One time, Hackbright Academy visited Slack HQ for the first time. We were greeted by Hackbright alumni and current engineers at Slack, Roo Harrigan and Allison Craig, so we felt right at home immediately.
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.
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.
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 for those 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 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, people of color, and other underrepresented individuals 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.
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