Episode 015: Zuri Hunter as Queen of Hackathons


Jessica Kerr | Astrid Countee | Coraline Ada Ehmke |
Sam Livingston-Gray

Guest Starring:

Zuri Hunter

Show Notes:

00:16 – Welcome to “Snowpocalypse!” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”

01:50 – Zuri’s Background and Origin Story

Digital Globe
Women Who Code

04:19 – Hackathons

Meet Zuri. The Queen of Hackathons.
Color Coded

16:37 – Overcoming Shyness

20:47 – Navigating the Channels of Your Career

Graphical User Interface (GUI)

27:07 – Developing Skills and Keeping up with New Technologies

AWS Certified Solutions Architect

33:31 – Hiring Practices; Culture Fit

Research: How Subtle Class Cues Can Backfire on Your Resume (“No Silver Bullet” for D&I)
Facebook’s Hiring Process Hinders Its Effort to Create a Diverse Workforce
An Imbalance; Casting a Wider Net to Attract Computing Women (“Dave-to-Girl Ratio”)

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Thank you, Colin Bruce, for your support!

50:23 – Leading While Learning


Jessica: Helping others in small ways. #Micromentoring!

Coraline: Senior developers need to create opportunities for micromentorship.

Zuri: Periodically check in with new developers.

Astrid: Use hackathons as a way to try new things and to meet others who are already good at them.

Sam: Hang out at hackathons and the power of post-its!

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SAM:  OMG. There is so much snow. There is more snow than I have ever seen on the ground in Portland. With that, I would like to say welcome to Episode 15 of Snowpocalypse.

CORALINE:  You’re forgetting, Sam. There’s no snow here in Chicago.

SAM:  I should speak more quietly is what you’re saying?

CORALINE:  I think you’re using exclusionary language. I don’t have snow at all right now.


SAM:  Oh, damn it! Sorry. What would you prefer I say, instead?

CORALINE:  Your weather may vary.

SAM:  Greater Than Snow?

CORALINE:  Sure. I am Coraline Ada Ehmke and I’m joined today by the wonderful Jessica Kerr.

JESSICA:  Thank you, Coraline. We are also here with Astrid Countee.

ASTRID:  Thank you, Jessica and today our guest is Zuri Hunter. Zuri is a software engineer at DigitalGlobe, one of the world leaders in providing high-earth imagery, data and analysis. While studying Computer Information Systems at the illustrious Howard University, Zuri spent about two years teaching herself Ruby on Rails and participating in hackathons to expand her knowledge and experience.

In her spare time, she loves watching American football and playing video games. Hi, Zuri. Welcome to the podcast.

ZURI:  Hi. Thank you for having me. I think I’m super excited.

SAM:  High-earth imagery, is that like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Amsterdam?

ZURI:  I’m not sure about that but I’m going to say this. We recently got acquired so formally, our company is The Human Geo and we did a lot like geo-spatial visualization data and then DigitalGlobe which does a lot with satellite imagery and stuff. That was a great fit they do more of that.

SAM:  That sounds really cool. Before we get too far into that, we like to start the show by asking people about their superhero origin stories. So Zuri, How did you get into tech?

ZURI:  When I first came to Howard, it was a marketing major. I took my Imaginary Information Systems class. It’s like one of the requirements from [inaudible] and I just love the idea like tech and how it’s being use in businesses and stuff so I decided to switch to Computer Information Systems and with that, they had intro to Java programming and that’s when I love the idea like, “Oh, I could be creative and build stuff with my knowledge and stuff.”

I decided, from that point on that I want to do web development, software development but I knew that with my Computer Information Systems, it wasn’t geared towards that so I decide that I was going [inaudible] my skills.

CORALINE:  We said in the intro that you spend a couple of years on Ruby on Rails. What attracted you to that platform?

ZURI:  Ruby is really easy to read. When I started at Java programming, I wasn’t like a fan of Java syntax and it’s super, super hard but doing that was like web [inaudible] tools and then I attended Women Who Code Meetups in DC. They had opened up one in Ruby on Rails. The founder at the time, Kaylin, she was like, “Would you like run this and Meetup for us,” even I was a complete newbie to it. I was like, “Yeah, let’s go for it.”

From there, it’s not easy to pick up for me around that time and a lot easier to create prototypes for hackathons. I must emphasize that. It’s so bad because in ethical hackathon, I was doing an app in Ionic and that took forever, trying to build up the base in the base behind unlike Rails, you just click.

SAM:  Do you remember what’s your first Rails app was?

ZURI:  Yes, I do. It was a Pinterest demo. When we first launch Ruby on Rails for a DC at Women Who Code, I hope I didn’t butcher his name, [inaudible] one month, he gave us a discount for the ladies to go through his course of one month Rails. That was basically making a Pinterest app, going from design, using Bootstrap, all the way to deployment using [inaudible]. That was like my first Ruby on Rails app right there.

ASTRID:  I have done that so I know exactly what you’re talking about. That’s so awesome.

ZURI:  Yes, documentation is so good. It’s like I could see you down the road and I looked back at it and I appreciate this so much.

ASTRID:  Zuri, when did you first start participating in hackathons because I know that you had talked about the fact that you changed your major but when was your first hackathon after you decided that you were going to be interested in learning how to program?

ZURI:  My first hackathon, back then I didn’t really participating as soon as I came as spectator. But my professor in the summer of 2013, Professor Henry, he was pushing me to go to these events. Because I’m really a shy person so he said, “You don’t have to do anything, just come. Just see what people are working on. You don’t have to join the scene. Just show up.”

That summer, I attended my first hackathon. It was IndiaHack. I don’t think I have been at the time but I just came, went to 1776 Washington DC and just saw greatness in the room with people working on their projects. I think at the time, Google Glasses were hot so I was able to touch and play around Google Glasses for the first time. It’s no pressure, honestly. Everyone is relax and do things that they love. That was like [inaudible]. After spectating on site, I was enjoying development tutorials and then [inaudible] my professor helps when I was going to cross errors. But I didn’t participate until my second hackathon.

JESSICA:  You sound really enamored of hackathons.

ZURI:  Yeah. If you have an idea, you can work on it and this is a perfect opportunity to work on a new technology, that you ever want to work on. The last hackathon that I went to recently was in November and that’s for this new group called Color Coded. I had this idea since August. But it’s been back from my college years and I want to use React Native because with my current job, we use React for finance. I was like, “Let’s try React Native.” Of course, it’s really hard just trying to break in into that but it’s perfect opportunity for me so I use a new tool at the hackathon.

CORALINE:  I actually ran a hackathon back in January. The way we set it up was not like a typical hackathon and that was not competitive. We had five or six different nonprofit organizations and we built teams, grabbing people for the teams and we try to have a mix of different experience levels and different technologies and like front end people and back end people and whatever the difference there and that hackathon as it was noncompetitive. We wanted to be noncompetitive so it wouldn’t be so intimidating for new people. Do you find the competitive aspects of hackathons appealing? Or do you think it takes something away?

ZURI:  From a newcomer perspective, it takes away because now [inaudible] is feeling pressured, like for me whenever I get so competitive, I’m feeling pressured that I can make sure I know everything, that come across the error, I have to fix on the spot. That kind of takes away from the experience.

But as soon as I come to get more experience or get more comfortable with their skills, like I am right now, I guess you don’t really paid too much attention to the competitive in that aspect. It’s more of, “I just want to have fun using this new technology. I just want to have fun and even keep the same interest as me. For newbies, especially when I first got the idea, the competitiveness did take away from wanting to be a part of these hackathons.

SAM:  That would take away from me as an experience developer as well. I was just saying in the chat that I’ve never found hackathons appealing for a variety of reasons, like I don’t do well when I don’t sleep so the idea of spending a weekend is kind of unappealing. Then even if I wanted to, I have a kid so I can’t really schedule an entire weekend in town but not at home.

Then just the idea of having a competitive events and working on something where your whole goal is to slap it together as fast as you can is like really at odds with my preferred mode of taking your time and doing TDD and trying to get things right as you go. For all of those reasons, I’ve never been really interested in hackathons so it’s really interesting to hear you talk about how great they are. There’s some aspect of this that I hadn’t considered. That’s really cool. Thank you.

ZURI:  There were going to be like excellent run hackathons and they’re going to be really, really hard hackathons but it’s more of like the audience that comes to those things and it’s what makes it. But I am 100% with you. I can’t work straight through like I can’t do a full 24 hours of coding. I need a break. I need sleep.


SAM:  I think we all do.

ZURI:  Right. Some people they’re built like that and some people, like me are not. The hackathons that really put me on the spot and actually help me get my gig until today, the IndiaHack, Capital One Hackathon, I did take a break during that. My team knows me very well. But I took a break and I said, “Look guys, in early in the morning, I need to take this break,” but I think we need to understand that it’s okay to [inaudible] or take some time to yourself while we are in these events because coding is a lot of mental power right there and you need to rest.

SAM:  I guess fear of missing out could keep you awake for a while, right?

ZURI:  Yeah. For some people, making that last, extra effort so they can win something like price money or some sort. It turns on people and that what drives them.

SAM:  You just said something interesting about the hackathon that got you your gig and that’s another thing that I wanted to ask you about was this idea of using a hackathon to sort of break into the field and launch your career. You want to get into that?

ZURI:  Yeah, sure. I’ll get into that. It was funny thing that it was like, “I never saw this coming.” With me doing the hackathon, I didn’t see this coming at all, like actually being offered to what interview at my current company and actually getting offered. I was just simply going to this events, trying to meet people, network as well as extend my skills and understand how it to work in a tech environment because that was going to be the very closest thing I can get to in working in a tech environment was that these hackathons. It was a really huge shocker and a blessing at the same time that I have someone [inaudible] my team [inaudible] and it’s like for anyone looking to get a job.

I do sometimes try to recommend newbies when they’re asking, “How to get to [inaudible]?” And I was like, “Go to meet ups and to feel that you’re interested in, talk to people and you will learn an awful lot and you’re going to see a name of the face and see that you know what you’re doing and that you have a high interest in it because honestly, I feel like companies are looking for people who are really energetic and have a high interest in the tools that they use. It’s really, really helpful and hackathons are a perfect way to show that.

I feel that also to attend hackathons, regardless if you don’t really get ready or not because I tell you, I was trying to get out of it with my professor, when he was trying to tell to come out to these hackathons and say, “Just show up. You don’t have to do anything.” I say okay because I was not 100% confident in my skill, especially in Java. In fact, in participating a team but when you show up and you’re comfortable and you are, “This is not as bad. This is not as intimidating.”

JESSICA:  You mentioned that your team knows you. Did you show up to that particular hackathon as a full team?

ZURI:  Yes, actually. It was my professor or it’s my classmate who sent the email out about hackathon and I bought my ticket. We’re always like, “If we don’t find anything or themes that you are interested in, we can all form together,” and that end up happening up to the pitching session and we just stick together on this one.

CORALINE:  What’s a pitching session?

ZURI:  What they do, again in hackathons is people who have ideas, they will pitch it to the audience and say, “This is my idea. These are the text that I’m interested in working with.” Or these are that types of people I’m looking for and this is what I do.

For Color Coded hackathon, the idea was basically an app that allows you to record sessions with your friends or you freestyle over a popular hip hop beat. We usually do this in college all the time. We have album listening party and after is somebody pop in some instrumentals and someone would [inaudible] and we all go in a circle, amazing freestyles.

I went to [inaudible] that makes me [inaudible] to have that process as well as record it and share it with your friends. When I was pitching that idea, I also explained to them like, “I’m a full-stack developer. But these are the tools that I’m interested in working with like React so if you float with React, that’s great. If you have some experience with audio engineering, that’s also a plus and I also would like to have a designer.” That’s what essentially is being covered within the pitching sessions in hackathons.

SAM:  We’ve talked on the show in previous episodes about signaling behaviors and I’m wondering, as somebody who is new to the field or maybe like me as just new to the idea of hackathons, what are some signals that I should be looking for to decide whether a hackathon is going to be friendly or uber competitive or what?

ZURI:  I like to judge hackathons whether it’s going to be friendly or not based on the types of people who show up. When I tried to do this and talk to other people that are there, I say, “What do you do? What brings you here?” You’ll get the idea that this might be friendly environment. Who knows that? But you might be my future teammate or stuff like that.

Also, take into account the environment that they bring. When I say environment, the setting is it comfortable for you to sit down and start coding. Is there access to the bathroom, is there a whole bunch of water, a whole bunch of food? Those stuff really make or break hackathons and actually contribute to the vibe of hackathons. I do look out for those things.

But the key thing is to talk to the people that are there and let’s say, this person is very stand off-ish or this source are really open and welcoming. I’m very excited for this. I think that would be a good indicator of whether they want to participate in this hackathon or not. Also, do talk to the coordinators who puts together the hackathons because that can also lead to whether this is going to be a good experience or not.

SAM:  That was interesting. I was maybe wondering if there were signals I could look for before I went to decide if I wanted to go but it hadn’t occurred to me that you could show up and if you’re not having a good time, you can leave?

ZURI:  Of course. I mean, if you pay for a spot for hackathons, sure you want to get your money’s worth. But there were events where you don’t really have to pay and you can just show up and you can like, “All right. I am not feeling this.” See, you’re not being held there against your will. You go to the show and end up like don’t have to stay to the entire thing.

CORALINE:  The idea of paying in participating in hackathons seems really strange to me.

ZURI:  I’m assuming that there are some people think, like I paid for numerous hackathons. I wouldn’t say the most expensive because the only reason it was expensive for me was I had to fly out to get there. But I felt that the cost for this probably goes to food and getting the area and everything. But I think the ones that you do pay for it, you do get better quality and really good Wi-Fi.

JESSICA:  Actually it makes me feel a little better if I pay for it because if I’m not paying for it, who’s getting the benefit you know who am I there for?

ZURI:  Yeah, right. Exactly. That is also something to think about as well. Most cases, if I am not mistaken, the hackathons that I’ve seen that were free are geared towards helping out nonprofits or up and coming ideas. For example, Call for DC Hackathon, which was if I’m not mistaken, it was March or April last year. That was a free hackathon but that was geared towards building tools and technologies to help the communities within DC. You do have to take that into account — if there’s a free one, who am I servicing and whatnot and if it’s not free, hope there’s a great quality too, greater quality in area and settings.

ASTRID:  Zuri, you have mentioned before that you’re kind of a shy person. But you’ve also talked about pitching at hackathons and walking around and talking to people. What is your advice to other people who would say that they’re shy and are too freaked out to go to these hackathons and maybe start chatting up people to see if they want to be there?

ZURI:  For me, what’s really contributed me to not opening up is not willing to pitch. I’m a very critical person on myself like everything has to be 100% perfect before I do the same thing or do anything. At the time, when I was first starting out, I didn’t think my skills was good enough. I didn’t think my ideas were actually appealing and that people will like it. That’s occurred to me from going around, talking to people, and actually doing the pitches and stuff like that.

With me seeing that in myself, I was like, “This is a problem. I need to boost up my confidence.” That might be a problem for other people why they’re shy or kind of scared to go in and really put their self out there at these events. It’s probably because they don’t have strong confidence. My advice to this is if you have that feeling, do what you need to do to get the confident. For me, I felt like I was struggling with Ruby on Rails so I get a whole bunch of Ruby on Rails tutorials, went to a whole bunch of Ruby on Rails Meetups and try to get well-versed in the subject as I can.

Then when I went to these events, I was like, “I know what I’m talking about. I understand what I’m talking about and I feel like I can contribute more beyond what I’m talking about.” That would be one of my advice I would give to people who are kind of shy like me because if they lack in confidence. It’s just anything with growing, it’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to be outside your shell but you have to be willing to grow. That’s what putting yourself out there on these hackathons is going to require you to do to grow and to be confident and network and learn new things.

I know that I wanted to grow in my skill so I had to really, really push myself, even though, I’m definitely shy and don’t really like talking to people but [inaudible], they’re amazing people that I come across so far.

SAM:  I would also like to suggest to our listeners if they haven’t tried this, that maybe they work up to the hackathon by going to a few local user group in Meetups. First off, it gets you used to being around the kind of people who show up for voluntary tech events. It’s a lower investment things because you’re going for maybe a couple of hours until the evening. Even if you don’t wind up going to hackathons, after that you get some good exposure to user groups which are one of the most valuable resources we have to keep growing and learning in our field.

ZURI:  That’s a really good advice. That’s exactly how I started up.

JESSICA:  Zuri, you said you started by going to Women Who Code DC, was this helpful to find a group that was targeted for women?

ZURI:  Yes. Actually, if it wasn’t for them, [inaudible] confidence, I wouldn’t be in this industry. I would probably get out a long time ago. Something about it just make you feel comfortable, you can ask a whole bunch of question and some unique experiences that women go through is sometimes something that men can cope all the time and you do talk about that and relate that with women.

Women Who Code Meetup in DC it’s like we’ve grown to part ways. They are organized and they have so much content, so much talks plus it’s very, very, very helpful. As well as perfect time, perfect group to come across, like mentors or people that you can ask questions with about whatever technology or whatever, say like entrepreneurship too because when my team went to Capital One Hackathon, I had [inaudible] who was a part of Women Who Code DC Meetup that I went to and I see them, “Where are the next session do in this route and trying to build this business up with my team,” and she gave some very good, insightful experience. Women Who Code and groups like that, really do help a lot.

CORALINE:  Zuri, you mentioned winning that hackathon, opened a door to a job opportunity for you. Do you want to talk about that?

ZURI:  It was in August, that hackathon, after my team had won, it was like really, really exciting. [inaudible] to my team, imagine like there’s a team of three, there was three of us. [inaudible] team and hit us like, “Is someone looking for a job?” At first, he really, really love the front end as to cover a project, like he was really like [inaudible] for that more than anything else. Then, as [inaudible] was looking, at that time I was temping at this temp agency so I was doing this property management work and it was like [inaudible] that want to do and I was like, “You know what? Yeah, sure. I had enough of those days. I’m trying to get in to this industry,” so I took down his email it took a month before I applied.

I think the reason why was because I wouldn’t have my personal website up before I applied so whoever who was looking at my resume started to look up and like, “This is her website. It’s pretty nice. She knows her stuff. She built it herself.

A month later, I applied and [inaudible] next we called in person interview. I think it was two days later, I was offered a position here as the technologist at The Human Geo. That was very, very exciting because I kid you not, prior to that, I’ve been applying to a lot of companies and every single one of them: you don’t have enough experience or we’re looking for senior developers and mid-level developers, you don’t have a computer science degree, you don’t [inaudible] information systems, your projects are not enough for us to gauge whether we like to bring you for interview. I had a lot of ‘nos’ and it has been very discouraging. But for every billion nos or some sort, someone is going to say yes and The Human Geo said yes to me so I was really, really, really excited and happy and more of a blessing than anything else.

JESSICA:  You only need one yes.

CORALINE:  Zuri, what did they do when you got hired to bring you up to speed because you were very junior and you had very limited experience? What did they do to help you develop your skills and really get productive as quickly as possible?

ZURI:  They bought me [inaudible] and I just [inaudible] to everyone, as well as my team and my team manager. My team lead, basically said, “We’re going to having you work on the [inaudible] aspect of your application and we’re going to have you paired up with a senior dev. From there, I was learning and working with a senior developer who is really, really good in front end stuff, especially Angular. I learned a lot from him. It was more of working, I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t thrown out and sit on the water and set float. But they paired me up with the same dev and having learned from there.

Also the first two weeks they gave me in time so I do self-reading on Angular, JS documentation because I thought we were working on those. First we do that is network with the senior developer and learn from him.

SAM:  That’s great. I wish more companies were willing to take what they perceive to be a risk and hire and mentor more juniors because that’s the only way that anybody is ever going to get mids and seniors.

ZURI:  Right. Exactly. You’re so right about that. Also, it’s [inaudible] because at the time when I joined, I think I was employee number 63 or 64 so we’re a small company. Most small company, everyone is doing everything, and everyone has started from mentoring but helping junior devs along the way. It’s really, really good that I have that opportunity to have a senior developer worked with me as well as guide me on what I need to do [inaudible] aspect for our project.

JESSICA:  How long have you been there now?

ZURI:  I just reached two years in October.

ASTRID:  Congratulations.

ZURI:  Thank you. I must say, I grown a lot in my skills. When I first joined, I was scared to work with the command line and everything. But then right now, I’m going to make this change on vim and I got no problem with it. I’m doing completely comfortable. It was amazing from zero to a hundred.

JESSICA:  Vim does have that property of making you feel really smart when you know how to use it.


SAM:  Definitely.

CORALINE:  I definitely never unlocks that level of vim. Vim just makes me feel really stupid all the time.

ZURI:  Yeah, it does that too.

JESSICA:  I don’t know how I ever used vi without Git because with Git, at least I could get back to a history point and it’s totally possible to just accidentally wipe things out with vi. Although, really the hardest part is just exiting.

ASTRID:  Yes, that’s like the story of my first few weeks on my first job as a developer where I learned vi and I was like, “How do I get out of this? How do I get out of this? Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”

CORALINE:  Just close the terminal window and we’re fine.


ZURI:  Oh, my God. You’re right because I definitely did that in the early days. I was like, “Screw this.”

SAM:  The way that I work in my day to day work flow is that I use tmux and I have a vim window open and it just stays in vim for hours or days at a time and then I switch over to another terminal. When I pair with other people who work in a single terminal and they’re like jump in and out of vim, I’m like, “Wait. What are you doing?”

CORALINE:  There is this wonderful invention. I think it came about in the late 70s, early 80s. Some people call it GUI – graphical user interface and I find that I really enjoy applications that take advantage of this technology, especially for code editing. It’s something for listeners to check out. If you want to get away from vim, check out something with a GUI. I hope I’m saying that right.

SAM:  No, everything was perfect in 1975 and that is the way it will be forever.


CORALINE:  Zuri, it sounds like there were a lot of growth opportunities for you early on in your job. Do you still find that you have a lot of opportunities for learning and growing? If so, what are some of the things you’re interested in developing some skill in.

ZURI:  Yeah, it does a lot of growing and learning in the job right now and still have a lot more to go. As far as skills, I’m now on back end devops type stuff. One of the things that my company is pushing for is for us to get our Amazon Web Services certificate, specifically, the certified solutions architect certificate.

They bought us accounts for Linux Academy and I’ve been using that as a way to study for the certificate. Hopefully, check back with me in March. Hopefully, by then I’ll get my AWS cert from there but that was one of the things that I am focusing on for this New Year. It’s getting my certification in that. Actually, it has gone really, really popular thing going on right now. But we use it a lot. In our own projects, we use it a lot.

JESSICA:  Yeah, AWS is super useful. I think it’s cool that you’re getting into devops and that operational side so early.

ZURI:  Yeah, I’m going to start Year 2. I’m actually kind of shocked because when I thought I was doing the back end work, I was like, “Oh, my God. They trust me with that.” I don’t trust myself.

For the Rail, I was [inaudible] and you know some funny thing, I thought I was going to be able to keep up. I felt like maybe I’m not ready for this. I do them for this but no. I didn’t feel that way the minute I spent in a project. My team lead, he’s pushing for everyone, regardless that you don’t know the technology. They agree to help you along the way with it. First step, it was like working with Jenkins, which is [inaudible] tool and integration.

I did worked with creating [inaudible] and then we move on to getting services in Docker Containers, then a little bit on the way that does kind of interact with AWS because we’re creating this microservices that gets to AWS. It’s helpful for us to get understanding of what’s going on over there on the [inaudible] side. They’re really trying to mold everyone into full stack developer. Everyone that has a skill set in everything, like not one person knows one thing, like everybody knows everything. That’s how they want to grow people here.

JESSICA:  That’s really fantastic. That’s a lot of stuff for one year. I never had a certificate in anything. Has anyone else here have gotten one?

SAM:  Yeah, I did about 20 years ago. I got a Netware 3 Certification. I was a certified netware engineer and I stopped to using those skills long before I was done paying off the classes.


ASTRID:  Were the classes expensive?

SAM:  I went to a six-month thing at [inaudible] College. I think I spent about $4000 dollars on that stuff. Plus there were the testing fees as well.


ZURI:  Oh, that’s wild.

SAM:  It was not a good choice for me.

JESSICA:  This is why I was surprised to hear that they’re encouraging certificates. Maybe this one is a totally useful guide at learning sort of path. But the history of certificates has been pay our company a lot of monies that we will give you a stamp and you will feel important.

ZURI:  Yeah, and the funny thing is I was wondering because I remember talking to somebody and actually I was at abstractions that IO conference. I was talking to the fellow agent and he’s like, “Yeah, I remember that.”

“The Microsoft one.”

“Can’t remember specifically, which one?”

He was like, “You see when that one with.” I see where that one came and how that helped me. It makes me wonder, will this get obsolete? Will be no longer use this technology but as I looking at the history of how cloud services have evolved and how it turns into like a major main thing, I have a feeling that may not go away.

JESSICA:  For any given technology, will this become obsolete? Yes. But will that next thing —

SAM:  Will my skills transfer?

ZURI:  Yes.

JESSICA:  Yes, and that probably so.

ASTRID:  Maybe this is a little bit different because I know what you’re talking about, Zuri, the Linux Academy because I use that as well when I was working on devops team. But it’s not Amazon who’s actually teaching you. It’s another provider and it is really cool because they give you a server. You get an opportunity to learn how you can SSH into a server and to a remote server and actually teach yourself in the way that you’ve really been working so it’s not like you’re just doing videos, then it’s not real to you. I don’t know compared to the way that normal certificates work but it seems like it’s a good investment of time to learn a skill that’s really transferable because it’s not like you won’t ever do that again.

ZURI:  It will always forever be SSH into servers and making manipulations. Always. I bought a course a long time ago on Udemy, which is really, really good. That’s how I started off with the free stuff and trying to learn Ruby on Rails but Cloud Guru had a course on AWS certified on software architect so I am going to also use that as well as learning at good Linux Academy for certification.

JESSICA:  It sounds like you’re really excited about all this continuous learning. You’re tested for great career in tech.

ZURI:  Thank you. I hope so. I like when [inaudible]. I don’t want to do something repetitive over and over again. I think with me having my temp job and do something over and over again and it was like really bugging me a lot and I was like, “I need to be in something where there’s always something changing, there’s always some new technologies out there.” Like it keeps my mind fresh and ready.

JESSICA:  Yes, and we can always take what we’re doing and do it faster or better.

SAM:  But not both.

JESSICA:  Probably not.


JESSICA:  Not at first, anyway. It takes a while to make it faster and better but then we can.

ASTRID:  Zuri, before when you were talking about getting your first job, you mentioned that there was a lot of nos that you received. I just wanted to find out what was it that allowed you to keep going and keep looking for new opportunities and keep participating because a lot of people have talked about how getting all those nos or having a really hard beginning in tech made them discouraged. Some people didn’t come back for a long time. What was different for you that kept you in it?

ZURI:  I like to say it was current temp job. I knew I didn’t want to do that and that I really, really truly want to be a developer. I just keep going and just keep at it and then what the support of Women Who Code community and having the members tell me like, “Listen, you know your stuff. Somebody is going to say yes. Just keep on applying.” That’s what really kept me going, kept me up applying.

CORALINE:  You just scared straight program for new developers.


ASTRID:  That’s usually called working at a job you hate but I’ll do it for you.

ZURI:  Yeah.

SAM:  That did it for me. That’s a lot of what kept me going as I went back from a bachelor’s in computer science was like I know what happens if I don’t do this.

ZURI:  Yes, exactly and you don’t want to love that at all. That really kept me going.

ASTRID:  That actually brings up another question I had because I know that in the bio we said that you have a degree in computer information systems but you also said that people mentioned that you don’t have a degree in computer science. What is the difference between the two? Because I know a lot of people have that question, and why would somebody assume that you can’t do the developer job because you don’t have the computer science degree?

ZURI:  When I did interviews and when I talk to anybody, I always give the quick story of the difference between information systems and the difference between computer science. Information systems, all business aspect, you’re basically at an [inaudible] or could be in taught to skills of how to understand IT and translate it to business terms. You’re basically the medium between IT people and the business people. That’s what information systems measure.

When I was talking those classes to Howards to become that, I took more business class than I took on development. Unlike computer science, you stay on the sciences of computer so you’re doing a whole bunch of math classes, doing classes on how the operating systems are built, you’re doing classes on data structures, you’re doing classes on algorithms. It’s more technical based and understanding computers and algorithms and programming, as opposed to information systems, you’re all about business.

With good [inaudible] in my classes that I took that wasn’t a computer science really or computer systems related was like major in economics, accounting 1 and 2, supply chain management and operations. There’s a lot of classes in that. I had to take time aside and study programming, studying Ruby, studying web development in related to at least somewhat keep up with what the computer science people are doing.

CORALINE:  I want to argue there that the skills are more relevant than algorithms, depending on the job you have. But for most development jobs, especially if you’re a web developer, algorithms aren’t going to help as much as being able to talk to a business person and being able to understand what stakeholders are asking you for.

SAM:  Yes.

ZURI:  Yes. I’ve seen it in my current projects now like how that really plays a huge role, like how are you able to take whatever the system requirements and functional requirements that the client is asking you for and how do you translate that into tech-related stuff and how to tell developers like these are the things and tools and techs that you’re going to need so build stuff so we can satisfy once are just the stories that were generated from receiving these requirements.

I must say that with me having an information systems major and being able to understand the business aspect, I’m able to have a clear vision of how the goals and how the project goals are being translated from the business aspect, design, development, production. I am able to see how the stuff is being built and generated. That’s why I like to tell people in regards to the difference between information systems and computer science.

Also you can see it when it comes to pitching because computer science people, they don’t really know too much about the business aspect as much unless they did some side reading and stuff like that. We may have a business person might be able to translate that and help the masses who don’t know anything or don’t know much about the computer and technical aspect. They’ll be able to translate and understand what’s going on. I’m sorry, what was the second part to that question?

ASTRID:  The second part was why would you not having that computer science degree make someone think that you couldn’t be a developer?

SAM:  Arrogance.

CORALINE:  Elite to some.

JESSICA:  I have a computer science degree. Well, not me but hypothetical hiring a manager and I’m good. Therefore, good people have a sick computer science degree.

SAM:  I had to suffer for this computer science degree by taking classes in horrible languages and if you haven’t, you’re not worthwhile.


JESSICA:  How will I communicate with someone who doesn’t have my math experience?

CORALINE:  I think some of that ties in the culture a bit to, which is the most evil thing in the world is hiring for culture fit because hiring for culture fit you’re like, “I want or more Erics on this team,” and you end up with these homogenous teams that only know how to solve the problems of Erics and are really imbalanced and don’t take advantage of the wealth of different experiences that people have.

Zuri, we haven’t really mentioned as you, woman of color, do you think that influenced some of the nos that you’ve got?

ZURI:  Oh, I don’t even know. Honestly, I really don’t know if that influenced the nos. I haven’t got past the part of getting a phone call back then. Back then I was like, sent in my email with my resumes and stuff like that and the respondent back with, “You don’t have the experience and stuff.”

I do have my university on [inaudible] course and I know, Howard University is historically a black college and the accreditors or whoever knows that, like I don’t know. I really don’t know if that played a huge role or anything. It would [inaudible].

JESSICA:  You know I’ve seen this at some places where they want to hire people from the same list of schools that they’re comfortable hiring from and I think they’re just being lazy in some senses and piggybacking off strict admissions process so it’s pretty much everyone who goes. That’s school is pretty smart because they got in —

SAM:  And has the appropriate class background.

JESSICA:  Yes, and then the other consequence is they can talk to them, they have shared experiences, they have that class background, that general uniformity so that’s a negative and it takes more effort to hire from colleges that don’t have really strict admissions processes. I think this probably applies to boot camps too. Sometimes, their graduates are awesome because their admissions process is tricky.

SAM:  Yeah, or their tuition is prohibitively high.

ASTRID:  I totally agree that it’s just laziness for what you said, Jessica, and I always had a bone to pick with that concept of culture fit, especially being an anthropologist because I know they have no idea what they’re talking about when they say culture fit.


ASTRID:  Because the reality is culture is shared experiences. If you want to have a certain culture, you’re supposed to share those experiences with the people you have there, not I go find people who are like me. That’s not creating a culture. Even if they wanted to use this whole university model, what they should acknowledge is that usually when you go to university, you have a welcome week or something where all the freshman’s have an opportunity to get to know each other in some sort of social fashion and they indoctrinate you with whatever your university stuff is.

Then even if you come from different places and you have different backgrounds, you all have this thing now that you share together. That’s what you should be doing when you’re talking about creating culture fit. You should be going and finding different people and then bringing them to your Company X and saying, “Now, you’re part of us and this is what it means for you to be all in one group,” and you give them something to latch on to, instead of being lazy and say, “You don’t have to have it because I have no idea how to make it because that doesn’t really exist because I don’t do anything for what I do.”

CORALINE:  That has the truth stamp for the day.

JESSICA:  Spectacular.

SAM:  Yeah, I wanted to mention an article I saw recently in The Harvard Business Review where some researchers had sent out resumes to top law firms and they would vary the gender of the applicants and some of the extracurricular activities and personal interests that gave different clues as to their class. For some people, they would say that they were on the Intelligent Sailing Team. For others, they would say they were doing like the relay team in track and field. That and the gender were the only thing that they changed and surprise, surprise! They found that people with the higher class markers got more [inaudible].


CORALINE:  Wait a minute, are you trying to say there’s bias in the hiring processes, Sam, because this is huge?

SAM:  That is exactly what I have to say.

CORALINE:  Mind-boggling.

SAM:  Yes, they’re speaking of Facebook.

ZURI:  That’s really, really sad.

CORALINE:  I don’t know if anyone saw the Facebook article but it was in Bloomberg, I believe. They initially had made a statement about not being able to have impact of the university in their organization because of the pipeline and they ended up —

ZURI:  And like, there’s no skills from there. They were saying there’s no skills, like they can find people in that field that had skill for it.

CORALINE:  Yeah, that was their initial claim and their diversity numbers are atrocious. They’re 84% male, predominantly white. It’s really, really bad. Then it came out that diverse candidates were getting in the door but that they’re being turned away in later interviews for culture fit reasons.

SAM:  Even though they had been incentivizing recruiters to find more candidates who weren’t well-represented at the company and I’m actually reading directly from the article here. During the final stages, it says here, “The decision makers were risk averse, often declining the minority candidates.”

JESSICA:  They specifically solve their pipeline problem and surprise, surprise! That didn’t fix their hiring problem.

SAM:  It’s never the pipeline.

CORALINE:  Yeah, mind-boggling.

JESSICA:  There it is. It’s placed exactly of what Astrid said. People are looking for others who already share their experiences, instead of building experiences together. Did I get that right?

ASTRID:  Yeah.

CORALINE:  I want to work on a team that had more people named Blaine, than it had female engineers. I’m not making this up.

JESSICA:  How many Blaines is that.

CORALINE:  There were two Blaines and one female engineer.

SAM:  Yeah, that reminds me of an old New York Times article from 2003 about somebody’s observation of basically the same thing but they called it the Dave-to-Girl Ratio.

ZURI:  As we’re talking about this and we’re seeing this issue in the hiring practices. Like I said, it’s huge, huge problem because now it’s like [inaudible], getting this in the door is also something that I think that we don’t really talk much about is how to keep them to stay at the company and maintaining that. As I talk [inaudible] here. Sometimes I also like to fit in or we just feel awkward or we don’t feel comfortable and that makes us unhappy and we want to go somewhere else. This is a problem that needs to be fix.

This whole diversity issue is not something that you could put a Band-Aid on at all. Absolutely not. This has to be 100% effort, whether it’s on the policy level, like we’d be doing [inaudible] or within a company. It has to be from the very beginning all the way to the very end like seeing minorities, women, people of color in leadership positions, that goes a long way for me. Especially, for me I would like to see like, “We have woman senior lead developer,” that means I feel like I can get there someday. There’s no [inaudible] like it can be done based off her skills and so stuff so I[inaudible].

CORALINE:  That’s why we talk about diversity and inclusivity because woman together doesn’t make any damn sense.

ZURI:  Right.

JESSICA:  Inclusivity, we have to bring those people who are different from us into shared experiences with us. Is there anything that the people at your company do? This is a question for all of the women on this call, especially the women of color. Is there anything that people at your company do that helps with that feeling of belonging?

ZURI:  I do a lot of going out events. When I say going out, of course, lunch is a typical thing but we also have like Fridays, we play Mario-Margaritas. Anybody who wants to stay up on Friday just go to back office room and play Mario Cart and just have Margaritas. That helps to bring effort together and having fun and being comfortable. Also, attending Meetups together, that’s one day that we get everybody together and just having an open environment. Everyone here is like pretty much mashed very well together.

CORALINE:  At GitHub, there’s an annual women’s summit for women employees and that’s the official thing they gets done. There are also the unofficial women’s lunches and of course, there is sectionals, we have a women-only channel. We have a tech women channel so if you’re looking for a code review from someone who’s maybe going to be a bit more empathetic, you can ask the women tech channel first and there’s a queer channel and there’s a trans channel. They’re unofficial channels for this sorts of things.

But I think one of the kind of coolest and strangest things that I noticed about GitHub is that the women’s restroom on the second floor where engineering sets, there are posted notes, stickers, markers and all of the bathroom stalls are filled with posted notes and stickers and the messages of encouragement, counting how many women are at the company, asking questions and complaining about management and it’s just really strange open forum for sharing different things about your experiences of women at GitHub and it’s really —

JESSICA:  So there’s asynchronous anonymous bathroom channel.

SAM:  That is so cool.

CORALINE:  It’s amazing.

ZURI:  Also, I want to add one more thing. We also have one of our senior leaders, Jessica King, She actually has at least, every three months or five months to meets up every woman engineer at the company. She has [inaudible] with us and just to fit like, “How’s everything going? How do you feel?”

JESSICA:  That’s spectacular.

ZURI:  Yes, and she’s very, very busy so this is a lot and that’s really great that we have something like that there was [inaudible] for us within the company.

ASTRID:  That’s awesome. I can save that for my experiences, I’m not even just being a developer but also often working in very male-dominated industries, it’s usually the little things that make me feel included like saying hello to me every day or talking to me and asking me questions and listening to me when I reply back to you because the stuff that makes me feel not included is if you walk by me every day but you don’t ever say hi or if you all go out to lunch but you never invite me. But you don’t always have to have a huge initiative.

I think if you have a company where people are encouraged to get to know each other, it can go a long way with helping people who might not be like everybody else feel more included.

CORALINE:  I want to a moment to give a shout out to one of our supporters, Colin Bruce. Thank you very much for your patronage. Greater Than Code is 100% listener funded. If you like the show and you like to support us, please go to Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode, pledge at any level and you can get access to our Patreon only sectional, where you can ask guest questions, just new guest and talk about what we have covered on different episodes.

JESSICA:  I have one more question. One thing that you mentioned at the very beginning of the show, Zuri was that you signed up to lead the Ruby on Rails course meetings.

ZURI:  Yes, the Ruby on Rails Meetups for Women Who Code.

JESSICA:  You signed up to lead those as you were just starting to learn Rails. That’s really brave.

ZURI:  I blame Kaylin for that. Here’s what happened. As I said about Kaylin, she’s the director of the DC Chapter for Women Who Code at that time. She’s like, “I was telling him, teach yourself on Ruby on Rails,” and I was like, “Awesome. That’s amazing.”

“You should read it,” just like that,” and I’m like, “I’m stuck right there. I don’t know.” She’s like, “No, you’re good, you’re smart. You could do this. You could definitely do this. You can run a Ruby on Rails Meetup.”

I was like, “You know what? Sure why not,” because when you teach, you also learn on top of that. It was very nerve wrecking because I’m very critical of myself so I’m like, “Oh, my god. Everyone here is going to think I’m stupid because I don’t know how to solve to error or whatnot.” I’m sure someone here knows Ruby on Rails and they should be doing this, not me. A lot of those thoughts are going through my head but I just do myself out there and [inaudible] read up on it before every meetup and try to grow that meetup. It was like a very, very nerve wrecking.

JESSICA:  Did you have help? Did you have people who are more experience to fall back on?

ZURI:  Yes, I was not by myself during this Meetup. Actually, I had [inaudible] Amy. She was also learning Ruby Rails with me but she has some programming background so it’s really easy to looking at off of her because she’s really good. She had a way of learning too, which was really, really cool.

She had that thing built already and she takes it apart see how the mechanics work. That’s what she was doing with the one-month Rails. she had it done already or I think she took the final code base and start taking things apart to see how the [inaudible] and to create a [inaudible] and stuff like that, just to figure out how that works. She had interest in building stuff and was very good at solving errors. Definitely I had her to piggyback whenever we came across that I had no clue about.

JESSICA:  It helps when someone says, “You can do this,” and also it helps when you’re not by yourself.

ZURI:  Yes, the you-can-do-this part, definitely because Kaylin has really been definitely pushing me. Everyone within Woman Who Code community has definitely been pushing me like, “You can do this. You’re smart. You’re really great. This should be no problem with you doing this at all. Don’t doubt yourself.”

JESSICA:  That’s going to be my reflection of the day. I’ll just hop us by in the reflections. At the end of the show, we like to go around and say, “What did you learn today? What did you find particularly interesting?” This is mine because there were so many people who helped you in small ways.

Your professors pushing you to go to the hackathon. Your MIS professor somehow influence you to go into CIS as your major. The people at Women Who Code DC who made you feel welcome and Kaylin who said, “You can do this,” and Amy, I think it was who was helping you with the Ruby on Rails workshop and then this your team at the hackathons. You did this. You kept pushing through all discouragements and kept learning. The other thing that I really noticed was that through all of this, you’re like, “Well, I learned something so it must be good.”

ZURI:  Right. That’s absolutely right. I was like growing pain, there was people but that what I was trying to do. Everything I go to that at least I try to learn something out of it.

JESSICA:  Yeah, because then you come out as a stronger person. Sam wants to call these things micro-kindnesses or micro-affection. I’m going to go with micro-mentoring.

ZURI:  Yes, that’s the perfect word — micro-mentoring. I like that. We should make this a thing.

JESSICA:  Yeah because we can all do that. It doesn’t take formality. It’s these little things that add up.

CORALINE:  I can only led to my big takeaway from this and that is that, Zuri you are very fortunate to have those sorts of supportive people and support networks around you. I think that there are things that more senior developers can do to create those opportunities for micro-mentorship, to create the support networks, to create those structures that will give new people the ability to get through all the nos and to find the yes, and to find those learning experiences. I’m going to be thinking about how, as a more senior person, I can foster those sorts of environments.

ZURI:  Cool. I would like to add on because I just recently got a formal mentor, which I really excited about. But with that interview that was like conducted on me like [inaudible]. I actually decided to make sure if anyone asks me questions or I come across like a J developer, let’s ask them all these questions and stuff like that, I like to reach out to them privately like, “How’s everything going? We should learning all that stuff,” and try to figure out what their goals are and then giving direction or connect to someone that I know that could probably help them out. Then hopefully, build that relationship and just connect that piece.

If I know someone who’s trying to study Ruby and Ruby on Rails and I was reflecting on things, “I wish I had knew,” or things I wish I had done back then. It’s been great, honestly but there are a lot of things I wish I’ve done differently back then. I try to, at least to connect with her whenever I got a chance, like every two or three weeks and be like, “How’s that thing going? What did you do so far? What are you studying? Let’s set these goals and stuff.” Or try to do a simple algorithm problem with her every time we meet up our talk like, “[inaudible],” or a palindrome of some sort.

But I feel like if anything guys can do, anything to support that just to simply meetup with the [inaudible], send a message every two or three weeks like, “How’s everything going? You should check out this material? Are you having any issues with your current projects?” That would be pretty really, really helpful for them because it shows that people out there like they’re rooting for them and wanted to get better.

ASTRID:  The reflection that I have from our conversation today was to use hackathon as a way to try new things. I know in the past when I’ve gone to hackathons, I’m usually been working on something so I’m not really thinking about trying out new stuff. But I really liked what you talked about earlier, Zuri about as you were interested in new technologies, then you would go to hackathon and see how you could use it.

I think that’s a really great idea about not just getting out there and trying other stuff but also meeting people who are already good at it. That could help with keeping you more excited about it and keeping you interested and also getting a chance to see more about what your skills are. One of the things I struggled with in the beginning, with so much technology and I didn’t know exactly what I was interested in and it was hard to figure that out on your own because everyone just tells you to try things. We don’t know what you’re doing so it seems like going to a hackathon to try it out, it’s really a great way to get started.

SAM:  One of my takeaways is actually even a little bit more 101 than what you were just talking about, Astrid. I think I had just sort of reflexively been poo-pooing the entire idea of hackathons so maybe what I should do is just try to go and hang out at one, maybe go for the pitch session and then come by for a couple hours the following day and just hang out and see what people are doing and if anybody feels like chatting because that’s something that sounds like I’ve been missing out on. That’s really cool.

The other thing that I’m going to take away from this is just the power of post it’s because that idea of having posted some pens in the bathroom is just absolutely amazing. That sounds wonderful.

Well, thank you very much, Zuri. This has been a really interesting and useful and educational conversation. We’ve really enjoyed having you on the show so thank you for taking the time to join us and talk to us.

ZURI:  Great and thank you for having me. This is really exciting and it’s a very insightful conversation. Thank you. Bye everybody.

This episode was brought to you by the panelists and Patrons of >Code. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode. Managed and produced by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.

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