Engineering

Meet 16-year-old Katie Mishra, CEO and founder of Code Circle

Katie_Mishra

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Katie! How did you first get into computer science, and how did that lead to the creation of Code Circle?

I actually used to be solely focused on humanities. When I was 10, I won an honorable mention in a New York book pitching contest, and since then have published 3 books. Going into high school, I was set on becoming a professional writer.

At my school, each grade has an assigned color (the freshman are green, for example). Early in freshman year, I had nothing green to wear for spirit week, so I signed up for Gatorbotics (Castilleja’s first robotics team) simply to get their free, green t-shirt. I had no intention of actually participating in the team, but I felt bad, so I went to the season kickoff in January. Immediately the energy and community of robotics captivated me. The upper classmen devoted their time to teaching me how to code, and I got to work hands-on with the robot, both designing and building mechanisms. For days on end, I learned college level math, complex machines, nitty gritty circuits, and everything in between. During that six week season, the lab became my second home.

After cultivating my computer science knowledge in robotics, I taught Google’s CSFirst Curriculum at Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (BGCP) last spring in an effort to share my own passion for programming. However, every week I would be disappointed when most of the 4th and 5th grade students begged to play video games instead. So that’s when I founded Code Circle to share my own passion for programming with others.

As a young CEO and entrepreneur, what has been your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?

I thought that my biggest challenge would be my lack of experience, but it has actually been the opposite. Everyone I’ve reached out to has been extraordinarily welcoming and helpful, and I’ve secured amazing opportunities even at 16 years old. I can truthfully say that I’ve learned more about myself and real-world skills in the past three months of running Code Circle than I have in my entire life of schooling.

Rather, my biggest challenge has been time. I am a junior in high school with rigorous classes, standardized testing, social events, and numerous extracurriculars, all on top of Code Circle. My dad jokes that I’m the absent father of the house because I always have meetings, emails, and work to do. Occasionally, I’ve let Code Circle consume my life and I’ve always seen the negative effects of being a workaholic on my personal health and my relationships.

Therefore, I had to adopt many habits to prevent my business ventures from taking over my life. The first is maintaining a routine sleep schedule — going to bed no later than 11pm and waking up at around 6am. This allows me to be more alert during my working hours and ultimately more productive. I also find my productivity to be increased by exercise, so I fit workouts into my schedule. Finally, I love lists. I have them for everything: school, work, social plans, events — you name it. These lists allow me to organize my life and break down what I need to do, so I can finish tasks more efficiently and take smaller steps toward larger goals.

What do you hope to do once you graduate from high school?

Once I graduate from high school, I plan on attending college to obtain a double major in computer science and business, specifically entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs believe that college isn’t necessary because they think can learn all necessary skills in the real world. However, I believe to be a successful entrepreneur you also need a technical skillset, which in many cases can only be truly solidified through college.

If you look at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, they fall into three categorical backgrounds: business, technology, or both. A handful of extraordinary executives fall into the first two categories, such as Jeff Bezos and Marissa Mayer. However, the majority of successful executives fall into the sweet spot of the third category, with both a business and technical background, including superstars such as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai.

I want to double major to obtain both a technical and business skills that can be utilized in my future entrepreneurial ventures. In the coming years and in college, I aspire to launch a for-profit startup to solve a real world problem. I don’t plan on attending graduate school, but instead hope that by the time I graduate from college, my startups will have made a significant impact on the world.

How to ace your next technical interview with Katie Thomas, self-taught Software Engineer at Google

katie_thomas

Hi Katie! Could you tell us about your background and how you moved from biology to computer science?

I was a biology major in undergrad and my first exposure to CS was during my junior year. By then, programming was the cool thing to do. Two of my best friends (shout out to Margaretand Katrina) were raving about it, so I decided to give it a try.

I loved it, but for many reasons decided I couldn’t pursue it at the time. I joined Teach For America and spent three years teaching middle and high school math in the Bay Area. After my third year, I had lived in the Bay Area long enough to realize I didn’t need a degree in CS to get a job as a software engineer. That summer, I applied to and was accepted at a coding bootcamp. In January 2014, I started working as a software engineer at a startup called Thumbtack.

How did you get your job at Google? Could you walk us through your regimen?
I practiced interviewing as much as possible. This is what I did during both my pre-Thumbtack and pre-Google job searches:

  1. Find a practice problem. There are a lot of resources these days, but if all else fails grab a copy of Crack the Coding Interview.
  2. Solve it on paper as if you were in an interview. If it’s tough, don’t worry about making your solution elegant or efficient. Time yourself and give yourself a time limit, something like 30 minutes.
  3. Type up your solution. Does it run? Is it correct? Bonus points for learning how to write unit tests and writing them now.
  4. Fix your solution. Use resources now if you need to, including looking at the answer. Analyze the runtime and memory usage in Big O.
  5. Make your solution cleaner and more efficient if you can.
  6. Put that problem in a pile to try again tomorrow or later in the week. Find a new problem. Repeat 100 times.

It’s time consuming, but I knew that I had to impress my interviewers if I was going to convince them that I deserved a job. Changing careers is hard, and embracing that helped me be successful.

What this process doesn’t get at is practicing the verbal parts of interviewing. Find opportunities to mock interview to practice that part.

What advice do you have for technical interviews? Any tips you can share?

During the interview:

  1. Bring a notebook and write down the question your interviewer asks. That way, you can add it to your arsenal of practice questions.
  2. Ask questions. As you summarize your understanding of the problem in your own words, you buy time for your brain to chew on the problem.
  3. Take two minutes to make a high-level plan, taking notes on the whiteboard or in your text editor. As you do so, explain your plan to your interviewer, verbalizing any assumptions you are making. Pick your data structures and be specific about what they will hold. Consider edge cases. State the runtime and memory usage in Big O.
  4. Verbalize the tradeoffs of your approach. Just like when you were practicing, it is okay if your initial solution is not the most ideal solution. You can demonstrate many important skills this way: translating ideas into code, readability, logical thinking, tradeoff analysis, asymptotic analysis, knowledge of data structures. If you have time later, you can build off of this to work towards a more efficient solution.
  5. Code, verbalizing your thought process as you go.
  6. Check your work. You should have a list from all of your practicing of common mistakes to watch out for: non-terminating loops, etc.
  7. If you have time, make improvements in efficiency, organization, or readability. If you don’t have time, verbally describe what improvements you would make.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Meet YouTube’s Goddess of Code, Kristen Leake

kristen_leake

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

You have a YouTube series called “Girls Talk Code.” Can you tell us more about the series?

When I searched YouTube, I found very few active channels with ladies teaching or discussing code. This doesn’t accurately represent the number of women interested and working in this industry at all! So I decided to introduce YouTube viewers to the many different faces and occupations of ladies who code and everything in between! My mission is to create educational and motivational content to help coding newbies on their journey and give them the confidence to enter the tech industry.

Starting February 22nd, I’ll release weekly conversations with different women. The topics are based upon my guests’ background, which range from UX/UI, frontend and backend development, teaching, and founding startups.

You were just accepted into the Hygge Podcast Residency — what drew you to podcasting?

Podcasting was suggested to me when my YouTube was in its infancy, but I thought it was something I could never do. When my following grew, I realized that it wasn’t about me: it’s about the valuable content I was sharing and the messages that need to be heard!

It recently occurred to me that engaging my audience via podcasting will be a lot different compared to video. Without the ability to show locations and use props, it’s a completely different experience that will both test and improve my listening skills, diction, and creativity. I’ve gotten the hang of my YouTube workflow so it’s fun to start over by creating a new flow for podcasting.

With the help of Hygge, I recently created a podcast called “Break Into Code.”

A lot of women in the Tech Ladies community are looking to learn new skills or grow the ones they have. As someone who combines web development, YouTube, and now podcasting, what advice do you have for the community about managing your time and fitting everything in?

First, be conscious of how you’re wasting time! This past year, I started paying attention to not just the tasks I do every day but how long I do them. I quickly realized that I often picked up my phone to respond to tweets and Facebook messages, and I would always lose myself in apps and lose track of time! So now I allow myself to check social media while multitasking, like standing in line at the grocery store. When you become conscious of it, it’s easy to say no to distractions.

Second, prioritize! Remember that YOU are your number one priority… no one else will prioritize what’s important to you. So every morning I ask myself: “What 3 things must be completed for me to feel accomplished today?”

If you’re passionate and eager to do something, you can always find time. It just requires reflecting on your current workflow and making changes that best suit your needs.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Alicia V. Carr, self-taught developer, Grandmother, and founder of the PEVO app

alicia_carr

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi Alicia! How did you get into tech?

My first hand on a computer was an IBM punch card machine in high school. At the age of 25 with 3 kids and a husband in the military, I got tired of working weekends in retail. I needed a career change so I took a continuing education course in MSDos and DBase. I got a job at a bank as a database programmer. That’s when I knew I was in love with technology. In 2011 while on line at the Apple store waiting to buy my second generation iPad, I met a 16-year-old young man. While waiting in line, I asked him how he got the money to buy an iPad. He told me he created an app that made him a lot of money. I asked him if he went to college to learn to create apps. No, he said, he learned from YouTube. That’s when I turned to my husband and told him “I want to do that.”

In 2012, I started looking for schools to learn how to code. On November 2, 2012, my husband told me to quit my job to follow my dream to become an iOS developer. It took me 1½ years to learn Objective C.

What advice do you have for self-taught tech ladies?

I have learned that if we as women put our minds to something we want, we can make it happen. But we have to find the time to complete what we started. When we have a family, it can leave us little time to focus on ourselves. When I started to learn Objective C, I had to learn when no one was around. My husband allowed me to quit my job to follow my passion to learn to code and to learn Objective C, but the problem was that whenever my family members (husband, grown children, and grand babies) called, I rushed to take care of them. I began to learn how to focus on myself. Find out what works for you, even if it’s a small thing like getting the kids to bed earlier to find 30 extra minutes to study. Find what works for you to be successful.

PEVO is an app that helps to empower women struggling with domestic violence. How did you get the idea for the app and what advice do you give for finding resources to build your own app?

A former mentor gave me the idea for PEVO (formerly known as Purple Pocketbook). I started promoting the app when an NFL player was beating his girlfriend in an elevator.

As far as resources? Look around you! As a woman in tech, we are the resources. I do have men developers help and give me the best advice. I have found that men love what I do and give a lot of support. I have also learned to only surround yourself with people who support what you do. And for real, get rid of the haters. If you want to empower others, surround yourself with those who are creative, loving and respectful. That’s what your circle should be, because if it is, you can never fail.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Yuval Idan, Full-Stack Developer at ExecThread

yuval_idan

Hi Yuval! When did you first become interested in coding?

After I got my Masters, in the completely unrelated field of community development, I found myself feeling pretty dissatisfied with the professional options I had. I felt stuck, and like my skills weren’t being valued, and so I naturally started considering alternatives.

Coding was something I would think about every once in a while, but never got to actually pursue. Technology was always present in my life, my dad works in IT, and as a family we were always pretty tech-oriented. But for me it was definitely the road not taken, I ended up gravitating towards social sciences and figured that that was it for me, that’s where I ended up and where I’ll stay, making a shift to tech seemed pretty unrealistic at that point.

But then when I had some free time and was needing a change, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try. I started learning a bit of coding online, and was really surprised by how much I liked it. It wasn’t really what I expected, I always liked figuring things out and solving problems, and coding really stimulated that part of my brain. Pretty quickly I realized that I need to find a way to make it my full time job.

Why did you choose the Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy?

I was looking at a few different bootcamps and considered applying for a while, but when I found out about Grace Hopper I immediately knew it was the right place for me. The experience of going to a bootcamp requires you to be out of your comfort zone a lot, to learn something almost from nothing, and there’s something vulnerable about that. Even more so, since I came from a very non-technical background I was definitely worried about not being able to keep up.

It was very important to me to feel comfortable to ask questions, make mistakes, and speak up when I didn’t understand something. So going to an all-women’s program was definitely the right choice for me, the environment was very supportive and I really felt like it allowed me to learn quickly and really develop my skills.

The experience itself was great. It’s an immersive program so it was definitely intense, they’re very upfront about this and you can pretty much expect to put your life on hold for three months. But I was honestly shocked by how much I learned in that short amount of time, as well as by how much I enjoyed it. We were the first cohort of Grace Hopper and ended up getting quite close, so I also feel like I gained a strong network of women who are all doing what I’m doing, which is really important.

I actually ended up staying at Grace Hopper for three more months as a Teaching Fellow, so I got to work with another cohort of students and also work on the engineering team. It was a great way to get introduced to the life of a software engineer, and also allowed me to spend a few more months meeting and working with awesome new and experienced engineers.

What are you working on now?

In September I started working at a startup called ExecThread as a full stack developer. Our platform allows executives to confidentially share discreet job opportunities with each other. I’ve only been there a few months but I already learned so much. The team is great and I get to work very closely with people who have built and sold successful startups, so there’s a lot to learn from them. We’re also growing a lot and making some big changes to our product, so it’s a really exciting time at ExecThread.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Raquel Bujans, Front-End Developer at Compass

raquel_bujans

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

You run the IonicNYC Meetup. What advice can you give other Tech Ladies who are interested in starting a meetup?

If you’re interested in launching a new meetup, go for it! To help jump start things, reach out to other meetups with established audiences. Ask their leaders for advice on what works/what didn’t for them, and see if it’s possible to co-host an event together. You’ll find that people are more than willing to help out, more often that not. Get creative when it comes to advertising your events — find other lists where you can cross-post. Can you reach out to Facebook groups, blogs, local colleges or shops of interest? Engage with relevant folks on Twitter and let them know about your group/events. See if you can ping any relevant businesses — they may be interested in sponsoring your group.

Our biggest difficulty has been in finding a steady stream of guests to speak. We counteract this by switching up the activities from month-to-month. For example, we’ll alternate between a guest lecture and hands-on work session. We’re currently planning a weekend hack-a-thon. It works out great because people are attracted to Ionic for many different reasons — some people are more focused on getting their questions answered (ranging anywhere from beginner to advanced), whereas some are more focused on offering their expertise. The last thing we want is to let the audience grow bored.

You have a passion for contributing to the quality of STEM education. How are you getting involved and how can other Tech Ladies contribute to this effort if they’re interested?

Right now I’m looking at ways I can form bridges between the American and Cuban startup communities. I did some fundraising for StartupCuba earlier this year and am looking to travel to Cuba in the next few months. There is so much untapped potential in the market over there. I can’t wait to see what ideas spring up over the coming years.

In the past I’ve volunteered for Digital Girl, Inc which focuses on providing BedStuy youth with quality STEM learning opportunities. They’re doing great work — if you’re looking to get involved with an excellent grass-roots organization, I highly recommend you get in touch. Originally they were focused on reaching out to young girls, but they now welcome both boys and girls.

AllStarCode is another excellent organization providing young men from underserved/minority communities with access to quality STEM education. While the focus is on men instead of Tech Ladies, I feel that reaching out to today’s youth is more important than segmenting by gender. The more folks we can reach, the better!

What advice would you give to a young girl with interests in STEM?

Don’t be afraid! STEM fields are full of limitless possibilities. If there is one tool I could put in your toolbox that can provide you with economic security, intellectual challenge and a huge potential to change the world — this is it. Go for it! If any Tech Ladies have questions/comments, I’m happy to lend an ear any time.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: LaToya Allen, Software Engineer+ Founder of SheNomads

latoya_allen

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi LaToya! Tell us about what you’re currently doing.

I’m currently readjusting to life in the states. I spent the last 2 months working from the UK, Israel, Spain, Portugal, and Norway. I work in Engineering at Big Cartel, and am building SheNomads while I do so. It’s a community for underrepresented folks in tech who want to work remotely.

SheNomads started off as a podcast. I had no idea how to work remotely from other parts of the world, so I used the podcast as a way to connect with digital nomads, and ask them about it. Where can I find a good co-working space in Barcelona? How can I fly to Europe for $300 or less? How can I best work with my team when I’m 8 hours ahead? Things like that.

Once I started working remotely, I found that I wanted to do so in a digital nomad retreat, but many of them were a reflection of tech culture as it is today. I didn’t want to be the only woman in a house full of young men drinking beer and staying up until 4am, so, I started my own. Yoga twice a day, a beautiful co-working space, and a home full of good energy in art. That’s what I wanted out of a retreat, so I made it happen. It’s happening in Mexico City this February, and we have a few spots left.

Since then, I’ve added on remote coding classes, open source projects, and helping underrepresented folks in tech find remote jobs.

What are some resources people can use to develop an efficient and productive remote team?

Slack, Google Hangouts and TMux. Working on a remote team heavily depends on communication. With Slack I can go back and see the answer to a question I had in the past. Hangouts is great for face time; sometimes the nuances of a conversation have to happen face to face. For me, personally, finding a creative answer to a complex question is easier when I can talk it out. TMux is fantastic for remote pairing; it allows you to ssh (*secure show) into another person’s computer, which is great for pair programming, debugging, and test driving solutions.

What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself from working abroad that you didn’t know beforehand?

The one thing I learned about myself: I’m not nearly as liberal as I thought I was, and my feminism needs to be more intersectional.