Code Switch: Making The Shift Into Tech

This blog post is being brought to you in partnership with Capital One to tell stories of some of their amazing women in technology.

Often times when it comes to making a career shift, we trick ourselves into believing that we need to be experts in a particular skill before we even take the leap.

 “I’m going to take XX writing courses and write for XX outlets before I apply for that freelance journalist position.”

“I have no idea what HTML is - I can’t possibly apply for that PR coordinator role.”

“It’s going to take me forever to learn Photoshop and InDesign. I guess I can kiss applying for that UX/UI designer position goodbye.”

While there are essential skills needed in order to perform each of these jobs well, it isn’t absolutely necessary to know ALL of the things before making the switch into a new industry.

TJF_one.jpg

TJ Famodu has worked with both startups and small businesses in their journeys to build their cloud environments, push automation and accelerate their DevOps practices. In April 2017, TJ joined Capital One as a software engineer for an internal organization called Shared Tuitions Engineering.

I had the chance to sit down and speak with TJ about her experience working at Capital One, how she transitioned into the tech industry, and what she hopes to instill in young, black women who want to do the same.

 What has been one challenge for you as you've progressed in your career as a woman of color within the tech industry, and how you were able to overcome it?

TJ: Capital One does a pretty good job when it comes to diversity. We have a ‘Blacks In Tech’ associate-driven program and Slack channel as well as an executive-sponsored Black Business Resource Group known as Voices. Both are great at bringing people of color together. And in my organization, Shared Solutions Engineering, there’s a lot of strong female leadership, which is very rare to find in tech. When I interviewed for my position at Capital One, it was the first time that I was interviewed by a woman - which was amazing.  Capital One originally reached out to me after a conference in 2015 and I was familiar with them from their involvement in Women in Tech meetups in the DMV area. Prior to this position; however, I can definitely say I experienced bias in the industry as a woman of color just because there are still very few of us. It’s hard to get your foot in the door, and I definitely believe that you constantly prove yourself. Whenever I would go to conferences, people would always assume that I was in marketing or public relations, until people realized I actually knew what I was talking about. I don’t think that is something I’ve faced at Capital One - which is a great thing.

What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities in your role, and what have you been able to accomplish since you've started at Capital One?

TJ: I started at Capital One this past April, and I am a software engineer on an Accelerator team within the Shared Solutions Engineering organization. We basically function as internal DevOps consultants by engaging with teams one-on-one by providing them with best practices in engineering excellence. Typically, our engagements last around six weeks in which we sit down with teams and instill pair programming, software development best practices, automation and push forward operational excellence.

Can you describe the culture at Capital One, and what it has been like to really launch your career in tech with the company? How have you been able to enhance your skills on the job?

TJ: The past few companies I’ve worked for, I was the youngest, the only woman and the only person of color on the team. So I was pretty much in rooms full of older white men prior to coming to Capital One. It’s great to see Capital One making incredible strides towards being more inclusive.

Lessons learned in the on-boarding process to Capital One?

TJ:  One of the biggest pros about taking this job was that it was pretty unconventional within the enterprise. Consulting is something that I love to do, and I have the ability to serve as an internal consultant - so that was a huge pull. Also, the fact that my manager is a woman who values work-life balance was also a plus. Given how demanding tech can be, you don’t find many women in senior positions because of the demands of being a caretaker. Seeing her as a mother of four is admirable, and that speaks to the generous benefits that Capital One gives working mothers. As someone who is getting older and starting to think about marriage and children, knowing that my job is still safe if I decide to start a family is a huge benefit.

TJF_two.jpg

For women of color who are interested in starting their careers in tech, how can they prepare now if they currently work in a different industry?

TJ: Continuous learning. I can’t stress how important it is to be around like-minded people. Particularly if you are in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, there are tons of meetups and groups like DC Women In Tech. One of their major focuses is helping women who are looking to make the transition into the tech industry. I don’t think you need to go back to school to get your bachelor’s degree in computer science, but there are programs like General Assembly. I took their data science course that I found extremely helpful for my career development. If you’re making a career transition, you can gain experience by contributing to open source projects and starting your own.

If there was one piece of advice you could give your 18-year-old self about "keeping your seat at the tech table" what would it be?

TJ:  You said 18, but I would go a little younger and say 16 years old. When I was in high school, I took a computer science class that I really liked. Once my senior year came around, I decided to take the AP Computer Science class, but was discouraged by one of my teachers. And you know what? I listened to her and didn’t do it. Seeing how much my career has changed, I think back to what she said and had she encouraged me to take the course I might have been in a different position. But I think the most important thing is to not listen to the naysayers. Be committed to working hard. This work requires a lot of tenacity and grit, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.