#InterviewSeries | Pariss Athena
The #InterviewSeries is a collection of intimate discussions with people who identify as a woman or a non-binary person in the technical & digital spaces. I'm pretty sure this is the first time Cyber Women has gone state side. What better way is there to celebrate Cyber Women going international (Web Summit aside), than by featuring the phenomenal @ParissAthena?! You guessed it, there isn't.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Pariss Athena. I’ve been in the tech industry for 2 years now as a front end developer, specializing in React and React Native. I was born and raised in Boston, MA but left twice to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer and actress. When I was 18, I moved to NYC to do a year of university and majored in film and screen studies. Writing was my passion and I always knew I wanted to create motion pictures with it. Towards the end of my year there, I discovered that I loved acting and wanted to also be an actress. Months later, I moved to LA to give Hollywood a shot. Although LA was amazing, it ended up not working out so I moved back to Boston and became a wax specialist until I heard about a coding bootcamp that I should try getting into. Thus my journey began...
Tell us a little bit about your journey into your role
I was in school part time finishing my AA in Communications. This was when Obama’s time in office was nearing an end but I remember he kept talking about ‘coding’ and and pushing children to get into ‘STEM’. I figured I’d ask my college counselor about it and that’s when she told me about a coding bootcamp called Resilient Coders. I looked them up, went to their hackathon where they choose who gets into the program. A few weeks later, I got an email that I got in, I quit my job, started the program and learned front end web development full time for 8 weeks. After 8 weeks, I got into their apprenticeship program which was another 8 weeks long. Then moved onto a summer internship at an advertising agency in the Boston area and from there, got my first job as a Software Engineer for a start up selling non-toxic beauty products. After a year there, I got a role as a Front End Developer at a digital agency but left after only a few months. I joined the company around the time where the #BlackTechTwitter thread completely changed my life and started taking up so much of my time. I got multiple offers from other companies to come and join them after seeing the movement I created on Twitter and wanting to also help me on my journey of bringing change to the tech industry. I ended accepting an offer from my current company (G2i), which is remote and a dream come true for me.
How do you personally use technology in your day to day?
I wake up with technology and go to bed with technology. It’s a long term relationship that I can’t escape from, well, at least not permanently. Every day, I am on my phone looking through social media, catching up on the latest news or gossip. Of course, also using things like messenger to communicate with friends and family. At work, I have my laptop and monitors to code on and build components or any work I have for building out a UI task. When I get home, I get on my personal laptop and code for my personal projects or to pair program using screen sharing tools.
How do you use technology in your role?
I work remotely so I'm on my laptop all day. I am always in Zoom meetings, pair programming through video call, coding and talking to clients and candidates from all over the world through my laptop camera.
"I’m frequently shown that my word isn’t good enough. I’ll be asked a question and after I’ve given an answer, it’ll be confirmed by a male for reassurance. I don’t feel that I have a lot of trust as a woman in this male dominated industry. Someone always needs to double check the input or estimates I give" @ParissAthena on the challenges women face in the industry
What have been the best learning resources for you?
As a woman, do you think you have faced any challenges that a man would not face in your position?
Absolutely! I’m frequently shown that my word isn’t good enough. I’ll be asked a question and after I’ve given an answer, it’ll be confirmed by a male for reassurance. I don’t feel that I have a lot of trust as a woman in this male dominated industry. Someone always needs to double check the input or estimates I give. I've never seen that happen with a man. A man gives his estimate or opinion and it's never questioned.
What HAS been your biggest challenge to date?
My biggest challenge to date has always been being the only person of color at work and being very uncomfortable with it. I am black and Puerto Rican, my skin is brown. Ever since entering the tech field, I’ve been the only brown woman in my department and my company. Before working where I do now, I worked for a startup that was mainly women- but they were all white women. Even then, being surrounded by my own gender, I still felt different because I was the only different one there. The women I worked with not only looked the same but came from the same backgrounds and I couldn’t relate. It was hard to try and make friends and even converse for longer than a few minutes because it’d get awkward with not having many commonalities. There was also an issue with these woman not making an effort to let me into their world and invite me on their group outings so I felt very alone. At the digital agency, again, I was the only woman in the dev department and only Black person in the entire company. I want intersectional diversity and inclusion, and I want it with people who also share that same desire.
"I’ve been in the tech industry for 2 years now as a front end developer, specializing in React and React Native. I was born and raised in Boston, MA but left twice to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer and actress." @ParissAthena proves you don't need to come from a technical background to succeed in tech.
With regards to technology/ digital, what do you think will be our biggest barrier to success in the future?
Diversity. These impactful pieces of technology need to be built by people who not only look different but also come from different backgrounds. If you’re not going to allow people who look differently, think differently, approach things differently, and individually have unique skill sets and abilities help develop these softwares and modern technologies- then we’ll never progress. These companies are only doing harm to themselves by hiring the same type of persons and not wanting to take the time to seek out, hire, mentor and trust different types of people who can contribute to developing products with immense potential.
Who makes up your support squad?
My support squad is deep! My instructor, Leon Noel, from my coding bootcamp is amazing and truly an inspiration. The founder of my bootcamp, David Delmar, and his colleagues. They’re all dope and supportive of everything I do and accomplish. My boyfriend, Nick DeJesus, who is also an engineer, but started off as my mentor and continues to be. He has pushed me, in the most loving and passionate way, to become the best version of myself as a person, developer and businesswoman. Also, my mother! I actually wouldn’t have become a developer if it weren’t for her keeping me on my toes and reminding me of everything I’m capable of. She’s inspired me my entire life with her pep talks and speeches- just a magical woman. Most importantly, my son. He’s only 6 and a half and doesn’t really understand what I do but he’s the cutest little thing and is the most positive light for me. He keeps me going.
"Diversity. These pieces of technology being developed to create change and impact both large and small need to have been built by people coming from all different backgrounds. If you’re not going to allow people who look differently, think differently, approach things differently, and individually have unique skill sets and abilities- then you’ll never progress." @ParissAthena on the challenges the industry faces.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to offer entrepreneurial/ techy/ digital women like yourself?
This is for women who put their true passions aside for a completely irrelevant industry for the sake of financial stability. It’s okay. It’s okay to temporarily shelf your dreams for whatever the reason may be, whether it’s finance, growth, etc. It’s temporary. Sometimes, we need to leverage our plan B for our plan A. We may even need to leverage our plan D for our plan C, to get to plan B so we can reach our plan A. Life is a house and your dream is locked behind the front door. Are you going to stand outside waiting in the cold or will you try every window of every floor for even the slightest opening?
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