Advice from Dropbox Engineers for Women in Tech

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We seized the opportunity to speak with engineers at the new Dropbox headquarters and get some advice on how to go from student to engineer at a successful tech company. Dropbox engineers shared advice for women in tech including insider tips to help with job searches, new-hire training and mentorship. Join us as we step into a surprising world of themed rooms, roof-top exploration, and the minds of brilliant engineers.

 


Exploring Dropbox

Hackbrighters with the Dropbox dragonDropbox hosted an exciting field trip for Hackbright Academy’s software engineering fellows and it started off with a warm welcome and tour of their new headquarters. We explored all 5 floors and the roof of Dropbox in small groups, guided by members of the Dropbox team who shared insights into each floor. Many of the floors were designed based on a theme of the 5 senses–we saw the smell-themed first floor, where the Dropbox cafe sits and has coffee brewing every morning; the sights-themed second floor, complete with warm pink quiet office spaces and sky blue open office spaces for all styles of working; the taste-themed third floor that holds the Dropbox Tuck shop where masterchef-quality meals are served; and the sound-themed fifth floor, where we discovered the Dropbox music area with instruments for a full band.

We also explored the Dropbox roof area, taking in views of the bay and imagining what it’d might be like to work outdoors on such a beautiful day.

After our tour, we headed to the Dropbox 4th floor for lunch, and then the Dropbox team kicked off a panel that included network engineers, product managers, engineering managers and software engineers who had such great advice to share with us.

Q&A Panel with Dropbox Engineers

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The panel consisted of Hackbright alumna Kayla Smith, Tammy Butow, Andrew Fong, Genevieve Sheehan, Jensen Hussey and Amandine Lee. They began the discussion by sharing details of their typical workday schedule, and what they had worked on in the last week. Then, they dove into a Q&A session:

 

 

What is Dropbox looking for when hiring entry level engineers, especially from coding bootcamps? What can we do to be competitive applicant?

You want to work on things you can do to distinguish yourself from the pack and show what you are able to do.

Make sure to share your code on any projects you build on Github so that people can take a look. Try rewriting something you’ve built in another language, or with a different database, to show that you can think in that next-level sort of way.

Then speak at conferences about the things that you have built! You don’t need any kind of credential to do this–get together with a few people, build something, and then talk about what you’ve created publicly. You can also look into open source resources–many companies provide this–and try them out.

Put yourself out there by attending conferences, and educate yourself by reading resources like High Scalability–that site provides insights on how tech companies have built their websites.

When you are interviewing, show your willingness to learn and practice having a good mental model for what the code looks like—that’s more important than having the right answer off the bat to any question you might be asked.

Also, show that you are competent at prioritizing. It’s so important to be able to tie what you are working on to how it affects business. Being able to break a larger project down into smaller pieces is a skill that managers value very highly!

As you go through your jobs and roles in your career, keep in touch with people in a semi-professional and personal way—those connections are powerful now and down the line, and they can help you to get insider views or do research before you interview with companies you are interested in.

Another great resource to explore is Cracking the Tech Career, by the same author of Cracking the Coding Interview Gayle Laakmann McDowell. Explore that as well for more advice!

How would you describe the Dropbox culture around management and communication?

There is a lot of interaction with managers and teammates—regular one on ones, chatting on Slack and on Google Hangouts, even traveling to Dublin to visit remote members of the team.

In addition, regardless of who your manager is, there are a lot of people who you can talk to.

When you are job searching, know that you are also interviewing your manager and the company as a whole. You want to gauge NOT whether or not I want to have lunch with this person, but rather, do I share the same work values as this person, are they trustworthy, and am I confident that I can share feedback that they will heed and respect?

Dropbox culture values sharing things at a very early stage, even when they are not fully developed. That means you’ll need to be vulnerable enough to show your work process and your thoughts when they are not fully finished and be ok with that. Dropbox has also been one of the least aggressive places to work in because they focus on having everyone on board before moving forward, even if that makes things more complicated sometimes. They value that level of communication and collaboration.

What is Dropbox doing to welcome and support people of color and women in the workplace?

Dropbox’s Diversity Program works to support multiple initiatives around diversity, including employee resource groups like Women at Dropbox, Asians at Dropbox, Pridebox, Blackbox, and Latinbox to name a few. Dropbox team members are also empowered to create resource groups that aren’t already established. And, there is a robust and active Parents Resource Group provided at Dropbox.

What does mentorship at Dropbox look like?

You get paired with one mentor when you start at Dropbox, and that person teaches you about the codebase, helps you get set you up on systems, and is your go-to for things like how to use the vending machine. Plus, whenever you have a big change, you are provided with a new mentor to help you through that transition as well.

Hackbrighters with a Dropbox female engineerWhen you are in mentor-mentee relationship, it’s ok to be a sounding board and listen to what each other are working on. Doing just that can be powerfully valuable. When asking questions, find out how they arrived at the answer to the question, or what they would have done differently, so you can learn both the answer and the thought process behind the answer.

Also, look for organic relationships that can develop into mentorships instead of waiting to be matched/paired with someone as your mentor. Organic mentorships are some of the most powerful relationships!

Have any of the panelists come from non-traditional backgrounds? What is your advice for us?

Jensen got into tech through her love of neopets, but ended up attending a trade school to get her massage degree. She didn’t know that she could get into tech without a degree, but after talking with some friends who encouraged her, she took the leap and began teaching herself to code. She was determined in her job search, sending out a hundreds of applications until she got her start at OkCupid and began her career in tech from there.

It’s important to be fearless in that hustle to get your next job. It’s ok to ask for help, put yourself out there, and put out seeds and start using that fearless attitude to look for companies that you want to work for and that match with what you care about.

When someone tells you “you don’t come from Y, so why should I X,” treat that as an opportunity to close the gap in their understanding of your background and what you bring to the table, instead of reading that as something to keep you down. 

Be prepared for the job search. You won’t feel hopeful every day, but every single day you can apply for 5 more jobs. Set goals to keep pushing yourself and do what you can to keep yourself on target, so you can continue learning. It’s the volume vs. quality balance in the job search.

2016-08-30 14.47.13-1Kayla, a Hackbright alumna, was a biologist before transitioning into tech. She worked in customer services at a genomics company and was intrigued by coding as she started to imagine the SQL queries she could run for customer services requests she received. Her interest in video games also led her to explore the networks behind software, and that’s what officially landed her in tech.  

Kayla’s approach to her job search was to apply systematically; invest a lot of time and focus into the companies you really want to work one at a time, and do deep research so that you can apply in a targeted way and also interview extremely well.

Amandine started out as a physicist but realized that programming helped with solving a lot of the problems she was tackling. She also wanted to write better code as a physicist and went to a hacker school to kick off her career in programming. Her advice is to continue learning on the job. Even if the first one you get isn’t perfect, it’s the perfect opportunity to learn so much of what you would never otherwise learn outside of a formal job. 

What do you think every software engineer should know?

Be comfortable with the feeling that there’s still a lot to learn; to not feel stupid when you don’t know something, but to recognize that you just haven’t learned that yet and you will.

Coordination, rather than technical skill, is most important when writing code. Thinking through problems, like how do I name this variable so that others aren’t confused later on when they read my code, are the details that make you a better engineer.

Know the implications of the work you are doing—both in the business context and in the engineering context—and be attentive to the implications of all the code you write. That will make you so much better at your job and allow you to improve on what you are doing all the time.

Be methodical about the things you do try, so you can measure the effect of them and narrow down issues to a specific problem. Document you problem solving so that someone else can also benefit from that later one.

Respect the janitor more than the chairman in any role you are in–always greet the janitors and make the effort to connect with the people on your path.

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So much great information! Thank you Dropbox for welcoming us into your space and getting us prepared and excited for our futures in tech.


Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry. Learn more about our full-time software engineering fellowshipIntro to Programming night courses, volunteer mentor opportunities, and how to partner with us to hire female software engineers and #changetheratio of women in tech! 

Hackbright Fellows Visit Slack HQ!

Yesterday, Hackbright Academy visited Slack HQ for the first time. We were greeted by Hackbright alumnae and current engineers at Slack, Roo Harrigan and Allison Craig, so we felt right at home immediately.

A warm welcome from the Slack team.

Pictured: A warm welcome from the Slack team.

Roo kicked off the field trip with a short introduction to the Slack platform. The field trip then got interactive very quickly! Roo led the Hackbrighters through a Slack-Twitter integration so that we could all test out an integration for ourselves. A few shouts of joy later, many of the women had successfully integrated their Slack accounts with Twitter and were viewing their tweets posted in Slack channels in real time.

Hackbrighters successfully integrating Slack with Twitter.

Pictured: Hackbrighters successfully integrating Slack with Twitter.

Next, Roo discussed webhooks and how they are applied on the Slack platform, and then led us through the Slack API. In preparation for this field trip, all the Hackbright students were given access to a github repo, and after Roo’s introduction, we moved in to an API workshop time. Each of the women worked on creating an environment and delving into the Slack API, while other engineers on the Slack team assisted by answering questions and providing guidance.

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Pictured: Discussing Slack API with the engineering team.

Towards the end of the field trip, we then transitioned into a Q&A time with a group of fabulous panelists — all women engineers! — at Slack. The panelists included another recent Hackbright graduate and Slack Software Engineer Carly Robinson, Slack Test Automation Engineer Jessica Tung, Director of Engineering at Slack Joann Anderson, and Senior Engineer at Slack Duretti Hirpa.

This amazing line up of panelists then shared their gems of advice to women starting out in their software engineering career:

  • Networking is key — take advantage of informational interviews, without the pressure of getting a job out of the conversation, as an opportunity to learn and build your network in the tech space.
  • Once you land your first job, seek out a more experienced engineers and ask how they debug things. Sit with them, pair with them even, and learn their strategies for debugging. Getting past the tooling, learning how to switch tabs and work faster — these things can get in the way of your progress, so try to learn them early on!
  • Be comfortable with frustration. It’s not an easy job search, but you do have a powerful network of women in your program as well as in tech at large, so lean on each other for support throughout the job search and career growth journey.

They also shared about their most and least favorite aspects of working at Slack:

  • Dealing with growth is the most challenging thing — we’ve grown from 120 to 500 since I started, and communication is affected by the rapid growth. However, the thing I love most about Slack is that I have the most intense working day while I’m here, but once I leave, things are quiet and I have the space to take care of the rest of my life.
  • I have never felt stupid at Slack. From the beginning, I have always felt supported and everyone was always open to questions. The challenge now is that because I’ve been here longer, I get to work on more challenging parts of the code base and things are a bit more hands off. It’s a good challenge, but it’s also… a challenge!
  • The people at Slack are the best group of people to work with — they are very receptive to questions, and I always feel heard and seen. The hardest part is the growth and changes that growth brings to team dynamics and communication dynamics.

Roo then kicked off an audience Q&A and Hackbrighters jumped in with insightful questions for the panel:

Q) Do you have advice for women and people of color in the interview process and workplace, who have historically been disenfranchised in the tech industry?

A) My advice is to participate in organizations that support black and hispanic engineers. It’s so important to network with the group of people you identify with and who can better understand the challenges that you go through and who have similar backgrounds. An example of a great community is /dev/color.

  • If you are asked an uncomfortable question during an interview, be curious and ask, “Could you tell me why you are asking that question?” Stay open and curious, because you never know why the interviewer is asking that question, and it could be an opportunity for you to educate the interviewer on an area that they might be blind to.  
  • Do your research on the company overall — Silicon Valley has a bad reputation for its company culture, but not all companies are like that. Dig in to find out how the company you are evaluating operates. In your interviews, ask what the company is doing to promote diversity — the answer to that question allows you to see if a company is actually walking the talk when it comes to diversity hiring.

Q) How do you onboard new engineers to Slack, especially as you continue to grow?

A) Every new engineer is assigned a mentor. All new engineers also participate in onboarding exercises, such as making a change to a web page, so that you get familiar with things like deploy workflow, how to write an ABI test, unit test, etc. New engineers also start with a couple of bugs — these bugs have been labeled as “easier ones” and they work through the bugs along with their mentor. Once this orientation period is completed, they then get to talk with their manager about future projects to tackle, such as  building a smaller feature by yourself, or working with your mentor on their feature, then working on a bigger feature, and then working independently. Every new engineer is paired up with a mentor, no matter how much experience you have. Everyone gets a mentor.

Such insightful information! Thank you, Slack, for inviting us into your space and empowering us with tools and advice to succeed as software engineers.


Hiring engineers? Join us for Career Day on June 8th, where you can meet Hackbright’s newest software engineers! Learn more about how you can partner with Hackbright to change the ratio of women in tech.

Engineering Leaders At GoDaddy Welcome and Inspire Hackbright Students

There’s nothing better than hearing from those who’ve gone before you, learning from their battle scars and victories, being reminded that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. That was our experience at the Hackbright field trip to GoDaddy’s Sunnyvale office — it made for an inspiring and positive experience!

Lauren Antonoff, Senior Vice President of Presence and Commerce at GoDaddy, kicked off Hackbright’s welcome by sharing her career story. In her college years, she was convinced she wanted to be a civil rights lawyer and pursued a political science degree. But after she got her first Mac computer, that took her on a path to asking good questions, problem solving and manual writing, and that ultimately landed her in engineering at Microsoft! As Lauren in her career, she saw the continued disparity in female representation and decided to do something about it. Lauren launched the StepUp program at Microsoft to take women engineers who had fallen out of the pipeline and equip them to be the engineers that were hired on the team.

Lauren brings this same passion for diversity into her work at GoDaddy, and left us with three pieces of advice about how to advocate for ourselves:

  • Apply for jobs you are not qualified for. Don’t write yourself off, but take the risk!
  • If you do not get a job, ask for feedback strategically. Ask what it was about the person who was offered the job, and learn from that.
  • Lean on your support networks, especially after you experience failure in the workplace. Instead of giving up, remember that everyone has failures. Don’t settle for socially acceptable reasons to step down from your dreams.

Lauren AntonoffPictured: Lauren Antonoff, Senior Vice President of Presence and Commerce at GoDaddy, sharing advice with Hackbright engineering fellows.

Next, we were introduced to Shaheeda Nizar, Senior Director of Engineering at GoDaddy. She also shared her career story. After landing a job as a developer, she was disillusioned by the isolated (and South Park!!) culture she experienced on her team. But it took her relationship with Lauren — Lauren Antonoff and Shaheeda connected in their past career lives! — to give her the push she needed to advocate for herself and ultimately move to a team with a better work culture.

Shaheeda stressed the value of mentors and relationships in the workplace, encouraging us to:

  • Notice those who are competent around you but slow to speak up. Advocate for them and their ideas, and you just might find your own voice and leadership potential.
  • Build relationships that are outside of any formal mentor programs. Look out for who is working on what interests you, and connect with them.
  • As you gain experience as an entry-level engineer, ask to work on the projects that interest you the most. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself and shape your work.

We met Irana Wasti, Senior Director of Product Management at GoDaddy. She shared about the amazing diversity and “women-in-tech” initiatives taking place at GoDaddy. She addressed concerns about GoDaddy’s brand from past years as well as the growth and changes they have implemented since then, and she explained her experience working to create and shape the culture she wanted to see at GoDaddy. Irana worked to launch GoDaddy’s Women in Tech group, along with the support of her CEO and CTO and many other volunteers across the company. Today, the group is 600 strong and recently launched a mentorship ring program to foster continued professional development for women in the company.

Throw in a delicious lunch, chats with team engineers, a sweet parting gift, and rides on the GoDaddy carts to this already inspiring experience, and you’ve put permanent smiles on all our Hackbright faces!

GoDaddy Carts

Thank you GoDaddy for inspiring us to keep growing and pushing in tech!


 Thinking of joining the movement? Be sure to check out Hackbright’s next event, Bootcamp to Engineer: How I Got My Job! This event is open to anyone who wants to hear about the career transition to software engineering from Hackbright’s alumnae and hiring managers from partner companies. It will also be livestreamed if you cannot attend in person. RSVP to learn more!

GoDaddy Field Trip for the Spring 2016 engineering fellows