When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I had no idea. I had always really loved animals, more so than an average person, so I thought maybe I would do something with that, be a vet or go into conservation or something like that. Actually, because I knew you would ask this, I asked [my boyfriend], Doug, if he remembered what I wanted to be in high school. He said that I wanted to be a math teacher because I had a math teacher my junior year of high school who had a really big impact on me. And my mom said when I was growing up, I always wanted to play teacher. So I guess that was something I thought about.
I applied to a couple of schools out of state, but not many. When I got my acceptance letters back, my big decision was between UCLA and Berkeley, and initially, I was totally excited about Berkeley and I thought for sure I was going to go there. Then I toured a couple schools and I really liked UCLA. It was a really nice campus and the Southern California sun…but I was still unsure.
Then I went to Berkeley and I was getting pizza near campus with a friend. We were just sitting there and some guys started fighting outside and then they came into the restaurant and one guy grabbed a chair and hit someone with it. It started this little brawl. That's not the thing that pushed me away from [Berkeley], but I didn't feel as at home there.
When I was applying, I thought I would prefer a smaller school, but then I ended up going to a huge school. It was definitely an adjustment at first, but once I settled in, I loved it. Westwood is such a great little area; even though we were in LA, we were in our own little bubble and it was so much fun. It really felt like a home and I met so many great people and made some of my best friends there. And I really liked that it was on the quarter system because I felt like I had more opportunities to explore and take different classes.
How did you choose your major?
When I was in high school, I was in accelerated math. Then, in the beginning of sophomore year, I didn't do very well on my first math test and the teacher sat me down and said, “You could go through the rest of this class, or you could cut your losses now and drop into regular math.” I think that having a teacher say that to me, it felt like she didn't think I was smart enough. So I dropped down to regular math that year. Then I was bored and it was easy and the next year I wanted to go back up into accelerated math. I talked to the teacher and she said, “It's going to be hard, but I'll let you join my class.” And that was the teacher that made a big impact on me. She challenged me a lot, and that was the first time I realized that I excel in the face of a challenge.
Since I didn't have one career in mind, I decided to study applied math. I liked it and I thought, “I'll do this and then if I find something else along the way, I'll change.” But I didn’t. Although I probably unofficially changed my major six times. I did a quarter where I took classes toward econ and I considered doing pre-med and I considered doing psychology or cognitive science. It was a bunch of different, random things, but the whole time I was doing that, I kept taking math classes. I think a big part of it was that I was intimidated, even though I always did well in math. Even up until the very end, I didn't know if I was for sure going to do math, and then I was basically done with my classes. So I said, “Okay, I guess I'm doing it.”
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I think I felt pretty lost after I graduated because people had always said, you can do anything with math, but when it came down to it... Math opens a wide range of things, but it's not very specific. I could go into finance, but I didn't know much about finance. I could go into engineering, but I didn't know much about engineering. Any direction I looked, I felt like I was still coming in at a disadvantage.
So I just took the first job I got, which was at an investment management firm, basically building reports for the clients and a lot of Excel stuff. I actually really liked it. The company itself was a lot of fun and there were a lot of cool, young people and it was a good environment, but I was never super interested in the finance side of it.
Then a couple months in, I got a call from Accenture, a tech consulting firm. I had applied to them before and they hadn't gotten back to me. They wanted to interview me, and even though I wasn't unhappy at my job, I said sure. Then I got a job offer. At that point, I had started to get interested in going into tech, and I felt that Accenture would be a good stepping-stone.
The first thing I worked on was project management for an Epic implementation at Stanford Hospitals. Epic is a healthcare software that doctors have on their iPads or whatever. It wasn't very technical, so it wasn't exactly what I wanted.
When I had joined Accenture, they sent me to Chicago to do training, and they had me do a four-week coding class because Accenture wanted their people to have better technical understanding. I loved it. I thought it was so much fun and when I came back from it, I wanted to get on a project that did that. I ended up working on the programming for the government welfare system for the State of California. That was where I actually started to learn to program. I think it gave me a good opportunity to learn in a really structured environment and because it's government stuff, of course, it moved pretty slowly. I had very little experience, but they took me on and said, “That's okay, we'll show you.” That was a good experience.
So I was working in Sacramento five days a week. I would drive up Monday and live in a hotel and drive back Friday. After a year of doing that, I was over it. I decided I wanted to get a new job. I got hired at a really small, ten-person startup, five-person engineering team, which was a completely different experience. I went from being one of a hundred programmers to being one of five.
At this point, I had a year of experience, not that much. We changed what we did a lot; we were all about pivoting. The main thing we did was build custom audiences to target on social media. For example, a company might want to target someone on Facebook or Twitter who they had sent an email to and they had opened it but hadn’t clicked on the link, or people who had gone to the website and put this item in their cart but didn't buy it. Basically processing tons of data and building custom audiences, and then keeping those updated so people could target ads to them.
That was where I really developed my skills as a programmer. We were using cutting-edge technologies and from my first week, I was pitching code to production. And I had really amazing co-workers and a really good boss who taught me a lot. I really liked working there, but then we got bought out two years later. I started working for Sprinklr, which was a whole different situation, and that's where I was working until June.
I've been working on some projects on my own for fun. Because I don't have that traditional computer science background, I want to expand my knowledge. I pretty much learned most things on the job or was self-taught. Now that I have some time, it's nice to go in-depth and get a more solid foundation for things that are deemed important. I kind of like working on building my own things and working with new technologies.
I think when I get back [to California] I want to work for another tech company, another role where I can learn a lot and be challenged. That's a big part of what I'm looking for. I'm really enjoying where I'm at, and I think that the best way for me to keep growing is to be in the tech industry. I like how tech can be flexible, how there are a lot of different areas so you can't really get bored, how there's always something new to learn or do. But I've always liked the idea of working for a nonprofit, so maybe in the future I can take what I've learned and apply it to a different industry.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I think something that was a struggle for me is that I’ve always had a pretty big fear of failure. I think I did a lot of things because I thought I had to do it or my life would be ruined. I have to get this grade, so I can get into this college. Even when I was in college, I wanted to take a general education class pass/fail, and I called my brother and I was so worried and panicked that if I took this class pass/fail, when I applied for jobs, people would look at this one pass/fail class on my cum laude resume and not hire me. I thought every little thing mattered so much and now I know they don’t. I think I could have relaxed a little bit more.
Now that I'm not working, I'm relaxing for the first time. When I graduated, I started working a week later. Every time I’ve switched jobs, I never took time off. I felt like it would look bad if I took a month off and did nothing. Now I'm know, people are human and they're going to understand if you did something human too.
I can't say that I'm unhappy with the way things turned out, but I feel like it took me so long to learn. There are so many different paths to success, not just one path of doing really well in high school, going to a really good college, and getting a highly sought after job. There are tons of different companies that would work for you, tons of different colleges that would work for you. Don't worry too much about what the future is going to hold for you. There's not one set path that you need to follow.