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Brilliant Black Minds alumni Yosief, Isaiah and Victor share their journeys to becoming full time software engineers
We celebrate Black Brilliance throughout the year, but this month has been exceptionally special for us as we have highlighted Black leaders and candidates within the Karat community. Rounding up Black History Month, we’d love to shed more context on a few candidates who landed job opportunities through Brilliant Black Minds.
Yosief Kidane, Isaiah Smith, and Victor Pimentel all participated in Brilliant Black Minds, which included numerous practice interviews, peer led study sessions, coaching sessions and plenty of workshops. Each learned computer science differently; whether through bootcamps, apprenticeships, or traditional college education. One thing they all have in common is a strong work ethic. Discover more about each candidate and their journeys to becoming software engineers.
Yosief, I’d love to learn a bit more about your background and how you got to Cornell University.
My parents immigrated to Rochester, New York from Eritrea before I was born. From a young age, my dad always taught my siblings and I that education was really important. I carried those habits and passion for learning and I was pretty fortunate with the college process.
I was the first sibling in my family to go to college and had to learn about a lot of how a lot of stuff works on my own. It was a huge adjustment compared to my parents’ upbringing and their experiences. I definitely got my work ethic from my dad.
What sparked your interest in computer science?
I actually studied Business in college. My brother, who is currently at Cornell inspired me to take an Introduction to Python class during my sophomore year when he arrived as a freshman. Eventually, I had him as a TA in one class and a classmate in another, so he was consistently a huge inspiration and resource for me.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your involvement with BlackGen Capital. Do you have a passion for investing?
BlackGen Capital is a minority-owned, student-run investment fund with chapters at 9 universities across the country. I was a part of the inaugural class at Cornell University during my sophomore year. Finance clubs are typically very selective and you don’t typically see a lot of minorities so I was glad to be apart of something that catered to people who looked like me.
One premise of the club is to give back. After my first semester in the program, I decided to become a sector leader, to lead a group to deliver a stock pitch. A lot of the students that joined came from various backgrounds including engineers, psychology, business and other areas, so not everyone had a background in financial analysis. My role was to help deliver the stock pitch and help students learn finance fundamentals including how to analyze stock, learn what a good investment is, and ultimately how to build a strong portfolio. It was a great way for me to leverage my knowledge to help my peers.
Why do you think it’s important for minorities to learn how to invest?
Investment is vital and a huge tool when it comes to enabling the future generation of your family. Time is the biggest resource when it comes to money. A dollar now might become $30-$50 by retirement, so the sooner we can narrow the knowledge gap, the better.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Long term, if I keep pursuing the employee route as opposed to starting a company, I hope to be working at a high frequency trading firm. I’m interested in working on algorithms and implementing those algorithms to trade stocks really quickly.
I have a bias for being family oriented so ideally, I’d also like to pursue the entrepreneur route and start my own technology service or product. That way, I’d have the flexibility to focus on the things that are most important to me, like family.
Can you tell me about the best interview experience you’ve had at Karat?
I did so many interviews, so it’s going to be challenging to choose just one, haha! However, I always looked forward to the last fifteen minutes when I had the opportunity to ask my questions to the interviewers. I had so many since I was so inexperienced with tech interviews. Each interviewer answered my questions with their own perspective which was very helpful for me.
You don’t always have an opportunity to ask people with in-depth experience so many questions. While you can always go out of your way and reach out to people on Linkedin for a coffee chat, you’re going to have a lower hit rate. Through the Brilliant Black Minds program, I was able to glean a lot of knowledge from the interviewers.
What’s something you’re looking forward to as you begin your journey in New York City?
I like music a lot. I played the drums in high school. I was in a Jazz band and I had a band with my friends in college, so I’m excited to explore the music scene in New York as well. I also love stargazing, which I probably won’t be doing a lot of in the city, haha.
Yosief moved to NYC in February 2023 to begin his journey as a software engineer at Flatiron Health!
Isaiah, can you tell us a little bit more about your path to becoming a software engineer.
I studied linguistics and became interested in computer science at Dartmouth College. I’m very interested in natural language processing which refers to the different types of techniques to help computers process and understand human language. After working on a few projects, I realized that I had to learn how to code . Python, in particular, is used a lot when it comes to language analysis. After I graduated, I started taking some courses.
For those of us who aren’t sure, can you explain what natural language processing is and how you first learned of it?
We had a lot of guest lectures in college, and one PhD candidate gave a lecture on the integration between computer science and linguistics. That’s essentially what natural language processing is: a mixture of computer science, machine learning, and linguistics. Siri (Apple’s voice recognition application) is a good example of this – like the communication between human beings and devices.
That is so fascinating. I’d love to hear more about your journey teaching yourself how to code.
I took a couple of courses to get more familiar with coding and then applied for Hack Reactor, which is a coding bootcamp, and was accepted into the program. The program allowed me to work on more projects and build my portfolio. At the same time, I realized I had enough programming experience to begin volunteering, which led me to StreetCode Academy . I had a fulfilling experience helping teach and Black, Latino, Polynesian, and other underrepresented students how to code and build their own websites. In my opinion, volunteering, or being willing to teach and share your skills is necessary for community growth as a whole.
How long did it take to teach yourself to code? And what advice would you give to someone with a similar background to yours?
I was taking courses before I joined a bootcamp while also working pre-pandemic. I enrolled in a bootcamp, finished and then began my journey looking for a role. Overall, I’d say it’s taken me around 3 years – I put in quite a bit of time. My advice would be to keep practicing until you achieve the results you want. I’d recommend going to a lot of networking events, job fairs, and even introducing yourself to people on Linkedin. The first job is a good place to start, and I see it as an introduction to the industry.
What was the most impactful part of Brilliant Black Minds for you?
I participated in a coaching session in the program with a couple of the mentors. I appreciated that a lot. I also really liked the interviews and chance to hear about the experience of the interviewers.
Where do you imagine yourself in five years?
If possible, I’d like to be a Senior Engineer. I would like to be working on AI or Machine learning, particularly, natural language processing.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love studying languages. I know Spanish and Portuguese well and some French and Italian. Right now, I’m actively studying Russian and Arabic.
Isaiah started his new role in January 2023 and is looking forward to relocating to Tampa, Florida to be in the Citi office!
Victor, thank you for your time today! Can you tell me a little bit more about your background?
Sure! I received my Bachelor of Computer Science from CUNY York College. Right after college, I had the privilege of working as a Software Engineer at The Difference– a weight management technology app. I really believed in the app because I saw the difference it made in my moms life as she tested it out while we were building it. The founder also really liked working with me so he made me his co-founder. So I’ve been working there for the past six months and plan on continuing that work as I also transition to my new role at Citi.
Taking it back a little, what got you interested in software engineering as a career path?
To be honest, I didn’t even know I was coding until I found out it was a career path. I used to play a game that forced us to communicate in a forum using HTML. We’d have to code and add CSS to make our tool stand out in the forum. From there, it was a logical next step to pursue anything related to computers. When I turned 17, I was already building my own computer. And in college, I realized that there were a lot of STEM careers.
It looks like you’ve also done quite a few apprenticeships- from your perspective, what are some benefits?
In school, you’re going to learn programming languages, but you’ll learn them really slowly. But, with apprenticeships, you can accelerate the way you learn and the connections you make. That’s the most important part, in my opinion. Realistically, you can learn how to code on YouTube, but networking, meeting people, learning and growing with your peers is how you will always get the best results.
Tell me about your best interviewing experience.
The best interview experiences for me are when I get to do paired programming. As a real life software engineer, you’re always talking with your teammates and rarely come to a solution by yourself. Paired programming is also a great way to practice for an interview. For example, when I was interviewing with a company, I went over problems with a friend and we had a chance to discuss and solve it and then give each other feedback.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I’ll be 27 by then and I hope to be a senior software engineer. I want to be helping people who are in the same position that I was, like six months ago, because I know what it feels like to struggle. I plan to be a CEO of a company as well as a mentor in the tech community.
What are some of your hobbies?
I like playing chess a lot and doing martial arts.
Victor began working at Citi in their New York City office in January 2023 as an Application Development Analyst.
We’re so proud of all the hard work each candidate has put forth into their journeys to becoming software engineers. The countless hours of interviewing, studying and preparing paid off and we look forward to championing your continued success.
Brilliant Black Minds offers free practice coding interviews with a skilled coach providing feedback, workshops with seasoned engineers from across the industry, a discord community with over 1,300 other software engineers, and an accelerated interview process with our corporate partners including Amazon Prime, Indeed, Flatiron Health, Duolingo and Citi. Sign up here to join the program.
We also extend a huge thank you to our Partners of Brilliance for their dedication to the Brilliant Black Minds community. Learn more about becoming a corporate partner here.
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