Women in Tech: Carol Kariuki
Today, we have Carol Kariuki 👩💻, a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist at Facebook and Community Lead at the Facebook Developer Circle, Nairobi. Carol is passionate about the future of technology and its endless possibilities and is working to see this happen by innovating and solving problems.
This is a space where you belong. We need you, we want to see you and we want to hear you. When you get here, influence the industry, and create impact. Let's fill the space and pay it forward to other women and young girls.
— Carol Kariuki
In this interview, you'll learn how Carol started her career in tech 10 years ago, her journey so far, advice on tech, and working at Facebook. If this interview was helpful to you, please share it with your friends and colleague 🚀💜
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you venture into tech?
Carol: My name is Carol Kariuki. I am a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist at Facebook, Dublin, Ireland. I support developers who build on Facebook's Platform Products, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Oculus, Instant Games, Camera Effects and other emerging Developer Products.
I am a Software Developer by profession and a Data Scientist. I have also been a Community Lead for Developer Circles Nairobi. I began my career as a Mobile Applications Developer 10 years ago. My Journey into tech began in 2010 when I enrolled myself in a coding school and I took a 4-month course on Mobile Programming.
Earlier on I had just completed High School in 2009 and I had picked Computer Studies as a major subject, at The Kenya High School. I was very lucky to be taught by some of the best teachers and my Computer teacher had great influence in streamlining my passion in technology to later pursue the development of mobile apps. After High School, I was very excited to discover this opportunity to build solutions that would run on mobile phones. I published my first mobile app on the Nokia platform and continued creating applications for the Symbian Operating System and later on Windows Phone and Android.
Can you briefly tell us about your job title?
Carol: As a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist, I support developers who build on Facebook's Platform Products. My main responsibility is to protect Facebook’s user's personal data from misuse. All apps that request permission to access user data, as well as extended features, are required to undergo a review. The review consists of App Verification and Permissions Review. I evaluate whether the app works, follows the use case described, whether it meets our bar for the quality of user experience, as well as evaluating whether the developer has requested only the permissions and features their app needs. If for example a developer has a fitness app and requires their Facebook friends to share and work out together, they can request the friends sharing permission. We not only need to know What data the app needs to access but why they need it, as well as How it enhances the user experience.
My role requires me to work closely with the platform product, marketing, partnerships and engineering teams, across different time zones. We also Investigate possible abuse, implement enforcement and communicate with developers to ensure platform policy compliance in third party applications across Facebook's platform products. I am fairly new to the role, so my daily routine is still taking shape. :)
What difficulties have you faced on your way in tech? Have you ever felt like you were not treated as equal?
Carol: Most often is people, men especially assuming that I am “too pretty” to be in tech, “too cute” to fix things. They often assumed I would be in marketing where for some reason looks matter, or sometimes the blonde stereotype where they assume tech is too complex for women, and we should opt for lighter professions. These unfounded assumptions are not supportive at all. Such subtle behaviors work to the disadvantage of women where we’re considered last or not at all. In some cases, women are assigned tech roles that are considered lighter than actual coding. Over the years I learned to be bold and show what I can do, and use my voice to be seen and heard. Women overall need to work extra hard to achieve equality across the board, but we’ve made great strides so far with companies being equal opportunity employers, and now we have a lot more women role models compared to when I started 10 years ago. It’s up to us women to rise above the stereotypes, be included, have influence, create impact and show that cute can fix too.
If there is a bias women face, why do you think it is still there, in the 21st century? What are some things people and organizations could do to change this?
Carol: The ratio of men to women in engineering is 5:1. There will be an unconscious gender bias. I strongly believe it has to do with the culture we have been brought up in. While women are more nurturing in nature, we haven’t unlearned that a woman’s place can go beyond the kitchen, and beyond light duties, and beyond what our parents saw as the norm in a typical African setting. Unfortunately, women are seen as the lesser gender and men carry this notion even at the workplace and this then informs their biased decisions towards women. In equal measure, women see themselves as a lesser gender, and therefore we accept “our place” as dictated to us by society. If we don’t unlearn this through our Education System, we will establish these biases at the workplace. The process of recognizing and changing bias towards women is a personal responsibility and will take some honest reflections. Organizations can help enable the shift in how men perceive women, by building a culture that’s more accommodating at the workplace. On the flip side, It’s more difficult when the numbers are against us, so we can change this by developing talents at an early age. Encouraging girls at an early age to take up STEM subjects and pursue careers in STEM. Bridging the gender gap can influence greatly how women are perceived. Women should also speak up in situations where they recognize bias and have an honest conversation to bring about change. This way, we create male allies who can accelerate change.
You recently joined Facebook as a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist, how long did it take you to arrive here and what significant difficulties did you face along the way?
Carol: Wow. Looking back, it has been 10 years since I started my career in tech. I’d say landing a job at Facebook happened at the right time. I started off as a Mobile Developer, on the Symbian Platform, and later learned Windows Phone and Android Development. Along the way, the market needs to be changed and I found myself in Web Development working on Chrome Extensions.
Not having a degree often made me feel like my skills weren't enough, and so I had to put in a lot more effort in understanding CS concepts like Data Structures and Algorithms, especially when it came to technical interviews. I pursued opportunities abroad like tech programs, but my lack of a degree made it more difficult for me to make it to the final cut. I would often be congratulated on my achievements but disqualified for my education, but that has changed over the recent years with skills being a stronger factor than papers.
It has taken lots of constant learning and being in a developer community where I could interact with other developers and keep myself abreast with new technology. The opportunity to become a developer community Lead also presented itself and I volunteered for 3 years. Developer Circles is a developer program supported by Facebook and I got to interact with Facebook technologies and developer tools through events and hackathons. I was also a beneficiary of the Technical Training Programs sponsored by Facebook where I learned Data Science from DataCamp. My path prepared me for the role at Facebook, as it’s a beautiful mix of my experience. My technical background developing Apps, working with developers and my data science skills blend very well with my responsibilities as a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist.
We see that you work predominately in Software Engineering and Community Building. How did you decide to focus on these paths?
Carol: My childhood dream was to become a Doctor, and my Father being a Pharmacist also influenced this dream. Growing up, I was very technical. I hanged out with the boys, despite being in an all-girls family. I wanted to find out how things worked. I broke toys and one of my risky adventures was when I went under a lorry to figure out what held the wheels together haha! My curiosity was very evident from a young age and the excitement of discovering Computers and knowing that I can create anything using code soothed my curious nature. Hence, Software Engineering was a natural selection :D
With the vibrant Tech community in Nairobi, Tech Events were numerous and all of us would hang out at iHub. They ranged from technical training, show and tells, fireside chats, and random parties. I found a home here and even got jobs courtesy of the community members I interacted with. Naturally, I happily volunteered to help run the communities and that’s how I was briefly engaged with GDG, and later Developer Circles Nairobi. It is the immense value that my career has gained from communities and the power it has shown to refine one’s skills and build a developer’s confidence that I found myself passionate about building communities.
What advice do you have for a newbie or intermediate who dreams to work as a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist?
Carol: Developer Operations team members have a high-level of cognitive thinking and must be capable of complex, sound decision-making. It's also necessary to have an understanding of technology and how the internet can be used for good and bad.
Anyone who wants to work as a Developer Operations Review and Support Specialist needs to demonstrate experience in leading projects from inception to completion, have strong critical thinking and deep analysis capabilities, have the flexibility to take on multiple tasks, be a strong team player while working across multiple time zones as well as have strong quantitative and analytical abilities that support data-driven decision making.
The team is a unique, global team that works to maintain the integrity of the site and to ensure we're providing a high-quality, safe and trustworthy experience. Spread across offices in California, Dublin and Singapore, our team works hard to ensure the applications integrated into Facebook platforms are compliant with our policies and don't take advantage of anyone using them. Therefore one needs to consider all of these to know if this is something they’ll enjoy doing.
How long have you been in tech, and what word will describe your experience so far?
Carol: It’s been 10 years! 2010 to 2020. I’d say it’s been a Rollercoaster. I’ve had my highs and lows. Those epic moments when my code works on the first run, those times I’d spend days fixing a single bug, dealing with clients and being part of an amazing and supportive community. That’s a whole Rollercoaster!
We see that you speak and teach at software conferences, how did you get into public speaking and how has it affected your career?
Carol: Being an introvert, and super shy, crowds would scare the heck out of me. I used to be a single-word-conversationalist. I had to learn how to be a people person, and start conversations and most importantly keep the conversation going. This built my confidence around people and soon enough standing in front of a crowd was a hurdle I overcame. During my Software Training, we used to present a lot and were also categorically taught on great presentation skills and that’s how I also learned how to be a good speaker. With my wealth of experience I was comfortable sharing on certain topics and when opportunities to speak came my way, I happily took them, as well as participating in panels. This has moulded me into a confident person where I can freely use my voice, and the soft skills I have helped better communicate technical terms to non-technical team members and clients.
What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to speaking at meetups and/ or conferences?
Carol: Know your stuff. Practice speaking in front of a mirror and then to a friend you trust who will give you honest feedback. Sign up to speak at your local developer community. This will help build your speaking portfolio and other larger organizations will notice you and your work for similar opportunities. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s how you learn. You don't have to know everything. Speak to the audience level you’re comfortable with. Don’t be too uptight, add some humour to your sessions to keep your audience engaged.
What do you think needs to be done to encourage beginner developers to learn programming languages and continue learning?
Carol: Inspiration and Passion are the two elements that would keep programmers going. We can inspire beginners by showing them what technology has done and what it can do futuristically. This should spark something in them to want to build and be disruptive. This way, they will want to learn the skills and the languages depending on the stack they choose. As they keep growing, they will naturally look to self improve by continuously learning to achieve what they have in mind. Passion will make them go the extra mile to make their dreams come true. Providing a supportive community where they can find mentorship and know that no question is too stupid to ask will help them thrive. Organizations should also provide more internship opportunities since this is something new developers struggle with a lot.
Imposter syndrome is one problem developers face especially newbies, what is your experience with imposter syndrome, how did you manage yours, and what advice do you have for anyone facing this currently?
Carol: Imposter Syndrome can cripple your potential. I remember the first time I came across version control. I had just joined this company as an Android Developer and the CTO kept going on and on about Mercurial. Mercurial is a revision-control tool for developers similar to Git. I immediately was filled with a lot of fear and feelings that I didn’t belong there and that I knew absolutely nothing. This prevented me from immediately seeking help and I wasted a lot of time trying to figure things out on my own. It’s natural to feel this way, we all have moments of doubt, but we need to learn how to recognize those thoughts and feelings, and quickly snap out of it and seek help. Share your feelings with a friend or mentor. They will help you assess your thinking and make it less scary. Imposter syndrome should never make you think that you aren’t intelligent, it’s just a moment that you can overcome with the right mindset.
Rejection emails are another thing that motivates imposter syndrome and depression amongst developers, especially intermediates. How did you manage this effectively during your "job-hunting" days?
Carol: It feels terrible to be rejected. Early on in my career, it used to get to me, and I would wallow in my feelings for days, even weeks. I eventually found solace in the saying that “what is yours is yours”, and the word that says “Time and chance happen to them all”. This encouraged me to keep trying and not to give up. Whenever I was lucky to get feedback on specific things that I didn’t do well on, I worked on those areas. As I kept growing in my career I had a better tolerance for rejection emails because I understood my worth and a No, didn’t diminish my worth at all. It just meant it wasn’t the right time, the right opportunity and that’s okay.
What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to working for companies like Facebook or Google?
Carol: These companies are keen on your problem-solving abilities and the biggest part of your interview for Engineering roles will be the coding interview. This is mostly done on a whiteboard, as well as on an online IDE for coding interviews, depending on what stage of the interview you're on. You have to prepare extensively, there are no two ways about it. You have to understand Data Structures and Algorithms in and out. You have to know what time and space complexities your solutions run on. You have to explain your code step by step and when considering a solution, consider all the edge cases and know how to improve your solution, as well as what trade-offs to make in terms of memory/space and time.
Make sure you are asking clarifying questions as you go along. Practice talking through your coding out loud while you are doing it. Practice a lot on solving coding challenges on platforms like Leetcode and HackerRank. You will increase your chances of cracking the coding interview, and eventually being hired.
Which of your projects are you most proud of? Can you briefly introduce us to it and why you built it?
Carol: It has to be when my team and I built an app that was focused on Civil Education when we had Elections in the year 2013. The app delivered civil education on the new constitution that had been enacted and was also pulling data from a Google API to show information on Boundaries (County level to Polling Centers) and the number of registered voters per boundary location. It also had a timelines module that provided prompt dynamic feeds on major milestones/happenings before, during and after elections. I learned a lot during the 48-hour hackathon and was the most impactful project I was part of, knowing that I was helping citizens make informed decisions that would affect their livelihoods for the next 5 years.
What is the best advice someone has given you that has helped you in your career?
Carol: “God Always”. Simple yet so profound. My professional and personal life have been guided by these two words. God is all-knowing and what a privilege it is to have a relationship with the one who knows everything. The one who can guide me into the path that is already blessed. So, God Always.
What are your favourite programming tools?
Carol: The new and improved Android Studio, and of course, Visual Studio Code
What does your development environment look like?
Sorry to disappoint, I don't have the fancy ones. I like to curl up in my bed or the sofa and get work done. It's the code that matters, right? :D
Finally, what would be your message to women trying to get into technology?
Carol: This is a space where you belong. We need you, we want to see you and we want to hear you. When you get here, influence the industry, and create impact. Let's fill the space and pay it forward to other women and young girls.
Thanks for taking out time to read this interview. 👋
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