The interview below is courtesy of /dev/color,a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower Black software engineers to help one another grow into industry leaders. Daniel is a member of /dev/color, and he was recently recognized for excellence in his role as facilitator at /dev/color with the ColorCode Award!
Daniel (squatting) and the mobile team in their fresh new “Students First” T-shirts at #HandshakeHQ. This team is making applying to jobs on the go easier and more intuitive than ever — and Daniel’s at the helm.
Tell us a bit about your early years.
I grew up in a military family and moved between FL and VA several times. My father was a navy diver for 30 years. From the time we got our first Atari until Nintendo 64, my brother destroyed me in every game we owned. So I literally stopped and never played video games again (it’s ok, we’re best friends now, haha). I picked up basketball and became pretty good at it (much better than my brother).
While my father was away at college preparing for his transition out of the navy, I moved to VA to live with my mother. There I focused more on basketball and got my grades up a bit. I went to Florida State as a Pre-Law student, but that didn’t last long.
How did you get started in software?
My father was trying to start a minority business incubator around 2000. He had so many ideas. He asked me to build a website for this venture and once I got started I realized that this was what I wanted to do.
What are you focusing most of your time on now?
I’m trying to build a future for my kids and other people’s kids. This means I’m putting a lot of hours into my role as a mobile architect and lead at Handshake, my two side projects I’m working on, and several efforts around bringing tech skills to underrepresented youth across the country and here in the Bay. I don’t do much else.
What is the most interesting technical challenge you’ve worked on recently?
This is maybe less of a strictly technical challenge, but in Silicon Valley there are thousands of junior engineers who aren’t hired because we lack the confidence that they’ll ramp up quickly enough. They’re smart, they’re working hard to add to their skills, but they don’t match the pattern we’ve been trained to match against. As I’ve been architecting the Handshake app, I’ve been focused on levels of abstraction. I’m trying to build things in such a way as to allow for easy exploration of the code base as well as provide a way for junior engineers to jump in and contribute right away.
Please state 2–3 of your current career goals. Why are these important to you?
My three goals for this year were to ship several major features in our app (done), become a lead or engineering manager at Handshake (done), and ship one of my side projects (almost done). I have pretty specific medium and long term goals that all support my primary goal of providing for my kids’ education. My plan also includes giving them access to travel, resources, and programs that will give them an advantage in the world so they can continue to make a positive impact.
Give an example of a recent time you’ve helped a fellow engineer. What lessons can be taken from their situation?
Recently I met an engineer who was actively looking for a new role. They didn’t have the pedigree that others have and that companies in the Bay still look for. I explained some of the ways I used actual projects and online content in place of a prestigious degree to help show my value to prospective companies. I’m learning more about what companies are looking for and how career switchers and boot camp grads can stand out and get noticed. Our biases toward brand-name schools is deep.
In what areas can /dev/color members reach out to you for help?
I’m a lead engineer, people manager, public speaker, and a father of two kids :) I’ve worked at small, medium, and large companies. I’d be honored to answer questions or share any stories that might help.
As a member of /dev/color you are also committed to developing yourself. Can you share some areas you are looking to improve?
I’m looking for opportunities to grow as a leader. I’m looking for more guidance around building teams, guiding careers, public speaking, and supporting large architectures.
Can you speak about any passions outside of programming?
I’m probably most passionate about effective communication and conversation. Most people either are afraid to have candid, respectful conversations or don’t know how. When two people with opposing views are able to exchange ideas, they both learn.
Why is being a part of an organization like /dev/color important to you?
/dev/color has connected me with black engineers who are at the top of their field. Over the course of my career, I’ve never been able to say that I had a mentor until now. Additionally, so many of us in /dev/color are doing work in the community. Being able to tap into that energy has been amazing.
Anything else you’d like to say/express?
Many times black engineers shy away from being the “only” at a company, or after a while of being the “only”, they leave. I totally understand this, especially if the company culture is the culprit. Still, I’d encourage more of us to stay and stick it out. While you’re there, some other black engineer might also come along and may be more likely to apply and stay. Then we all win.
I hope that by doing this eventually things will even out. It’ll take a while, because we’re still making up ground, but I hope to see true evidence of this in my lifetime.