This AAPI Heritage Month, we celebrate the voices and journeys of current students and alums who worked their way through adversity to find their place in tech. These powerful women, trans, and nonbinary folks recount their biggest challenges and aspirations in the industry while giving thanks and gratitude to the folks that came before them.
In Asian culture, Filipinos are kind of lower on the totem pole of Asians. We’re called third culture kids, “you are of Filipino descent, but grew up with a different culture,” says Manu Ponce, current Cohort 15 student. The new Adie, halfway through the program, discusses her upbringing in a small town in Hawaii and what motivates her to keep going. “It always starts with family. My mom and grandma are my motivation throughout this course. I want to make them proud and have the financial freedom to take care of them. I’m not Hawaiian, but I want to support and give back to the culture that raised me.”
A pattern of giving back and supporting the family is a theme intertwined in the journeys of Adies as they enter full-time roles as software developers. The trickle-down effect from the salaries in tech extends beyond the self. Dianne Laguerta, a Cohort 6 Adie, recalls their job before Ada and the impacts of making a career switch.
“Before [Ada], I worked at a nonprofit, where sometimes I got paid in pizza. I am very mindful of money and its impact and where it can go. Having this wealth is not just for me. A lot of it has gone to supporting my family and different organizations. That has been so valuable in terms of what I want to accomplish in my life besides work. Giving back to communities and initiatives that I am a part of and invested in.”.
The shift in salary can be overwhelming. Adies at times go from $45,000 salaries to over $100,000 in just one year. Cohort 13 Adies who graduated this past January 2021 notably averaged a 160% increase in salaries. Cohort 3 Adie Loraine Kanervisto discusses the impact of their economic status shift.
“A career in tech came with class and income shifts that I was not prepared for. The first time a colleague asked me, “Do you rent or own?” it blew my mind because I’d never been asked that before. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this.”
Tech also provides additional freedoms and flexibilities folks can’t afford or don’t experience from a typical 9-5 pm job. Niv Patel, Cohort 11, divulges the struggle of choosing a paycheck over personal health.
“Just a few years ago in May, I was sitting in my cubicle at the clinic I worked at and coming down with what I would later find out was strep throat. I have the distinct memory of telling myself that no matter what, I had to make it to 4:30 pm so I could clock out and get paid for that day. I sat there feeling like I was swallowing razor blades, but I truly and honestly believed that I had no choice.
“With this career shift, I finally feel like I have the ability to choose. I can choose to take care of myself and my loved ones. I can choose a work-life balance that does not cost me my health. I can choose to teach yoga without relying on it for income. I can choose to give back and support my community. And honestly, that’s the best.”
Changing the face of tech is a lofty goal, yet the impact is invaluable for women and gender-expansive folks. Getting a foot in the door and overcoming barriers to entry is a huge feat. The challenges come in waves, but one stands out among the others, imposter syndrome. Whether folks are just starting the program, are in internship, or years in the industry, self-doubt creeps in. Nyckolle Lucuab, from Cohort 15, notes the shift in her ability to ask questions at the beginning of the program.
“Coming into this program, I kinda knew I was a super introvert. It was very hard for me. I was one of those people who would just work alone. I had social anxiety with people like, “what if they think I’m dumb for asking this?”
While Leilani Allen, from Cohort 15, a classmate in the digital class, struggles with managing expectations beyond the program finish line. “Teaching myself code was difficult. Even though I love learning what Ada has taught me, it is a mental struggle to keep up with the coursework. I feared that I would go through this program, finish it, and still not be where I needed to be to get a job.”
Niv, currently working at Remitly, chimes in, “I continue to struggle with feeling like I belong, like this is the best use of my time and energy, like there is space in tech to honor what I believe is important and “do good.” It’s been hard sometimes to trust that these skills I have will lead to something.”
Lee Higgins, from Cohort 13, sums up by stating, “The messaging I heard around me was If I wanted to go into programming, I would have to be good at math and be science-minded. I wasn’t interested in those types of fields, so I thought programming wasn’t for me.”
Although imposter syndrome plagues folks and is often targeted toward women, Adies have found a solution to fend off this debilitating battle of self-doubt. Robust support systems with classmates, coworkers, and family members have kept Adies motivated. For Loraine, this rings especially true.
“I think it’s important to find tech newbies and elders you connect with and adopt them as mentors. We all have a lot to learn from each other. Build, maintain, and keep support systems both in and out of tech. Having a sense of community is extremely important, especially when the journey gets rough.”
Who knows? Your support team might even provide your next meal like Niv.
“I can’t emphasize how important it was to me to find my support system when I was making this big change in my life. I’d like to take this moment to thank my mom for sending me back to Seattle with frozen Indian food to get me through Ada, and my brother for listening to me complain on the phone, and my partner Jacqueline for reminding me to rest and eat and have fun!”
Working through imposter syndrome builds resilience and confidence — traits Adies need to withstand a male-dominated industry. Lee emphasizes the power of self-advocacy.
“Self-advocacy is the biggest thing I can press for. I think it becomes even more important for folks from marginalized communities. We know what we need the most. Find your people who can help press for that and advocate for yourself and others. Everyone around me and at Ada going into the tech industry will not be as dialed into your internship, needs, and career as you are. So build those self-advocacy skills, learn to manage up.”
Dianne echos this statement and the advice they received from her mentor. “I, fortunately, had some great teammates and a great mentor that taught me how to be more like a privileged white dude saying, “If you want something, you have to ask for it and not let people bully you.” I do think it helped me learn how to advocate for myself or knowing that was the culture I was in.”
Adies lift as they climb and share the resources and steps necessary to be successful. The wins folks experience, no matter how big or small, is a testament to the dedication and community Adies build with one another.
“Every week, I look back and see how much I was able to do. Last week I made a website with an API and all these words I didn’t know before. Even though you want to cry and it’s a struggle, I feel accomplished stepping out of my comfort zone and having quit my job. Ada is going to make you succeed even if you don’t want to,” shares Leilani.
Nyckolle emphasizes the importance of trusting the process and being accommodating to change.
“I’ve gotten so much better at interacting with people. It’s been liberating because I’m not afraid to ask questions anymore. Now I’m looking to see how I can help. If someone says they need help, I think, “Oh, I kind of solved that. Do you want to hop in a Zoom call and go through this together?” I would have never seen myself being this social, but I’ve become so comfortable in the span of 3 months. It’s been a great experience for me just growing into a new person.”
The process of learning how to code can be an evolutionary experience. There is strength in leaning on your communities and asking for help. Through Ada, these students have found tech to be a space of financial security, work-life balance, and a network of life-long friends.
Is the transition into tech worth it? Dianne pauses for a moment, then states, “It’s a lot of work. Wanting to do it and transition to tech is amazing but don’t underestimate how much emotional work, technical work, and life work goes into making this transition. It’s going to be different for everyone. Be mindful of how much work is necessary. I think that when you are conscious of the work that has to go in, I think the payoff is worth it.”
Even with the dream of becoming a software developer still on the horizon, Manu says, “I feel like I’m making snow angels in the mud. But finishing the program at the end is my lotus flower.“