***Editor’s Note: The “I Became an Engineer” blog runs every Friday. To share your story email firstname.lastname@example.org***
This week’s story comes from ECN reader La Vesha Parker, senior software engineer & tech lead, Etsy; Speaker, IEEE WIE ILC.
Like many middle schoolers living in the 2000s, I got an iPod for Christmas in 2006. I initially assumed it would just serve to play music on my way to band practice, but its real shining moment came eight years later when it provided a memory that granted me hope when I needed it most in an engineering college.
I attended a public middle school in South Carolina, and my mind often felt stagnant and unchallenged there. My iPod Classic changed that. I suddenly was able to download podcasts to listen to thoughts and opinions from folks around the world, all without having to sit at the family computer to do so. One of the podcasts I picked up over the years was the Etsy How-Tuesday podcast, where DIY videos for different crafts were posted every Tuesday.
At the time, my mom was teaching me to knit, crochet, and sew in an effort to stave off my boredom from not feeling engaged at school, so I found Etsy’s crafting podcast a welcome addition to my needlework education.
As I watched the podcast each week, I dreamed of how it would feel to work in Brooklyn (like the folks on the podcast) and spend my days building something I could share with others. I figured there was no way I could achieve such a future as a young black girl living in South Carolina.
Fast forward to high school: I spent my time studying hard as I’d decided that the best way to accomplish whatever life held in store for me was to leave the state altogether, and the best way to leave was to go to college far away. My hard work paid off as I earned a place in Cornell University’s College of Engineering in 2011.
Having come from a state with generally poor academic opportunities, I had to attend the Prefreshman Summer Program at Cornell in the months before the fall semester to prepare for the normal school session. I initially assumed that indicated something negative about me as a student (It didn’t! Equalizing programs like this are wonderful to have for rigorous college environments.), but I took my first programming class there and felt a wave of joy as I saw the various small scripts I had to write for homework start to work. It gave me the same rush I always had when creating something new as a kid and made me think: Woah! I did that.
I had enrolled in Cornell intending to have a mechanical engineering focus, but with time, I found that physics wasn’t a subject I enjoyed. I thought back to how much fun I had in my first programming class, and decided to declare Computer Science (CS) as my major in my sophomore year.
By my junior year in school, my CS courses were increasingly difficult, and impostor syndrome was suffocating me. The joy I’d once found in programming had waned, and I was so consumed with stress and feelings of inadequacy that I no longer enjoyed what I was setting myself up to do as a living.
That all changed when I saw a posting for a software engineering internship position at Etsy during winter break of my junior year.
I thought back to my first encounter with Etsy when I watched their crafting podcast on my iPod. The whimsy, warmth, and encouragement of creative thinking I’d seen in those demo videos eight years prior matched the tone of the job description for the software engineering internship posting, and I felt a wave of hope wash over me that maybe life could turn around if I got that job. It was as if a remnant from my past was coming to save me from my slump.
I assumed there was no way a company like Etsy would hire me, but I also knew that if I didn’t find something that I enjoyed doing for work soon, it’d be a long way to retirement in a job that I didn’t love. After a couple of months in the application process, I was accepted as an intern in Etsy’s inaugural Software Engineer (SWE) intern class, and felt the fire return to me as I grew, learned, and loved what I was doing in my new environment.
I returned to college to finish off one last year before coming back to work at Etsy full time, and I’ve been happy here since.
I still work as an engineer today because I love that I can’t grow bored in this field as there’s always room to grow. In my time at Etsy, I’ve gone from being a Junior SWE to a Senior SWE and technical lead for a few projects. It is so wonderful to be able to go to work each day to learn and find new areas to focus on bettering myself in, all while enabling craftspeople and entrepreneurs to do what they love.
In many ways, my childhood love of creating something new out of raw materials lives on. My belief that I should always be growing, learning, and dedicating myself to something that had the power to help others sustained me through a difficult college experience to a place in my life that I currently love. I owe some part of this to my memories of learning through podcasts on my new iPod in middle school.
I am still learning in my role, and I love to share what I learn as I go! Through my involvement with the IEEE Women in Engineering initiative, which works to inspire, engage, and advance women in technology, I’ve shared what I’ve learned about preparing for when things go wrong as a technical lead as part of the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference (WIE ILC). Click here to listen to my recent talk.
Read other stories, here:
- A Note From The Editor: An Engineer’s Story
- I Became An Engineer: Despite Being Bad At Math
- I Became An Engineer: Because Of A 1930s Vintage Radio
- I Became An Engineer: Because I Kept Asking “Why?”
- I Became An Engineer: By Studying The Fundamentals
- I Became An Engineer: Because Of Microscope Modifications
- I Became An Engineer: Because I Drew A Flower
- I Became An Engineer: Because Of A Paperback Book On Electricity
- I Became An Engineer: Because I Wanted To Travel
- I Became An Engineer: Because I Tinkered With A Radio
- I Became An Engineer: Because Of Math, Science, And Serendipity
- I Became An Engineer: Because I Loved Discovery And Fixing Things
- I Became an Engineer: Because It Was Hot That Day
- I Became an Engineer: Because of Viktor Frankl and Existentialism
- I Became an Engineer: By Turning Curiosity into a Career
- I Became an Engineer: Because of the Air Force Technical Applications Center
- I Became an Engineer: Because I Went to Work with My Dad
- I Became an Engineer: Because I Always Knew I Would Be One
- I Became an Engineer: Because I Was Always Trying to Fix Things
- I Became an Engineer: Because My Teacher Scared Me into It
- I Became an Engineer: Because I Had a Knack for Programming
- I Became an Engineer: Because I Delayed Law School