Women in Tech: Nikema Prophet

Bolaji Ayodeji's photo
Bolaji Ayodeji
ยทSep 25, 2020ยท

11 min read

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Today, we have Nikema Prophet ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ป, an Associate Community Marketing Manager at Armory who founded PopSchools and is looking to collaborate on community building for early-career technologists.

Do it scared. You'll improve the more you do it.

โ€” Nikema Prophet

In this interview, you'll learn how Nikema started her career in tech, her 3 years journey so far, advice on being a founder, and experience as an Associate Community Marketing Manager. ๐Ÿ’œ

Nikema Prophet's Photo

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you venture into tech?

Nikema: I've had a love for computers and electronic devices for as long as I can remember. I was making websites with HTML back when I was 11-years-old. I took formal classes in programming and web design in high school.

Tech was a natural interest for me and not seriously a career aspiration until after I was an adult and preparing to have my daughter. I wanted to be a professional dancer growing up and there was no plan B.

It was just this year, in August of 2020, at 37-years-old, that I landed my first full-time role in a tech company.

Can you briefly tell us about your job title?

Nikema: I'll do my best but I'm still very new on the job (less than a month in at this point) ๐Ÿ˜„.

I'm the Associate Community Marketing Manager at Armory. My role is within the marketing department at a tech company. My small team works with the OSS Spinnaker community.

I'm still onboarding and that has consisted of daily meetings with people within Armory and with contributors and leaders in the Spinnaker community. I am getting to know the crew at Armory, learning about open source, and getting up to speed with cloud infrastructure and DevOps.

I joined the company during preparation for Spinnaker Summit so the attention that isn't going into my onboarding tasks is directed there. I'm currently reading over submissions to the CFP for that conference.

What difficulties have you faced on your way in tech? Have you ever felt like you were not treated as equal?

Nikema: Being a single, low-income, parent has been the biggest barrier to overcome. I've always known that I needed a remote-friendly and parent-friendly role. I have been thinking about and seeking remote work in tech for 13 years.

Tech as a whole isn't setup in a way that widely supports bringing people in from backgrounds like mine. It has taken patience and persistence to find a role and company that is suitable for me.

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?

Nikema: Heavy question. I think one of the reasons why bias persists is because operating this way doesn't hurt those in power enough.

Inclusion and equal opportunity shouldn't be a "nice to have" it's the law in the US. I see absolutely wild accounts of blatant discrimination at least weekly since I've been paying attention. What I don't see is people being held accountable and experiencing consequences for it.

My suggestions? We all can start holding companies accountable to follow the laws that are already on the books. Also, if you as a leader look around your company and you don't have women applying or staying in roles, there's a problem that is your responsibility to address. Find out what that is and don't ever blame it on the pipeline.

You currently work as an Associate Community Marketing Manager at Armory. How long did it take you to arrive here and what significant difficulties did you face along the way?

Nikema: I've been trying to break into my tech career for over a decade. There's a long story behind that but my active job search was a little under 100 days.

The difficulties I faced were mostly due to my low-income status and the complications that come along with a prolonged period of financial insecurity. An example of that was I interviewed for roles while dealing with constant tooth pain. I was emotionally fragile due to pain and stress and I cried during more than one interview.

Additionally, my primary job for 13 years has been a stay-at-home mother. I needed to learn how to present myself as a person of value to potential employers without a degree (CS or otherwise) and with very little outside work experience (tech or otherwise).

We see that you work predominately in Software Development and Community Building. How did you decide to focus on these paths?

Nikema: Finally, an easy question. This is what I love to do. It's energizing work for me. When I did just that, focus on the paths that lead to doing the work I love, things started to click into place.

What advice do you have for a newbie or intermediate who dreams to work as an Associate Community Marketing Manager?

Nikema: Be seen working, learning, and contributing to the communities you are a part of. Build your network by genuinely getting to know people and providing value to others.

It's can be scary, but be willing to be visible. Be curious and be kind. People want to help people who can be seen making an effort. Don't be afraid to speak to anyone especially if they are offering help. No one is better or more deserving than you, don't be intimidated by titles and status.

I've been around tech for a long time but I'm a newbie in the professional world and in this role. My strategy was to show that I am hungry, that I'll work hard, and that I can get along with people.

The specific tech can be learned, be coachable.

You founded PopSchools. Can you tell us a little about PopSchools and what inspired it?

Nikema: PopSchools was my attempt at creating a space in the tech world for myself and families like mine. I homeschool my kids and I wanted a place where all of us could be comfortable and parents could work while their kids were safe and engaged in their own activities. Before the pivot, it was meant to be a kid- and family-friendly coworking space.

Today PopSchools looks a lot different and the focus is on creating a supportive community and career support for early-career technologists. The new direction was inspired by disgust at some of the predatory businesses I've seen target this demographic.

How long have you been in tech and what word will describe your experience so far?

Nikema: I'm going to say 3 years since I founded PopSchools in 2017. My word is transformational.

We see that you speak and teach at software conferences, how did you get into public speaking and how has it affected your career?

Nikema: I've done exactly one talk. It was non-technical and it was about the barriers I've faced getting into tech.

I started submitting talks because I was tired of never seeing perspectives like mine being represented or acknowledged. 2020 was going to be the year I got onto more stages. I haven't really wanted to pursue it since COVID. The one talk I had scheduled, I missed because I was sick when it was time to prepare for it.

Public speaking is a skill that is worth developing. I'm pretty awful at it but I'm on my way to improving.

I'm not sure how much it has affected my career for the better, but I know that if you're good it can be a whole career in and of itself.

What advice would you give to aspiring developers who look forward to speaking at meetups and/ or conferences?

Nikema: Do it scared. You'll improve the more you do it. Also, someone out there really needs to hear what you have to say.

What do you think needs to be done to encourage beginner developers to learn a technical skill and continue learning?

Nikema: I think it would help beginners if we talk more about the wide range of roles available in this industry and finding one that suites you well.

It would also be nice if we could all get used to seeing people for their whole selves and welcoming and appreciating diverse perspectives. Encourage a growth mindset while in the beginning stage and remind folks that learning is ongoing.

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?

Nikema: I kind of hate the term impostor syndrome. I think we all can expect to feel uncomfortable when we are undertaking something new and difficult.

The feeling of being an impostor shouldn't be as normalized as it is in tech. I have a whole rant about this.

I manage impostor syndrome by knowing my value and by getting shit done. Get to work and actually take note of everything you achieve. It's proof that you aren't an imposter. Some of this documentation takes care of itself if you learn in public.

Adopt a growth mindset and don't compare yourself to anyone but your past self. Don't assume that anyone is inherently better than you.

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?

Nikema: I celebrated rejections. Some still stung and I didn't like hearing "no" over and over again. But rejections are part of the game.

It helped me to see the noes as making space for the right yes. Not every application will lead to a good fit. I didn't take them as a sign that a tech career wasn't for me or I wasn't good enough to get hired. I kept the faith that the right role was out there for me.

What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to working for companies like Microsoft or Google.

Nikema: I can't speak from experience with Microsoft or Google, but if I wanted to work for a specific company, I'd learn as much as I could about the culture and get to know people who are in the role I'm targeting. Those folks can submit your resume and that can up your chance of getting an interview.

I'd learn all I could about the interview process and prepare for it. I didn't target those companies so I'm not completely sure what it takes but there are resources out there for how to prep.

Which of your projects are you most proud of? Can you briefly introduce us to it and why you built it?

Nikema: #100DaysOfJobSearch. It's a community of technologists all working towards getting jobs in tech. We update each other on progress, have had several career workshops, and a few of us found jobs in the first 100 days. I built it because I needed to start my tech career and it felt like a good idea to job search with the support of a community.

What is the best advice someone has given you that has helped you in your career?

Nikema: Pursue the work that energizes you and makes the best use of your skills and abilities.

What are your favorite programming tools?

Nikema: VS Code and iTerm are pretty much all I use. I like Scrimba as a learning and practice tool but I don't use it often.

What does your development environment look like?

Nikema's Workspace

I work in my bedroom using a standing desk converter and Roost stand for my MacBook.

Finally, what would be your message to women trying to get into technology?

Nikema: Do it, you belong here.

Thanks for taking out time to read this interview. ๐Ÿ‘‹

This series is all about talking to the awesome women in tech, understanding the current health of the tech industry, and inspiring other women to become better. If you want to share your story, please reach out to me on Hashnode.

Did you find Nikema's story useful and inspiring? Write down your thoughts in the comments section below and don't forget to share this interview. You can also follow Hashnode on Twitter to stay up-to-date with our future She Inspires interviews.

See you next time and keep trailblazing ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ’™

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