What if I told you that the key to success was a high-five? Not just one. But lots and lots of them? And not just your success. Everyone’s success is also dependent on high fives.
The response I usually get:
Cheerleading? I'm not in high school anymore.
But hear me out.
I had a non-traditional entry into tech; heck, I was a history major working in education when I began playing with code on the side. I don’t have a computer science degree, and I never completed an official bootcamp.
As an underrepresented individual in tech, peers and role models were few and far between. Thus, when I started I just didn’t have many women or Latinos around me who did this kind of thing. It’s been hard. It can be lonely. But here I am today, a Staff Engineer at Lob.
Did I work my butt off? Yes!
But also, I wouldn’t be here without my cheerleaders.
Creating for yourself (and contributing to) a support network is the most important thing you — and others — can do to succeed.
So how do you do this? Looking back I can say I did three things:
Lesson 1: Make friends
For some personality types this may come naturally, for others not so much. The truth is, you are going to have to make an effort. Be brave. Be friendly. Be curious.
For instance, at my second engineering job ever, a senior engineer and soon-to-be manager named Emily had a My Little Pony on her desk; I asked her about it. She became both my friend and my mentor. Emily also gave me my own My Little Pony. Win-win!
Lesson 2: Join groups
Find people and communities of people attempting to do tough things. Working on oneself can be tough. Therefore, it’s important to find other ambitious, dedicated individuals so you can cheer each other on.
When I first began coding, I joined Women Who Code. Through this organization, I got to be around other engineers like myself! The groups varied from newbies, like I was then, to pseudo-experts like I am now – I like to think I must know enough to have consistently gotten promoted.
I liked Women Who Code so much that I decided to start organizing events. Through this endeavor, I met amazing engineer/co-organizer Liz and amazing data analyst/volunteer Ameena. We were all newbies then. During some of these events, we would be looking across a room full of people just like us. Attendees were struggling, but because Liz, Ameena and I had all prepared the problems, we could coach them. It was really helpful to have a group of women exclaim, “This is tough! But, yes, we can do it!”
I remember also joining Lean In Los Angeles at the beginning of my software journey. There were not a lot of women at Lean In trying to get into engineering like me, but there were a lot of women trying to break into different industries without previous experience.
As part of Lean In LA, I made an amazing friend and businesswoman named Javzan who had a civil engineering degree, but really liked tech and wanted to become a Product Manager. It was hard for both of us. We struggled, but we struggled together. We also high-fived when we succeeded because we knew it was important to celebrate our successes. Fast forward several years, Javzan is a Senior Product Manager and we are finally working at the same company together!
Lesson 3: Give back
I still think about how much I would have benefited from having somebody who looked like me in front of me as a role model. It’s also one of the reasons I put myself out there into various communities. I want other women to see me and believe, "Hey, I can do that too."
I’ve also been giving talks for a few years now. Even when it might feel like you have nothing to give, reach out. You can always help. At the beginning of the pandemic, I got laid off. I had no motivation to do the studying I needed to do for the next job. However, helping others motivates me. I began to sign myself up to teach multiple Data Structures and Algorithms recorded webinars for Women Who Code. Because I wanted to be able to clearly articulate these concepts and LeetCode solutions to a Zoom room of women, I learned the material. I learned it well enough to give explanations when there were questions. I gave virtual high fives as people learned too. Together, we learned enough to uplevel ourselves (and for me to get the next job!)
You don’t have to speak at conferences; there are so many ways to help others. I volunteer on the advisory board of Techtonica, a group helping women and non-binary adults overcome barriers into the tech industry. Lately, I’m trying my hand at writing (how am I doing?). There are so many opportunities to give back if you open yourself to them. Even lending an ear may be exactly what someone needs to get through a rough patch or to the next level.
Bonus Lesson: Ask for help
Regardless of the size or shape of your network, don’t be afraid to reach out when you need help. When I became a new mom of twins, I was forced to ask for more help than I originally felt comfortable asking for.
My first thought was, “I’m efficient, I can handle work and two infants!” My next thought was, “I’m exhausted. How can I be a good mom or be awesome at work when I’m always so tired?”
Thankfully, daycare is an option for my family. My husband and I also were also fortunate enough to be able to hire a part-time weekend nanny for some time. Without the support of the amazing women who helped take care of my sons, I would never have had a moment to breathe. With their help, I got a promotion seven months after returning from maternity leave. Sophan, Lina, CJ, and Tania, thank you for helping me accept my limitations, be a better mom, and feel comfortable dedicating my Monday through Friday daytime to work.
I also reached out to an old co-worker named Shannon. She was my first engineering friend who had children. We had previously bonded on all these other things, but now we both had kids. Sometimes, I just needed someone to be like, “It's hard today, and that’s Ok.” Shannon gave me that safe space.
Thank you to these amazing women for being my cheerleaders.
When you look around and don’t see many who look like you, it’s lonely, and difficult to visualize success. Everybody needs a cheerleader to succeed. I challenge you to create your own squad— doubt will be drowned out by the noise of your raving fans. And once you know all the words, start cheering on others, too.