On top of my desk shamefully sat the pages of my first collegiate essay. Each paragraph was doused in scarlet red-pride-piercing commentary. A radical revision is what my professor coined it. To radically revise, she said, is to let your first draft completely succumb to artistic transfiguration. She was asking me to venture beyond the norm, but all I could do was wonder into confusion asking how could this happen to me. I guess the more insightful question would have been how could it not happen to me? My life and the people in it are constantly revising. My father spent his 20’s as a revolutionary social activist, his 40’s as a destructive politician, and his 60’s as a laborious factory worker. My mother determinedly graduated with a bachelors in nursing, gradually matured into a business manager, and ultimately evolved into a homemaker.
My own drafting started at an early age. I was a product of the ‘Black Bottoms’ of East Side Russellville, Kentucky where afternoons meant sitting crossed-legged eating watermelon on the rooftop, flying wide armed roller skating on the cracked pavements, and saunter pigeon footed on the Hampton Park basketball court. Later, I would attend The Gatton Academy of Math and Science where evenings meant sitting crossed legged studying for exams on my roommates’ bed, flying wide armed running to class on the campus grounds, and sauntering pigeon footed on classroom building rooftops.
Most memorably, it was at Gatton Academy that I took my first computer science course, and ironically, had developed a repulsion to computer science. Lectures felt as if my German professor was actually teaching in German. Hours of spending time in my professors’ office, hours of being glued to the side of my school tutor, and hours of endlessly studying in the school library had easily convinced me to eternally part ways with such a worthy adversary.
I did not part ways for long, very short of eternity, when my next radical revision was etched. Computer science would become my major during my sophomore year at Columbia University. I had entered college with the intent of studying Civil Engineering, but every textbook I opened immediately lured me to sleep. I was exhausted from the pressures of varsity athletics, requirements of the engineering curriculum, and demands of the college social scene. Yet my computer science projects were the only assignments that could snap me out of induced narcolepsy. The concepts finally came alive and I found myself teaching classmates and spending nights engrossed in extra credit assignments.
My next draft was written when I joined cloud computing at Goldman Sachs where we offer Compute-As-A-Service. My days are spent developing new features, assisting clients, and maintaining our ecosystem. In this space, I am required to be more than just a machine that pushes out software. I am charged with understanding the business holistically. Most surprisingly, my role extends beyond being a developer hiding behind a desk. I am constantly collaborating across divisions, arguing new system implementations among my teammates, and challenging the status quo within the firm.
Although I have matured into my role, it was not an easy transition. Upon joining my current team, I was assigned as co-lead of a new project, while concurrently learning the financial and technological facets of Goldman Sachs. I was developing at scale, juggling multiple assignments and proposing design strategies in an arena where I was the freshmen. Despite my less than smooth transition, every deadline missed, every build broken, and every code review received has taught me to develop the confidence I have as a developer today.
I would be remiss not to mention the role identity and culture has played into my integration at Goldman Sachs. I am in a unique position in society as well industry. I work within finance and technology, both white male-dominated fields. I am black and a woman, both bottom rungs on the social ladder. I have been blessed with amazing mentors and management that have cultivated a world around me where these embedded social rungs appear less important. Not only have I slowly began to discover where my personal and career identities align, but I am discovering where my identity lies in the technology industry in its entirety. We often hear about technology moguls Bezos or Zuckerberg. But it is not often that we hear about pioneers in sustainable technology such as Devaki Raj or Iyinoluwa Aboyeji.
There is a growing movement for building technology that maintains consciousness and is committed to empowering the disenfranchised.
Within this movement, I have found a resonance that I am anxious to engage in.
Lastly, the less than exciting part of my job is refactoring legacy code. Refactoring is in essence “radically revising” numerous lines of code. As a result, the overall performance and readability of an application should be improved. I have learned that my best-refactoring jobs occur when I stop focusing on the implementation and internalize the purpose of a code segment. Convoluted implementations can always detour a developer down a frustrating path of confusion. But, the purpose will never lead one astray. In my personal refactoring, I equate my legacy with being a daughter, a sister, a product, a scholar, a friend. My purpose is driven by the polarity between ‘The Black Bottoms’ and “The Academy” revealing the need for educational reform. Computer Science has proven a tool for me to refactor or rather, radically revise in my own life. The implementation is still uncertain, but when drafting future chapters that detail challenging the status quo of society, technology is a worthy adversary.