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Buzzfeed

I Code For BuzzFeed… And I Was An English Major

Paola Maldonado, BuzzFeed’s mobile developer talks about her incredible career reinvention, Latinas in tech and how PowerToFly helped her land her dream job.


I’m working as Mobile Developer on the exciting new BuzzFeed News app. I’ve been there for a little over a month, and I couldn’t be happier. I have been learning so much, and I’m psyched to be writing code that will potentially reach millions. As a bonus, I get to work with great, talented people every day.

You did not start out as a developer. What was your original career?

Though I did have a good amount of programming experience in high school, in college, I actually majored in English. I’ve always been fascinated by language, I love the classics, and I fantasized about being a writer, so it seemed like the right choice. Alas, upon graduating, I had no idea what to do with my degree, and I was soon stuck in a rut at administrative positions that were unsatisfying.

You changed careers and taught yourself how to code. Explain to our readers how you did this. How long did it take? What classes did you take?

Still dreaming about being a writer, I started a blog to share some of my work, but I soon found I spent more time changing the layout of my blog than doing actual writing. I decided to learn HTML & CSS, so that I could do even more customization. I took an online course via Skillcrush. I enjoyed it so much that I started to consider it as a potential career change.

I began applying to bootcamp courses, and I was soon accepted into the Access Code pilot program, where I was introduced to iOS. This program was perfect at that time, because it allowed me to keep my full time job while I was learning. After the course concluded, I accepted a full time 6-month paid internship at startup Viggle, where I got firsthand experience at a tech company, working with an engineering team, using a project management tool and version control. The experience was invaluable, and it made me solidify my decision to pursue mobile development, but I did not yet feel confident about my skills, so I continued my education. I took a second bootcamp course, at Turn To Tech, which included an internship, and in a few short months I started to get some great job offers.

And during this time you found out about PowerToFly. What was the process of finding a job like?

I found PowerToFly via Twitter back in August 2014, and I was so excited to learn about the company and the platform it was aiming to launch. I signed up for the email list to stay informed. Not long after then, PowerToFly actually reached out to me through Twitter via NYCTechLatinas, the Meetup group I help organize, regarding a possible collaboration. I had the opportunity to speak with PowerToFly’s Community Manager, who, once she realized I was looking for work, encouraged me to set up a PowerToFly profile. This lead me to interview at Buzzfeed where I got the job and currently work!

You are the co-founder of NYCTechLatinas. Tell us a little bit about that group.

NYCTechLatinas was founded with the purpose of creating a community of Latinas in technology. Latinas are hugely underrepresented in tech, but we are definitely out there. Our goal is to connect and empower these women, which we do by hosting monthly events, including professional workshops, networking opportunities, and most recently a hackathon aimed at giving back to the community.

What other networking avenues would you recommend?

In addition to NYCTL events, I also attend iOS Meetup events. If there is something you’re interested in learning, whether it’s JavaScript or Product Management, I guarantee there’s a Meetup for it.

I also use Twitter for networking purposes. I’ve reached out to women via social media, and have had women contact me as well. I am always happy to share my experiences to help and inspire other women. Definitely put yourself out there and be reachable.

Can you provide us with any other additional tips for women looking for a career change?

Learning to code is no easy feat. You really need to believe in yourself and stick with it. It’s certainly not something that you learn overnight. In total, it took me a year and a half from the time I started learning to the day I accepted a full time job offer. I think I could have accomplished this in less time, but admittedly what held me back was my own fear that I couldn’t do it. There were plenty of times when I doubted myself and thought about giving up. Once I made up my mind that, yes, I could absolutely do this, that’s when I started to see real progress, not only in my confidence, but also in my skill. It’s incredible how negative thoughts can really cloud your mind. For this reason, I also recommend you reach out to other women in tech via Twitter, e-mail, or other online forums, and create a good support network.

Last, do your research! There are so many resources out there, many of them free. Find out which way of learning works for you, whether it’s books, online courses, in-person courses, and then just go for it. You can do it!

You can find out more about Paola on her PowerToFly profile.

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Why Female Presidential Candidates Are Still Told to Be Chill, Not Shrill

The Dated, Everyday Tech Stifling Women's Voices Shows the Importance of Diversity in Tech

"You're not like other girls. You're so...chill."

I've gotten that "compliment" from multiple guys in multiple contexts — and I'm ashamed to admit that until a few years ago, I took it as one.

Occasionally I'd wonder why. After all, anyone who knows me well knows I am the Anti-Chill: a tightly wound stress ball, ready to explode into tears at any given moment.

So what was giving these guys the wrong impression? As it turns out, it was my voice. My cool, unnaturally-deep-for-a-woman, never-shrill voice.

And if I'm honest, I always prided myself on not sounding 'like other girls.' No uptalk or high-pitched squeals of glee from me. I thought I sounded smarter and more serious. Talk about internalized misogyny.

This isn't just me though. There is a societal double bind that forces women to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the right pitch and tone for each situation.

Just consider the advice that Democratic-debate coach Christine Jahnke gave female candidates to avoid being labeled as shrill: "… go slow and low. Very purposefully slow your pace and lower the tone a bit, because that will add meaning or gravitas to whatever it is you're talking about."

In a nutshell: try and sound chill, not shrill.

What I didn't know, until recently, is how this bias against women's natural voices is being reinforced and amplified by century-old technology. (Just one of many examples of how technology designed by and for men ends up hurting women in the long-run.)

Author Tina Tallon explains this little-known fact in her recent New Yorker article, summarized below:

How 20th Century Tech Is Holding 21st Century Women Back

With the rise of commercial broadcast radio in the 1920s, women's voices began getting critiqued. As Tallon explains, station directors asserted that "women sounded 'shrill,' 'nasal,' and 'distorted.'" So when industry standards were set, directors didn't take women's voices into account.

When Congress limited the bandwidth available to each radio station in 1927, station directors set a bandwidth that would provide the minimum amount of information necessary to understand "human" speech.

They used lower voices as their benchmark, so the higher frequency components of women's speech necessary to understand certain consonants were cut, making women's voices less intelligible.

  • Researcher J.C. Steinberg asserted that, "nature has so designed woman's speech that it is always most effective when it is of soft and well-modulated tone." He explained that if a woman raised her voice on air, it would exceed the limitations of the equipment. As Tallon says, "He viewed this as a personal and biological failing on women's part, not a technical one on his."

Why You Should Care

Women have always been told to lower their voices, but this 20th century approach to sound frequencies is still accepted as the standard, literally forcing women to lower their voices if they want to be heard.

  • To this day, many algorithms and speakers distort women's speech by limiting higher frequencies, causing women's voices to lose definition and clarity.

Tallon sums it up well:

"Consequently, women are still receiving the same advice that they were given in the nineteen-twenties: lower the pitch of your voice, and don't show too much emotion. By following that advice, women expose themselves to another set of criticisms, which also have a long history: they lack personality, or they sound 'forced' and 'unnatural.'"


----

So as we continue to grapple with implicit biases against women, from what it means to be "presidential" to who's considered an "innovative leader," let's remember the importance of diversity in tech.

Had a woman been involved in researching/setting the standards for radio frequencies, she might've been able to steer the industry towards a voiceband that would allow men and women to be heard equally well. And perhaps had a more impartial voiceband been established, I'd have heard a more diverse range of female speakers growing up, and internalized fewer biases myself.

That's why we care so much at PowerToFly about making sure cutting-edge companies have diverse teams.

Times were different then, sure, but the fact that Depression Era standards are still impacting how we hear (or don't hear) women's voices is a vital reminder that what we do today impacts our world for centuries to come.

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