Ideas
My Summer as a CODE2040 Fellow: It’s Not About the Code
Author:Scott Paillant
Date:August 15th, 2016

I stepped off the plane into San Francisco on a Wednesday afternoon, and started at Presence the next morning. It was an awkward start to my work week but I wanted to start as soon as possible. Bright-eyed with a smile I couldn’t wipe off my face, I was excited to bring the process full circle and finally meet the amazing people I’d been in contact with for months. Presence was my first internship fully dedicated to programming. When starting a new job, any job, you’ll get that feeling of nervousness or those “will I be able to do a good job” type of thoughts and believe me did I. Not to mention I was strapping in for an internship 3000 miles from home. Deep down my worst fear was I’d do a horrible job and have to go home 8 weeks early. Like most of our fears, it was purely mental and I kept forgetting that this was an internship after all, where learning is the number one priority for the company as well as the intern. I did my best and in the first few weeks I was hooked.

I found Presence through CODE2040’s Fellows Program, a program which places Black and Latino/a students with internships in the Silicon Valley for the summer. That sentence alone captured my excitement and interest for a long time. Being born and raised in fast paced New York City, I’ve already experienced a pretty dynamic culture, and Silicon Valley was one of the few places that could spark a New Yorker’s interest. An organization that was helping bridge the gap of diversity by getting minority college students connected with internships in a place I already wanted to go to? It was the perfectly bundled package I had to run for.

Being completely honest, I believe I lucked out with Presence. I originally wanted to be placed at a bigger company, frankly because of all the glamour. Those small but semi-significant moments when you tell someone where you work and they immediately know of it but working at a smaller company you’ll often times have to explain who they are and what they do. However, I was still ecstatic when Presence reached out to me. Culture is definitely a big part of it and it can be somewhat hard to tell just what a company’s culture is like from an interview. I now know the culture at Presence as well as the staff has the ingredients needed for an amazing workplace. Working side by side with my coworkers as well as shadowing them has given me insight into what developing code in the real world looks like. They are teaching me as well as allowing me to produce production code at the same time, a combination that can be hard to perfect, but I believe the developers here at Presence have that down pat.

From Day 1 of my first full week of work I was writing production code. I was amazed as it is not something many interns get to do throughout their entire summers and here I was producing actual production code on my first week! When I joined, the project needed a few face lifts which created work perfect for me and allowed me to become familiar with the project as it stood as well as directly influence the direction the project was heading. Working side by side with Sean Cannon and Esther Weon, both senior developers at Presence, made it so I had a full understanding of all the components of the project and were there to help me fully execute my code into production.

All of this couldn’t have been possible without CODE2040 and the amazing mission they are trying to achieve. The more I found out about CODE2040 and started to apply for the Fellows program, the more I became interested and involved in diversity in tech. It made so much sense because without diversity in places where important conversations take place, it can hinder progress. If a room full of white men is where decisions are being made about the ‘next big thing’ in the tech industry, we will never have nextamazing thing because of the lack of diverse backgrounds from the people having the conversation.

Diversity in tech is important, but I finally felt its full weight on Welcome Weekend. The event was CODE2040’s first for the summer where all the fellows would meet each other. I hadn’t realized it yet but there’s something powerful about being in a room full of people who look just like you. Companies sometimes believe diversity in tech isn’t achievable but here I was face to face with the people who could create the needed change. I was blown away by the type of conversations you could get started by leaving the floor completely open in an environment like this one. People spoke about how grateful they were, and how lucky we are as Fellows to participate in this program, and how most importantly we need to give back.

We need to be the ambassadors of change in our communities. The incredible stories I heard over Welcome Weekend made me realize we are all in this together and we have people back home looking up to us. Siblings, strangers, friends. A lot of us are here because of how hard we’re willing to work for those who depend on us. You wake up every morning and work your hardest for the people near and dear to your heart, like a parent, brother or sister. Not everyone from our communities interested in being in tech have had the same opportunities we have had. We have had the opportunity to attend networking events and informational workshops. We must go back and spread the knowledge we’ve amassed this summer, on both diversity and inclusion in the tech industry and be the needed change we all so very much want to see.

I myself don’t always feel the need to scream and shout whenever I hear of problems pertaining to diversity but upon entering the tech industry as a CODE2040 Fellow I felt the need to talk about it. Many of the Fellows often spoke of how when looking around their office they didn’t see many, if any, people that looked like them. I didn’t initially notice the reality of my workplace until reflecting on these conversations. I was in the same boat as they were. When you have a company like Presence who is actively involved in the CODE2040 community and promoting diversity in tech and they still have an underrepresentation of minorities, it shows there is much work to be done. It is less of the idea that we do not exist or that we are not talented enough, but that we all may not have the opportunities or connections to make it 3000 miles from home to places like the Silicon Valley. This is why organizations such as Code2040 are so important. They help bridge the gap from all the places in the world us Fellows hail from and try to increase diversity in tech.

This summer was definitely one I won’t soon or ever forget. The quality of connections I’ve made through CODE2040 will last a lifetime and for that I’m truly thankful. The tech industry turned out to be vastly different from what I imagined, but I have learned so much about what it takes to have a career in an ever evolving trade. I have developed a new outlook on values I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This experience has opened my eyes to a problem I knew existed but didn’t fully understand. I return home ready and willing to fight for solutions to the problem we have so long been trying to fix.

Special thanks to CODE2040 and Presence for the experience of a lifetime (oh, and for allowing me to be a rockstar).