they are doing great things every day.
Manjula, you’re an organizer of various other movements, like @react_india, @WomenCoders01, and @gdgberlin, right? Can you, please share what these movements and organizations are about? Why did you feel the need for establishing those communities?
Manjula: I feel communities are an essential part of life. The fact that motivated me to start Mumbai Women Coders ie @WomenCoders01 back in India in 2017 is because I want to see more women making more progress as tech leads and tech evangelists. I also want to see them assuming a public role and speaking about their passions and their interests in different technical stacks.
I also need to see more females as role models for me and my generation in a leadership position. I want to see women heading up engineering departments both at work and in universities. I want more women to come out and speak next to me.
I also want there to be a frank and honest discussion about the challenges that we as women face as engineers. Of course, this doesn’t mean I do not want to see my male colleagues going in the same direction. I see my male colleagues making amazing progress in their lives and their careers. I feel very happy for them and want to see the same successes reflected for females too.
I want everyone to know that this is a community effort to encourage Women in tech to continue pursuing their passion for technology and excel at various roles which obviously cannot be done without strong support from the men in our lives, our families, our colleagues and more importantly our ecosystem as a whole.
When I moved to Berlin in 2018, I joined @gdgberlin as co-lead and we conduct workshops and meetups around frontend, backend & Google Cloud technologies. We usually hold meetups every month depending on the availability of the venue. I encourage people to attend the coming meetups which will definitely help them.
I am also one of the organizers of @react_india which is India’s first international conference with 24+ speakers in India. To add more, React India is an international community-led non-profit initiative that provides a platform for developers to share and discuss their insights and experiences with React. The three-day conference is the first of its kind in India.
I would highly recommend developers to attend meetups, speak at conferences. This not only helps in building your self-confidence but also helps you to grow professionally in your career.
Pariss, I’ve seen you’ve created #BlackTechTwitter & #BlackTechPipeline Discord, can you, please tell me what it’s about? Why did you decide to create the Black Tech Twitter movement? Why do you think there’s a need for initiatives such as this? What are you currently doing to empower black women and men to feel more confident to pursue a career in tech?
Pariss: #BlackTechTwitter became a movement just from tweeting, asking for black people in tech to post their pics and their roles in the field. My intention was not for it to turn into anything, I simply wanted to see a few faces like mine. The impact was so powerful and shocking. A lot of us were unaware that there were that many black people in tech. Reason being, most of us are the only ones or one of the very few black people in their entire company. A lot of us go to meetups and conferences and the white to black ratio is very noticeable.
This movement made us all question the “pipeline problem.” Employers and recruiters always cry that they do not get black people submitting for roles or they just can’t find black people suitable for these positions but we’re here. We are in this industry, we’re experienced, we’re skilled and qualified- what’s THEIR problem?
Employers need to question why black people don’t submit to roles in their companies. They need to ask their recruiters where THEY are looking for candidates and why do they all look alike. Lastly, employers themselves need to be questioned. Are you they truly looking for black people/POC to fill their roles or are they satisfied with having none? Why? There are so many questions when it comes to the “pipeline problem” that I don’t even believe truly exists.
If I don’t think the “pipeline problem” exists then why did I name the discord #BlackTechPipeline? Since everyone is familiar with the term “pipeline” and it’s the reason employers use for not having more opportunities for black people, the name #BlackTechPipeline is clear as day and should bring curiosity to those seeking black people in tech. Whether black people are seeking other black people in tech, employers are looking for positions to fill, or conferences are seeking speakers or tickets to give out to underrepresented groups, they can do it all through the #BlackTechPipeline.
What do you think needs to be done to encourage minorities to learn programming languages and coding? Pursue a career in tech? Does the education system need to be changed, altered in any way? Do you have any solutions?
Manjula: As women, I feel we need to believe in ourselves to shape our future collectively in a better way. I would want all Senior female developers to create new learning opportunities for younger female programmers just entering the industry through projects, workshops, and events.
It didn’t start out easy and smooth. I felt lost for the longest time in my life (and I was only twenty). But the day I wandered into a computer lab and started interacting with tiny little programs, writing my c++ and unix programs, that’s the moment when the lights started blinking on the inside. I knew then. I have fallen in love with the world.
So I feel sometimes that my peers lack this kind of natural enthusiasm for programming which I feel so strongly about. But I also understand and empathize with their fear of taking tech as a career. It can be scary sometimes for things to blow up in your face. What I want to say to them is that it takes time for things to fall in the right place — both in the world outside and inside the contents of your brain. So just do start slow, it doesn’t matter. No one is here to judge you.
If you want to get into programming or web design or web development always chose the company wisely. Work for a startup where you can learn a lot in the initial 2–3 years of your career. Trust me this will definitely help you in the future. In startups, you do more than your Job role, for example, at my first job I was involved in development, load testing etc and it helped me decide what I really love and would want to continue in my future career path.
Pariss: This is where everything trickles down to the school system. Most POC come from underserved communities. School’s in those areas lack funding which means they don’t have access to good resources, quality programs, quality teachers and mentors/tutors, technological tools like computers. These schools even lack things as small as crayons. When you grow up in that type of environment with lack of guidance, you settle for pursuing what’s common in your surrounding area. I also don’t want to ignore that this all stems from oppression and systematic racism. This is the effect.
Speaking specifically on women, I think they need to be made aware that it’s an option for them very early on. Tech is perceived as a ‘for males’ industry and that’s because it is dominated by men. Again, this is where schools need to step it up. Lately, I’ve been volunteering to go to schools to speak to teens about getting into tech, how it’s an industry for everyone (especially creative people who enjoy bringing ideas to life) and letting them know that tech isn’t limited to coding. We are more than suitable and skilled enough to hold positions from IT, to dev to CEO. The opportunities here are endless! I also stress that it’s important for people of color and women to get into tech because there is such a lack of diversity in this field. If this industry wants to continue excelling and then we need people of all different backgrounds, technical interests, and experience to have their hands contributing to every piece of technology being built.
It’s extremely important that minorities become aware of this industry and gain some sort of technical background because, without one, we’re going to be left behind in this technology-driven age.
Now, tell me about your passions. Sarah, I’ve seen you write music and study wine.
Sarah: I grew up loving music. I’m a classically trained pianist and played trumpet in the band from middle school through college. I like to play guitar, ukulele, drums…really anything I can get my hands on. I also enjoy writing songs and writing music reviews. Reading is a passion that was handed down from my mom, who was a high school English teacher for 6 or 7 years. Wine is something I really got into after quitting law school — I was soul searching and doing a lot of hobby/passion testing…and found that I really like the science behind the wine and the different ways to taste wine and review wines. That kind of stemmed from binge-watching the SOMM documentaries really.
By the way, anyone can reach out to me on Twitter (probably where I’m most active) @sarahmorris926 or Instagram @sarahmorris926, and I write rather infrequently on Medium www.medium.com/@sarahmorris926.
Manjula, I’ve read that you’re a public speaker and a teacher. Can you share any speeches that you’ve already delivered or written (it could be anything from an inspiring paragraph, a link to a story or video)?
I have co-founded a company named Geekabyte together with my co-founder Sahil Mhapsekar in India. Geekabyte is brand of Apherio Tech Private Limited that aims to conduct physical workshops on various frontend technologies and consult startups in India and significantly help them scale their product. We also conduct free workshops at times to help the community and people who cannot afford and can still benefit from it. I also write sometime about tech in general. Here’s the link you are more than welcome to give it a glance. I also run a podcast. It’s been a long time I haven’t done one, but you can definitely expect some in coming months ;)
Pariss, you’re a writer, aren’t you? Can you share something from what you’ve already written (it could be anything from a sentence, a link to a story, or an inspiring paragraph)?
Pariss: This is a question I often ask people who are fed up with not having a straightforward path to success:
Life is a house and your dream is locked behind the front door. Are you going to stand outside waiting in the cold or will you try every window of every floor for even the slightest opening?
It is with the greatest pleasure and on such an inspiring note I’d like to finish this interview. Thank you for talking to me and I wish you all success in your beginnings. I am very confident that you are role models for all other aspiring girls out there wishing to pursue a career in STEM.
Having finished my interview with these three amazing women, I’d like to encourage everyone else to speak out and be vocal about any inequality issues you face in your career. Everything is possible, and if you think there’s a niche not yet filled, then it’s time for you to raise up and fulfill your dreams. If you think tech is for boys, then look at those women, and think again. Tech is for you too.