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Black in Tech Alumni Panel Recap: Panelists’ Favorite and Hardest Moments in the Software Engineering Journey

Codesmith Director of Content & Community Jamaica Bryant sat down with four Codesmith alums last month to learn what drew them to software engineering, what challenges they’ve faced in their journeys to the tech industry, and what paths they are pursuing post-Codesmith. 

Read about the best and hardest moments of our panelists’ software engineering journeys so far, and watch the full panel recording for more insights!

Meet the panelists

Black in Tech Panelists - 2023

Terry Tilley is Codesmith’s Instruction Training Manager. Before joining the Codesmith team, Terry was a full-stack developer with National Public Radio (NPR). Before attending Codesmith, Terry worked for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for 17 years, most recently as a Leadership Training Instructor.

Laurence Diarra is a Turbomachinery Design Engineer II at Honeywell. Laurence is also a current Engineering Fellow at Codesmith. Before attending Codesmith, Laurence received her B.S. degree in Astronautical Engineering from the University of Southern California and started her career at Honeywell. 

Chacta Brice is an Engineering Mentor at Codesmith. Before attending Codesmith, Chacta was a martial arts teacher for 10 years and received his B.S. in Kinesiology from California State University, Northridge.

Cam Greer is the co-founder and COO at Heds, a music curation company in Web3 space. Cam is also a Codesmith Prep Programs Instructor. Before founding Heds, Cam worked as a software engineer at Google. Cam received his B.B.A in Accounting from Howard University before attending Codesmith.  

What has been your favorite and hardest part of your software engineering journey so far?

Chacta: My favorite part about everything is just looking back at the progress that I have made from that moment of saying, ‘this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to be a software engineer. This is my plan, this is my new career, and I’m excited about it.’ Looking back and remembering when I didn’t know how to print ‘hello world’ to the console. Seeing that progress, and knowing now I am actually employed to do this. This is what I do now. That is an awesome feeling, especially if you’ve had the experience of not having a lot, especially not having a lot in adulthood financially. Seeing how that can drastically or dramatically change so quickly if you pick up a very specific and in-demand set of skills – that is my favorite part. Just knowing that I was able to do that. 

The hardest part of the entire journey was the motivation to keep doing it every single day. You might understand this is an outcome, this is something that could happen for me if I continue down this path, I can achieve this goal, I can make it to this point in my life – but, that journey, that grind, we don’t really think about what goes into that every day. Just waking up and saying I’m going to keep doing it, because I can see that end goal in my mind and visualize it every day.

Laurence: I really really enjoy working on difficult problems. I’d actually done research for about 8 years before I graduated college, and a lot of that is the type of thing where you know it is only going to get done if you do it. You’re going to spend those late hours in the lab, and you are going to have huge payoffs. I really enjoyed working in that type of environment. So, I would say, projects are the best part of being a software engineer whether you are jumping into the middle of a pre-existing codebase and iterating on something. Or, if you are starting something from scratch which I really love doing as well. I like being faced with a challenge that I have absolutely no idea how to tackle, and then tackling it because it is so fulfilling in the end. I would say just being able to actually work day in and day out with code itself has been the most fulfilling part for me.

The difficult part, I would say, is making sure that I’m staying on top of my mental health with all of it. I was fortunate enough to be able to do the part-time program, which was awesome because I was not in a space where I wanted to quit my job. I was working a full-time job and going to Codesmith part time. And, that was right off the heels of working two full-time jobs all throughout college. I didn’t give myself much of a break. I have a tendency to get super stoked about something and then 6 months in, be like, ‘hmm, I’m a little tired.’ So, managing burnout was probably the most difficult part. But, I think there are a lot of resources out there – there’s resources at Codesmith and there’s resources at my job which have been really great just in terms of making sure you’re keeping your mental health strong and keeping yourself strong so you can perform and do what you really love. 

Terry: My favorite part has been working with and meeting all the different people I’ve got to meet on this journey. There is a big senior project that we do called the Open Source Product, and the team of individuals that I worked on included a retired school teacher, a computer science graduate, and a person with a masters in data science. You know the backgrounds of the individuals I’m getting to work with on this webinar. The other people that I got to meet and work with throughout the program. Just getting to meet all these different people. 

I'm one of those people where meeting these interesting people and seeing some of these problems and things from their perspective, getting their insight, struggling together, creates this inseparable bond. After 4 months of being with them, I felt like I had known many of them over ten years – that’s the kind of bond we created going through that. So, that’s been my favorite part believe it or not. I now have access to a whole network of engineers. Like if I needed to talk to someone about starting my own entrepreneur type thing, I know who to go to. If I needed to not only know how to be an engineer, but also learn some self-defense, I can make both connections with Chacta. And, if I ever wanted to build my own rocket ship, Laurence is here. So, that’s been my favorite part – all of those individuals. 

The hardest part of my journey, believe it or not, has been genuinely having an actual, factual representation of ‘you can do it.’ We think about ‘you can do it’ all the time, we tell people ‘you can do it, come on you can make it through.’ When I tell you from an academic standpoint, this was the most challenged I have ever been in my life. This is not for the faint of heart, this is not going to be easy. You can’t half-study, half-fly by. Laurence is talking about balance. I needed balance not only with my mental health, but also just my emotional health going through it. You know, imposter syndrome. Staring at the same thing for four hours. Literally calling myself dumb because I can’t see what is right in front of me. So, that was the hardest part and then coming out on the other side of it for sure.

Cam: For me, my favorite part is the, ‘I got to figure it out’ – the grind part of it. Working in NFT, it is so new that if you are working in it for a year, you are basically an expert because things are developing so fast and protocols are being changed. Everything is breaking, and I like being in that chaos. It is super fun to continue to build knowing that if you stopped today, who knows what is going to get released tomorrow. So, you are continually iterating and building your own way in this field for the users. For me, that has always been my favorite part. 

Even talking about school, the hardest classes were always my favorite because you had to study every single day. If you didn’t read, you would be behind. The easy classes for me were hard because there wasn’t that pressure to read, because you could kind of read and get away with it. It was hard for me to focus on those classes versus the really hard classes where that wasn’t acceptable. Codesmith is literally a firehose of information, so I just turned up even more and just really really soaked that in, which is why I love teaching and going through that now. Going to Google obviously was a lot of information. I tried to get as much out of that as I could. And then Web3 is like this whole new world of software essentially. So, that has been my favorite part is consistently putting myself essentially every year in a new environment and code base and trying to figure out how this thing works. 

The hardest part for me was the beginning, just making the commitment because it was very difficult. It took me 4 interview tries to get into Codesmith. So, I was just very nervous – I was thinking about my career, what I was going to do. So the beginning was honestly the hardest part. As soon as I got in at Codesmith, it was like a reset. I have an irrational amount of confidence, but I was betting on myself - they say x amount of people are in this upper tier of salaries, and I was like I’m going to be that person. And, then I went to Google and made $185K immediately, and that is just how I try to look at things. I think you should have that confidence. You can definitely be that person once you make that switch. That was the hardest part for me – committing to the idea that this is now the person I am. 

Get more Codesmith alumni insights

Watch the full Black in Tech Alumni Panel: Finding Your Path After Codesmith to learn more about our panelists’ paths to Codesmith, dealing with imposter syndrome, and more.