This post was written when Jacque was a summer 2017 Engineering intern at CircleCI.
As a kid from Compton, CA who had never even heard of “coding,” if someone would have told me 4 years ago I would be majoring in Computer Science I would have given them my eyes of suspicion.
I am originally from Compton, California (yes, “Straight Outta” Compton, and no, I have not seen the movie) and I am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley. I went undeclared my Freshman year after realizing that my major at the time, Chemical Engineering, wasn’t (and wouldn’t) make me happy. Something was missing.
I wanted to be in STEM, solve problems, and impact people in a positive way. I wanted to be able to think about the social implications of what I was building and impact as many people as I could, as quickly as possible. Feeling lost, I researched how I might combine my passion for social good and STEM. I found various articles on startups, and became familiar with the concept. Specifically, I came across Code the Change, a non-profit dedicated to using their skills for social change. I emailed the CEO, Sam King, and asked him about his experience in Computer Science and any advice he could offer me. After talking with him, I decided I wanted to build useful software and hopefully impact the way we live, communicate, think, build, etc. in a positive and meaningful way.
My path to CircleCI
Last year, I decided to apply to Code2040, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Laura Weidman Powers and Tristan Walker. Their mission is to end the lack of diversity in the tech space by 2040. I immediately connected to their mission, and believed it would be a special and safe space to grow as an engineer of color. I was one of the 1,300+ applicants, 350 finalists, and became one of 135 Code2040 Fellows in the 2017 cohort. I was given two internship offers from two great companies, and ultimately decided to accept CircleCI’s offer. CircleCI’s mission is to help other companies build meaningful and powerful software more efficiently, so this seemed like the perfect organization for me to align myself to.
Before accepting my offer, I was invited by Jen Hugo, CircleCI’s recruiting manager, to visit the headquarters in beautiful San Francisco. She connected me with a previous Code2040 fellow, Andres Cuervo, who would be returning as a full-time employee after finishing his internship. When I sat down to speak with Andres, he asked me what I wanted out of my internship experience. After talking shop for awhile, I felt comfortable enough to tell him about my fears of interning for the first time. I told him about how I feared not being smart enough, not being “good” enough. He acknowledged my fears, and told me that he has had those same fears. He told me that what he loved about CircleCI was the transparency, the space that was given to learn and how everyone was so willing to collaborate and help each other succeed. Speaking with Andres really made me feel like the environment at CircleCI was about more than just building; that it would be equally about learning and collaborating. This was extremely important to me. I wasn’t used to an engineering culture feeling so comfortable, and it’s not just because very few people look like me in my CS department. I wasn’t used to being offered the space to just ask questions, explore, and learn, and I could tell that CircleCI really believed in creating such a space. Learning about CircleCI’s culture is what ultimately led me to accepting their offer over my other offer.
A custom learning environment
Before starting my internship, Justin Cowperthwaite, developer, team lead, and my future manager at CircleCI, reached out to me to talk about what I wanted to get out of my internship experience and to welcome me to my new team: Team Growth (a.k.a “Team Money”). Before joining, I had very little experience with frontend development. When I hinted at being interested in backend, he offered me the chance to explore both frontend and backend development. I was excited to hear how much freedom I would have. Justin worked closely with Rishi Kumar, Team Money’s product manager, to offer me an internship that gave me as much exposure and experience as possible. Rishi helped me grow as an engineer by challenging me with a variety of projects solving problems for frontend, backend, marketing, and other teams. They both helped make my experience at CircleCI everything I could have hoped for.
Meeting the team
On my first day, I met the rest of the team: Hannah Henderson, David Goeke, and Phil Hagelberg. Hannah was my mentor for the duration of my internship. I deeply admire her work ethic and grit. She is often applauded by peers and her project manager for her efficiency and work quality. Despite being at CircleCI for less than a year, she has gained her team’s respect, trust, and is considered someone who just get things done, no excuses. In other words, she kicks butt. Besides being a skilled engineer, Hannah always offered me honest feedback and support. She made me feel included in discussions and meetings, and gave me credit for what I contributed when we collaborated in projects. I felt she understood all of the doubts and questions I had about being part of a tech company. She didn’t hand-hold me, but she also didn’t leave me floating alone. I credit her guidance and patience with my being able to learn so much so fast in my time at CircleCI. Even though I had to learn a new programming language, Clojure, and had never touched or seen anything in frontend development before, I was able to begin building and coding the same week I started. It was such a relief to have her support, especially because I really didn’t know what it would be like to work in a tech company. I related to her, despite coming from different backgrounds. As a woman in a male-dominated field, she understood my perspective, insecurities, and fears.
Justin Cowperthwaite, my manager, is not just talented, but smart and funny (very common traits at CircleCI, I quickly learned). I was quickly impressed and inspired by his dedication, work ethic, and leadership. Despite working at CircleCI for less than two years and starting his career there as a junior engineer, he has quickly advanced into team-lead and management roles. This year, he took on managing the partnership with Code2040, working toward making the tech industry more welcoming for all people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations. Through our weekly 1–1 meetings, I felt like he really had my interest and well-being at CircleCI in mind and, as a result, I really grew as an engineer. During our 1–1 meetings he was open and honest about various topics including: time management, personal finance, how to make your mark at a company, among many other topics. He always had really great advice, from books to read (“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries), to how to get the most out of my position and any position I would have in the future (i.e. going above and beyond and providing support where needed, even if it was “outside” of my job description), to how to write good and efficient code (oh dear Abstraction how we take you for granted…).
Every team member matters
I had the awesome opportunity of pairing and working with David Goeke and Phil Hagelberg, both of whom are Senior Backend engineers. They were very patient and made me feel included in what they were building by asking for my feedback and input. During my pairing sessions with David, I appreciated his inclusive language: he always phrased things as “we.” While subtle, it really had an impact on me. He would ask me about how I would approach what we were working on, how I would test our code, and he would give me the space to question. My experience was very similar with Phil and I think this really speaks to CircleCI’s unique culture.
CircleCI has a culture of engineers that really care about what they are building, how they are building, and its impact. I say this because of how much they value user experience and the ways in which they respond to user feedback. The structure of the team supports learning and collaboration through pairing (whether via in-person or video calls), specialized meetings, and 1–1’s. They really drove home the ethos that every engineer’s voice matters, even my own, despite only being an intern. I was constantly reminded to ask questions and to feel free to reach out to anyone when I needed support. I’m extremely proud and grateful to have been part of CircleCI’s team of engineers. CircleCI’s culture is truly special, and it helped me understand the type of people I want to work with as I go forward in my career as an engineer.