Women of Tech Meets: Pariss - Front End Developer & Creator of #BlackTechTwitter Movement
Updated: May 1, 2019
This lady is on a mission to bring about real change.
This week I caught up with Pariss.
Pariss’s journey into tech has been a rollercoaster ride, one taking her from being a Wax Specialist to a Front End Developer. Pariss is creator of the #BlackTechTwitter hashtag and movement. Also founder of #BlackTechPipeline - a platform that will give support and bring exposure to black people in the technology industry.
At University Pariss majored in Film and Screen studies, following which she relocated to LA in an attempt to break into Hollywood as an actress. “I temporarily moved in with a friend who lived in Santa Monica, but we had a sneaky little deal. The deal was - I moved into his roommates room, who was on tour for a year, to work and save money until I found my own place. It worked out well… until his roommate came home several months early and kicked me out. I moved back to Boston that night.”
Pariss described how from there she worked a “ton of jobs. I was a waitress, hostess, craigslist goods seller. I interned at a casting agency, worked movie sets. During that time I also became a mother, and that’s when I needed to get my sh*t together.
I enrolled into aesthetics school, graduated and got my licence and worked as a Wax Specialist for 3 years. As odd as waxing body hair all day may sound, I loved it and was very good at it! I had great clientele and was always in demand.
My second year as a Wax Specialist, I enrolled into school to get my AA in Communications, because as much as I loved being a Waxer, I couldn’t move up from there. Towards the end of my degree (which I received), I learned that coding existed and how important it was, so I attended a Hackathon ran by the Resilient Coders program.
They ended up choosing me to participate in their Bootcamp, which paid participants to learn Front End web development for 5 months. My career really took off from there!
I completed a summer internship at an advertising agency as part of the Innovation and Technology team. A few months after, I received my first offer to be a Software Engineer at a start-up which sold non-toxic skin products. Having a licence in skin care, their mission really aligned with me.
Unfortunately nearing my one year anniversary with them I was laid off, but was hired very quickly by a Digital Agency as a Front End Developer, which is where I am at now.”
Was there anything in particular that sparked your career in Tech?
“I feel like I’m actually in the middle of that spark right now, all because of a simple tweet ‘What does Black Twitter in Tech look like? Here- I’ll go first’ - I unintentionally gathered and connected a large community of Black people in tech from all over the world. What was one just a tweet, is now a movement called #BlackTechTwitter and we’re building and expanding, making sure that we maintain a solid quality eco system called #BlackTechPipeline, a platform that will bring exposure to black people in tech, their skillsets, businesses and more.
This has changed my life in the best possible way. I have a large, amazing and talented network of all people who want to support, grow and thrive in this community and with this movement.
This movement and what it’s growing to be is my priority and my passion. I’m getting to use my skills to help make an impact and make change. That’s what matters to me. Contributing and giving back to my community."
Is there anything in particular that you’re especially proud of in relation to either your work in tech or your relation to the tech industry?
“I’m proud of being the founder and leader of the #BlackTechTwitter movement. This experience has shaped me, and taught me so many things about being a business woman, owning and maintaining something that you started from scratch.
I’ve gained so much perspective and knowledge in such a short amount of time and it hasn’t broken me yet. It’s definitely gotten stressful and overwhelming but only because I have such a strong passion for this work and have so many tasks to tackle to bring my vision to life.”
Have you faced any challenges in the workplace, and how did you overcome them?
“Absolutely! I’ve dealt with being excluded as the only person of colour in the company, overhearing conversations revealing how racist co-workers were, being approached and spoken to differently than others. I’ve been questioned, doubted and ignored by those working at higher levels.
I won’t get into the specifics, but I’ve dealt with a lot of racism and sexism in this industry. My advice to anyone dealing with negative tension in an unhealthy environment is to write all of the microaggressions and uncomfortable interactions down, let HR and managerial roles know and search for a new job. If it gets unbearable, report then leave. You know your own limits.
Remember that you come first. Your health, your happiness and your sanity. Being strong and resilient doesn’t mean you tolerate constant pain all the time, it also means knowing when it’s time to leave toxicity behind and being brave enough to do it.”
What is the biggest deterrent in your opinion to women succeeding in the workplace?
“Male leaders not having faith in our ability to get sh*t done. I’ve experienced male leads having trust issues with me working from home or working in different areas of the office. Even if I was getting work done, I still felt like I had a bunch of 30-40 year old male babysitters questioning me which would not only p*ss me off, it would also distract me from doing work.
The feeling of being watched and not trusted is very overwhelming and toxic.”
What is the one piece of advice that you wish that somebody had given you at the start of your career?
“Find your community. You might find your community at meetups, or it may be groups that you meet online. It could be Twitter, Discord or Slack channels. It’s important to have people who understand and can relate to your struggles and support you. Positivity is necessary, especially in an industry that struggles with diversity and inclusivity. It’s easy to feel lonely, but having people who are just a click away is extremely helpful and relieving."
What do you love the most about working in tech?
“I love how wrong I was about tech and coding, specifically. I swore to myself that I’d never work behind a desk, at a computer, for my career. Even after learning that coding existed, I thought I’d hate it because I was convinced coding was for super smart people who loved math and science, which are the courses I failed in school. I was wrong though.
Coding is extremely creative but its easily mis-conceptualised because you see a bunch of letters, numbers and symbols and think, ‘yeah…no’. You bring ideas to life literally by speaking to a computer in code.
That’s magical. That’s art.”
Is there anything that you don’t love or maybe just aren’t a big fan of?
“I am absolutely not a fan of the male dominance and white dominance in this industry. I’ve had trouble working at a company that employed mainly women but were all white. I’ve been part of development teams that were all white men.
I’ve had bad experiences with both. I need more black and brown faces in this industry. I need more black and brown faces on every development team everywhere. Twice now, I’ve been the only black person in the entire company - it’s unattractive, questionable and tiresome.”
Is there anything that you think companies should be doing to encourage more women to want to work for them?
“Put women in leadership positions.
When a women walks into your company and all or most higher up positions are dominated by men, that’s a red flag. I want to walk into a company as a candidate or a new hire and feel like there’s opportunity for me to grow and thrive. I want to know that I’m working hard to move up the chain and into positions that allow me to create meaningful impact."
I understand it can sometimes be difficult as a women to find suitable opportunities in this industry. Do you have any tips for women seeking new opportunities?
“What is suitable for you and I may be different to someone else. I say to make a list of things you want, don’t want and can tolerate in a workplace. Once you have that list, prioritise the top desires and ask yourself why they’re a priority.
Ask yourself why everything else isn’t a priority but still something you’d like. With this list, you know what to look out for when job searching and interviewing. I don’t think any experience anywhere will be perfect and tailored to your exact liking but if it’s close then it’s a great start."
What did you graduate University with? Did you enjoy your studies?
“I have an associates degree in Communications. I planned on getting my bachelors in marketing and working for an advertising agency. I enjoyed my studies because it was about tactic and strategy. It made me really think and helped me produce clever approaches. It was fun!”
I did not go to school for Computer Science. I learned to code through an intensive bootcamp and then took off from there. Graduating from a bootcamp wasn’t traditional from an educational standpoint but I started as a junior which is pretty typical for people just entering the industry."
What does a typical work day look like in your world?
“I get in between 9:15 and 9:30AM. I go into our kitchen and make myself a bagel with cream cheese and coffee. I get to my desk, plug in my laptop and monitor and then check my email and slack/outlook notifications. Scrum is at 10AM everyday, depending on what client project I’m on.
We discuss what we each did the day prior, what we plan on doing today, and if we have any blockers. I head back to my desk, put my headphones on, blast some hip hop/pop/R&B and just code.
When 12pm hits, sometimes we have catered lunch, other times I spend money on a very expensive soup and sandwich. After lunch, go back to coding in a different area of the office. Mainly the kitchen, where the snacks are. Sometimes I work from home though so things a different on those days”
Which coding languages do you actively use?
“React and React Native!”
Any go to programmes or apps for helping you get your work done? Is there anything that you recommend?
“When I’m dealing with some types of bug or can’t get my program to run properly, I enjoy listening to ASMR hair brushing/hair cutting. People think it’s so weird to listen to but it’s actually calming which is exactly what I need in a time where I’m stressed or annoyed with my code”
Hmm…this is odd advice but I believe that it truly impacts your work ethic.
Make your environment pretty. Regardless of the software or programs you use, go into the setting and customize it to your liking. Tailor it to fit your needs. There’s something about making your environment aesthetically pleasing that gives you drive and motivation."
Do you feel inspired by anyone in particular the works in tech?
“I feel inspired by more people than I can mention. Through Twitter, I’ve discovered such a large diverse community of such skilled and creative people. Not everyone codes, but everyone has some sort of cool technical speciality that makes my mouth drop.
Their passion inspires me and pushes me to be my absolute best!”
What are your long term goals for the tech sector?
“I’ll make a list but I can definitely say that I don’t plan on touching code again after the next 5 years or so. My goals are:
2. Purchase a bunch of property and land, eventually a hotel
3. Receive passive income
4. Give back to my community in more ways than one once I’m able to financially do so."
There is a lot of focus presently towards ‘Women in Tech’ and a growing movement wishing to creating a balance of male and female employees which is great, but the movement is forgetting to support ALL women in tech in the process. Pariss has shed light on issues experienced by her, but she isn’t the only one to have experiences these negativities. Where companies are genuine about supporting the movement of equality in the workplace, they will diversify their workforce with not only men and women, but people of all ethnic backgrounds. With diversification, you can achieve so much more from the wealth of mixed experiences.
Find Pariss on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ParissAthena
When the #BlackTechPipeline website is live we will post a link here too :)