Women in Tech: Pariss Athena
Hello, Awesome 👋,
Thanks for taking out time to read this interview. This series is all about talking to the awesome women in tech and understanding the current health of the tech industry. If you want to share your story, please reach out to me at email@example.com.
Today we will be interviewing Pariss Athena 👩💻.
Pariss is the creator of the famous #BlackTechTwitter & Founder of BTPipeline
She's a Front-end Developer (React and ReactNative), while she's not coding, she's building an inclusive and innovative community of black people taking charge in the technology industry.
I interview leading women developer every week and showcase their history, opinions and advice on the tech. In case you missed our previous interviews, check out the " She Inspires " series on Hashnode. Also, if you find this interview useful, please don't forget to share with your friends and colleagues. 😃
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you venture into tech?
Hi! My name is Pariss and I'm from Boston, MA. I'm half Black, half Puerto Rican, bilingual and a mom to a 7 year old boy named Sevee. Before having a child and transitioning my career to tech, I have an entire rollercoaster of a ride that got to where I am now. I moved to NYC after graduating high school to study screenwriting at Pace University. During my year in NYC, acting really piqued my interest! After I wrapped up my year in NYC, I packed my bags, hopped on a plane and moved to LA to try and break into Hollywood. It was tough! LA lifestyle chewed me up and spit me out. I returned to Boston, enrolled into school to become and Esthetician and graduated. I ended up becoming a wax specialist for 3 years and absolutely loved it. The problem was that it wasn't challenging enough and it wasn't a career that allowed me to elevate. I enrolled back into school to get my BA in marketing but when I was finishing up my AA, I learned about coding and how important having a technical skillset was. I kept hearing the old, "You're going to be replaced by a machine." I realized the saying was true after seeing how much of clientele I was losing to laser hair removal. I signed up to attend a hackathon for a program called Resilient Coders, which taught and paid people of color to code. The hackathon is where the staff of RC choose people to attend their program. I was chosen! A few weeks later, I quit my job and started their program which was 8 weeks long. I learned front end web development, built numerous websites, made tons of connections and went to the coolest events. I graduated and my career really took off from there!
What difficulties have you faced on your way in tech? Have you ever felt like you were not treated as equal?
There were two things I felt gave me more difficulties than others in this industry- being a bootcamper and being a Black woman. A lot of people hiring for these startups and giant tech companies did not have faith in me because I was a bootcamper. I mean, my competition was CS grads so that's understandable. What wasn't understandable was being called in for tons of interviews with the word "bootcamp" on my resume then being told they were looking for a CS major. That's cool but why call me then? I'll also never forget this moment during my bootcamp where we attended a wine down and me and my cohort were just hanging out, excited to be there. This white man and woman came right next to where we were sitting and decided to converse with each other loudly saying, "These bootcampers think they'll graduate bootcamp, know everything they'll need to know and get a job. tons of laughter" First thing I thought to myself was, F U. Then I thought to myself, "Great, these are probably the types of people who are looking at my resume. The types who think it's cool to walk up to a bunch of black and brown people and make them feel like they'll never make it."
You started the famous #BlackTechTwitter thread on Twitter, what inspired this?
First, I'd like to say that it was completely unintentional. I had just signed up for Twitter after being laid off from my first Software Engineering job. Only through Twitter did I realize that there were quite a few Black people in tech. One day, someone posted how there were some handsome Black men in tech and I thought to myself again, "there's a lot of Black people in tech general." So I tweeted, "What does Black Twitter in tech look like? Here, I'll go first" I posted my photo, my title as a Front End developer and thought nothing of it. I had about 500 followers then so I wasn't expecting it to go anywhere. Hours later, I looked at my phone and it got to a point where my notifications were so out of control that I could refresh my notifications every few minutes on desktop and the number would still be in the high hundreds.
You also started a Discord server for #BlackTechTwitter, how has managing this been and what success stories do you have from the community?
I started the Discord so that I had somewhere to lead all of #BlackTechTwitter too after a few days of the thread still being fresh and receiving praise. Managing it was okay at first because I had lots of moderators helping me. After a few months, the Discord got so big that people became stressed, it was too much to handle I could barely moderate it myself because I had just landed a new job and needed my focus to be on that. I received feedback from the community on the Discord and took into consideration after opening up our new Slack community. It's way easier to navigate, fewer channels and members, and Slack pretty much does all the hard work for you. The Discord is up and running but people are also welcome to join us over on Slack. There are so many success stories that come from #BlackTechTwitter and they all make me extremely happy and proud, kind of like a mother. People from our community have gotten internships, jobs, speaking opportunities, conference attendance opportunities, expansion to their network, collab opportunities, etc. While those are all amazing, I think the best success story is that we've built a community where we don't feel alone. We know we exist in this industry, even if we don't see each other at work or at certain conferences. We're here and we support one another.
You founded BlackTechPipeline afterwards, why and whats your mission with this?
Black Tech Pipeline is a platform for #BlackTechTwitter and supporters to read and learn more about the technologists in our community, opportunities and resources. Right now, the platform exists as a newsletter, the Discord and Slack community. I am also launching a store full of #BlackTechPipeline merch. I eventually want to build the website but that's such a large project that I don't have time to sit and focus on right now. I want the website to be a place where we continue bringing exposure to our community, black people looking to get into tech can go for support, and employers/people looking to give opportunity can go to reach out to us. I currently work with employers and opportunity givers through Twitter and email. It works but a website is more formal.
We see that you work as a full-time Front-end Developer, how did you decide that this was the path you wanted to pursue and what has been your experience so far?
I didn't really choose to become a Front-end Developer. That just so happened to be what was taught at my bootcamp and it's what I stuck with. I wasn't aware of all the fields in the technology industry. I didn't know back end and design were options until I started learning to code. Even so, I'm happy with being a Front-end developer. I enjoy bringing a design to life, styling, being visual and creative. I want to continue building on my Front-end skills and getting really good at it.
If there’s 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?
There's definitely a bias women face and it still exists because we aren't that many years ahead from when women adapted to a restricted lifestyle. The men and women who lived that 'husband off to work and wife stays home to clean, cook and take care of the kids' are still alive and well. They passed down that mindset that that's how things should be to their kids who now have kids of their own. Women being the head of household, being financially independent of their husbands is very new. The era and mindset we are in now is what will be passed down. This is when change starts to happen. We're in a more accepting age where women don't have to be that stereotypical stay at home mom with no job unless they choose to be. Women are making the decisions, women are leading movements and companies, women are making a difference for women. The best thing anyone can do is support women for whatever choices they make and bring awareness to how great these women are.
What do you think needs to be done to encourage beginner developers to learn programming languages and continue learning?
I'm a bit bias because I was this person so this is the type of person I'm speaking to: I feel that many people have this misinterpretation about programming. They believe it's boring, math heavy, and not creative at all. I think we need to start off conversations about programming with how creative and visual it is. Coding is a form of art, just without the paintbrushes or however one defines art. Programming is bringing ideas to life, whether it's visually, functionality wise or both.
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?
I personally believe that Imposter Syndrome never goes away, no matter how many years you've been in this industry. Technology is always changing and advancing and there's always something new to learn and keep up with. It's a lot! My advice is to not compare yourself to others. That's the worst thing you can do. Focus on yourself, learning and improving at your own speed. Read, practice, keep up with your interest and you'll naturally grow. Let people inspire you in your own journey but don't do anything just because someone else is doing it. Make sure that what you're putting your time and energy into is genuine to you.
We see that you speak and teach at software conferences, how did you get into public speaking and how has it affected your career?
Public speaking opportunities sort of came to me, but it was something I always wanted to do. As loud and confident as I may seem, I'm actually very shy and quiet. I wanted to get into public speaking to challenge that fear. So far, I've done a few panels and spoken at Twitter. I've had people come up to me and tell me they're "part of #BlackTechTwitter" which warmed my soul. I've got a lot more speaking opportunities coming up from this week, all the way into next summer. It's exciting. I love bringing awareness to our community.
What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to speaking at meetups and/ or conferences
Do it! Say yes to every opportunity. Speaking brings more opportunities to you and your cause. Your name gets out, you make connections, grow your network. Be you. Bring your unique spice to your slides and talk. Lastly, when you apply or are asked to speak somewhere, do your research on that conference or meetup. What's their style? Who usually attends? What's that crowd usually like? Who are the speakers? Look at who you'd really love to connect with. Follow them on their social media platforms. Engage with them. Create a relationship before you speak.
You advocate for Blacks in Tech , what is your super power and inspiration?
My superpower is opportunity and taking advantage of it, I think. I don't know if that's me saying 'luck' or that I tend to do things that manifest things I'm passionate about but they happen and I make the most of it.
What advice do you have for your fellow Blacks in Tech?
It's no secret that the tech industry lacks Black people. We see it when we walk into work, conferences, meetups, etc. We're here though. We exist all over this industry, all around the world. If you feel alone, if you feel excluded, find your community, whether it's a group that meets up or it's online. Do what you need to do to feel less alone but I hope the answer to that never is, "I don't belong here." You do. You're more than good enough, you absolutely belong because this industry is your industry too.
What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to working for companies like Microsoft or Google?
Microsoft, Google and giant companies like those are great but there's nothing wrong with looking at smaller tech companies, or even companies that aren't technology first. Yes, some companies look great on your resume and can make opening doors easier for you in your career but they don't determine your value or potential. I've worked with incredible engineers at start ups and agencies. They choose those companies because they tend to have better flexibility, work life balance, and can be less stressful. It's really up to the individual to choose what's a good fit for them in a tech environment, and if that's the name of the company then that's their prerogative. I think what's most important is knowing the skill level you're at and what your goal is by a certain amount of time. Will this company be able to mentor you and help you grow in a healthy way?
What are your favorite programming tools?
What does your development environment look like? Could you please share a photo? :)
What's funny about getting a remote job is that you think you'll constantly be travelling and working from places all around the world. I've worked and travelled but it's honestly a pain. 98% of the time, I'm literally working from all around my house or at my women's co-working space in Boston called The Wing which is absolutely stunning!
Finally, what would be your message to women trying to get into technology?
Getting into the technology industry is such an amazing career that anyone can pursue. You don't have to have the same background as one person or another. There are women in this industry who came from school, bootcamps, or are just self-taught. These women are skilled, brilliant, inspiring and could use a lot more of us. We have such a positive community amongst each other, a great support system, and endless opportunities for us to continue learning and growing. We are bosses in this industry, leading and making change.
Did you find Pariss's story useful and inspiring? Write down your thoughts in the comments section below and don't forget to share. You can follow Pariss on Twitter. See you next time 👋.