Earlier this year, we met our Top Mentors of 2017. In that group, we also met some super mentors and companies that go above and beyond participating in Hackbright’s Mentor program. We chatted with Becca Saines and Omar Ismail who are leading the charge for Streak.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do?
I graduated Hackbright in December 2016, and have been at Streak since March of 2017. Streak’s mission is to bring efficiency and visibility to all processes – Sales to Hiring to Real Estate – and to bring those benefits right to your inbox. I own Streak’s Zapier integration. I’m the first line of defense between Engineering and Support requests, and I work on a growing list of to-do’s (mostly front-end but expanding to back-end) that will make Streak even better!
I’m co-founder and CTO of Streak. Prior to Streak, I co-founded ProductWiki. At a high level, I try to make Streak more useful and valuable for our future and existing customers.
What does the day-to-day look like for your role?
Most of the time I’m coding up features or fixing bugs. When not coding, I’m code reviewing, product planning, technical designing, corporate strategizing, or doing hiring stuff.
I’m a morning person, so pre-10am time is usually dedicated to something I was previously stuck on but now want to give some “morning brain” to. My day is generally largely spent on hammering away at the current task but is sometimes punctuated by requests from our delightful internal support team or Zapier directly.
How did you get to where you are now?
Hackbright + determination. After spending years in the classroom and in customer service, Hackbright gave me the credibility to get a job on a phenomenal engineering team. The determination to learn, absorb, and grow in this new career field has gotten me through my first 11 months (!) at Streak.
I love solving problems. I love coding and seeing the magic of a bunch of if-statements and curly braces somehow end up as something that makes people’s lives better.
What brought you to Hackbright?
I was doing a lot of technical debugging and investigation in my customer service roles and realized that I truly missed that work upon moving to Product Management. I researched multiple bootcamps once I decided to make the career switch, but I only really had eyes for Hackbright. Alumnae spoke positively about their experiences in the program and I appreciated and felt empowered by the nurturing environment Hackbright promoted and fostered. I thought the mentor program was really powerful and very different from other bootcamp offerings.
Since my time in University, where only 10 percent of my CS program were women, I’ve strongly felt we need more women in tech, and in coding specifically. Through Becca, I was introduced to Hackbright and the mission of #changetheratio really resonated.
Why do you think mentorship is important?
Mentorship is very rewarding because it dramatically accelerates knowledge acquisition. Mentors can provide a lot of context and direction based on lived experience. For the mentor, it also acts as a great reminder as to what things are confusing and broken in programming, which I try to take into consideration when writing my code to make it clearer and more understandable which helps everyone.
For the mentee, the relationship provides a safe source for obtaining knowledge – it could be textbook knowledge or it could be the knowledge only otherwise gained through the 20/20 lens of hindsight. In the shoes of the mentor, I find two benefits. The first is the empowerment that comes with helping someone else, and the second is that a fresh perspective on any topic keeps you learning and questioning.
How do you / does Streak approach mentorship and development?
This is an area I take a lot of pride in. We have an environment where every day, every Streak engineer should be getting better. Our open and collaborative culture is one where people are encouraged to give and receive constructive feedback. We operate in a demanding environment where we want all three – good, fast, cheap – and spend a lot of time thinking about how we can achieve that.
Consistently and relentlessly. Streak is incredibly dedicated to professional development, and on the engineering team, this is shown in every (very thorough) code review, asking thoughtful questions that ensure and promote understanding, and a culture of true learning rather than blame or finger-pointing.
What is your advice to women who are considering a career change to tech?
To all genders considering a career change to tech, I would encourage you to explore your confidence level in that you will stay in this field. It took me a year or two to feel like I was any good at teaching, and I’m finding tech to be the same (whereas I could jump right in and be pretty good at customer service right off the bat). Specifically to women, my advice would be to ask yourself if you could handle both the career change and being a gender warrior. As an emerging gender in the field, you’ll have the added responsibility of paving the path for those who will follow you. Some women feel this added responsibility more than others, but it’s definitely worth self-examining where you think you’ll fall on this spectrum.
Digital technology is only going to become more prevalent in our lives. Better to get in now and help shape the future instead of being shaped by it.
What advice would you give to women looking for jobs in tech?
There’s a lot of really wonderful articles about how to look for engineering teams that treat women well. Many of them cite looking for other women on the team – but I think the biggest indicator of a great team is how defensive you do or don’t have to be.
I didn’t notice this until I had been at Streak a few months, but I had built up an incredible web of defensiveness in my speaking and my actions. Throughout my professional journey, I learned that being questioned meant I had done something incorrectly. As a woman in this scenario, it was most effective to break out my long list of rationales in order to protect myself and my decision. This auto-defense response is a habit I’ve been trying to break because I realized that in a safe and encouraging environment (like Streak) you don’t need to defend yourself. Nor is it useful per unit time. You should still make logical and well-thought out decisions, but if you’re in a truly safe space this is enough. You don’t need to also construct a woman-web of defenses.
Always be coding. Contribute to open source projects. You should be spending 8-10 hours a day (i.e. a full work day) coding. And ideally coding on a team, which you can do by contributing to open source projects. This gives you a ton of real-life experience without requiring a job, which then makes you substantially more hirable. Seriously, code every single day.
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