[00:00:19] Kate Martin: Welcome to the apprenticeship.io podcast, where we gather the courageous leaders the tech industry needs to talk about education, equity, job hunts, hiring in tech and you guessed it apprenticeships. Whether you're considering a career switch to tech, currently studying, or working and leading in tech, we hope to show you stories, ideas, and tactics to inspire you and equip you to make the tech industry, and our future together, a more equitable place for all of us. Let's get to know today's guest.
[00:00:50] Kamrin Klauschie: Today's guest is Lupita Davila. Lupita became an Apprentice Software Engineer at Twilio in the first cohort of their Hatch program in July 2017 after attending Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco. Before her career pivot, Lupita was a Web Designer. She originally studied Computer Science at UC Santa Barbara, but dropped out of that major, and barely finished her degree in Statistics while working multiple jobs. Lupita made her way back into software engineering as a Facebook F8 Scholar, and has always been an active member in Latinx communities like Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Techqueria. In her free time, Lupita enjoys playing the ukulele and doing photography.
[00:01:31] This episode was originally recorded in April 2018.
[00:01:34] Welcome, Lupita.
[00:01:36] Lupita Davila: Hi.
[00:01:38] Kamrin Klauschie: The first thing that I wanted to learn more about you is the educational upbringing of your childhood? So not just formal education, but maybe some of the relationships that you had with learning when you were a kid, and the people that inspired you.
[00:01:55] Lupita Davila: When I was very young, I really loved reading and my mom was always super supportive of that. So I think my earliest memories of learning were of her taking me to the public library. I felt like my mom was always super supportive about my education. I always was doing really well in math, and she actually helped me skip a grade in elementary school, that's how involved she was. She saw it as an opportunity to not only helped me grow, but also fulfill the dreams that she had for me and my siblings. She worked really hard, cleaning houses at the time, always very involved with our education and always bought me a bunch of fun workbooks on math and she was really critical to my growth as a young kid. I loved school. She was definitely the first person who inspired me.
[00:03:00] Kamrin Klauschie: Do you know about her educational upbringing at all? Like how, like where does she went to school?
[00:03:06] Lupita Davila: My mom grew up in Guatemala and she also loved school from what she has told me. In Guatemala, it's very different. You have to pay for your education. So her mom, my grandma and grandpa worked very hard to help her buy her supplies and her uniform and everything. She had a dream of being a lawyer, and I know that she graduated what we consider high school here. Before she moved to the US, she was working as a secretary, but she also was doing more business development stuff. She came to America with plans of studying and then met my dad and her life changed when she got married. Education wasn't her first priority anymore. I do know that she had dreams of continuing to do school. Even though she had four kids, she still did a bunch of night classes. She got a bunch of different certifications, learned English. So she's always been super proactive about learning, like learning new things ...
[00:04:11] Kamrin Klauschie: And adapting to new environments... that's amazing. When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
[00:04:18] Lupita Davila: When I was very young, I really wanted to be a teacher and then as I got older, I thought about being a lawyer because my mom wanted to be a lawyer. And then I realized it wasn't really a good personality fit for me or at least at the time I thought maybe being a lawyer is good for me because I'm not super happy when I have to be talking all the time. I like being inwardly focused, so I don't think there was ever a point where I knew what I wanted to do.
[00:04:51] Kamrin Klauschie: What do you want folks to know about you and your life that they might not be able to see from your online social media profiles?
[00:05:00] Lupita Davila: I feel like sometimes I get this reaction when people realize that I got a stats degree and I've done internships and worked in tech before going into software engineering that I'm this amazing person. But in reality, I struggled a lot in school. I didn't have the best grades. I originally wanted to do computer science. I took a class based off for a recommendation from a high school teacher and I loved it. I was doing okay up until my junior year. I actually was on academic probation. I was struggling. I was juggling two jobs and school. I didn't even graduate with, not even a 3.0 GPA, and here I am today, working as a software engineer. Sometimes what's on paper doesn't say the whole story of how terrible of a student I was. Once I got to college, the transition from high school coursework to college coursework was so different. I didn't have mentorship either.
[00:06:09] Kamrin Klauschie:What do you feel like changed for you?
[00:06:13] Lupita Davila: I think I had a really good example with my mom, she also struggled with certain things. I saw her go to school, learn English, takes math classes to get a high school diploma at night. I always saw her persevere. There were moments where I just wanted to give up. There was a point in my life, I had to switch my Computer Science major, where I thought I'm never going to be able to go back to coding. For me, it was just going back to how my mom lived her life, was to just keep going and keep persevering. I knew that I had this dream of being a Software Engineer and maybe it didn't work out, but there was probably another way of doing it. I always saw my mom do that with her career, financially. She always found ways to make things work. I think that's how I was thinking about it
[00:07:05] Kamrin Klauschie: And so did you start having this dream of becoming a Software Engineer when you were in high school? Where did you draw that inspiration to go into Computer Science initially?
[00:07:15] Lupita Davila: I was one of the many people who explored Zing and MySpace with all those layouts that allowed you to customize your profile. I got super into that and in high school, one of my media teachers, I'm thinking about a photography class at that time, noticed it, and he came up to me and asked if I was interested in rebuilding the school website. I was super scared, like I know how to do these other small things, but I don't think that means that I'm capable of building a school website. He spent many hours mentoring me and helping me rebuild the website. I am so grateful for him because it exposed me to things that I just didn't know about. He noticed that I was pretty good at it and at math and he suggested Computer Science. I had never heard of it before, but he was such an inspiration for me, I followed his advice. He knows that I'm into this. He knows more about education because my parents, they don't really know much about majors and universities here in the US, so I took a class and I loved it. I just knew that it was the right thing, I was in the right place. It was just this feeling of this is my dream. This is what I want to do.
[00:08:39] Kamrin Klauschie: It's so cool. I had similar experiences growing up as well, building PowerPoint presentations and MySpace too. I feel like for so many people, I didn't realize at the time I was doing HTML and CSS, just like changing the colors of my MySpace profile, adding little photo patterns and things like that. But in retrospect, I wish I would have had someone pushing me along, saying, "You can get paid if you enjoy sitting on a computer all day," whereas my parents were like, "You need to stop." So what inspired you to study statistics?
[00:09:11] Lupita Davila:If I'm completely honest with you, it was really my only other fallback at the time. Because I had so many units, I had very limited options as to what I could finish my degree in. For me, it just was the logical thing to do. I had already taken a bunch of Stats classes because Computer Science required it. So I switched to that and I did focus on Statistical Programming. It was still programming. I liked it just as much as my other programming classes, I just didn't have the degree of Computer Science. The Stats department surprisingly has more females than Computer Science. I had this idea that it's going to be just as bad, but it wasn't. There were definitely more females in the Stats department.
[00:10:03] Kamrin Klauschie: What caused you to leave computer science and go to statistics?
[00:10:08] Lupita Davila: It's a mix of things. One of them was that I started struggling in the higher computational theory courses. Whenever I would go to office hours, this is something that happened from the very beginning, actually, I felt very singled out as a woman in my class. I felt like I couldn't relate to anyone. I felt very isolated. I've grown so much now that if I were in the same situation, it wouldn't affect me the same way. But when I was younger, I just didn't know how to process it. I isolated myself even more. I hit the point where I felt like, whoa, I'm totally behind and my instructors aren't being helpful. They're telling me to read the textbook, but I did read the textbook, so I need something else. My classmates are like singling me out or refusing to help me. I got some really bad comments from classmates and I tried to brush them off. But after I did counseling, I realized no, they really affected me emotionally and I stopped going to class because I started feeling anxiety of being in class and not understanding anything and being singled out or being called on and not knowing the answer. I just completely stopped going to lectures. By the time I asked for help, the department didn't really know what to do with me. They wanted to help me, but all they did was "Okay, we're going to put you on probation. You need to have a 3.8 GPA" or something insane like that. I guess that just didn't really work for me, like putting pressure on me to get a high GPA wasn't going to help me overcome the core of the problem, which was I was feeling really down and alone, and I felt like I couldn't do the same things that my classmates were doing. I just felt really out of place. I don't know.
[00:12:04] Kamrin Klauschie: Feeling alone and unsupported and like the path isn't built for you, it's built for someone else, it's hard. Around the end of your time at UCSB, you joined the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, too. I'm curious how that group and then other groups like Techqueria have empowered you, especially in times of transition?
[00:12:29] Lupita Davila: They've been a critical part of getting me connected to the right people. They provided mentors and tutoring. There always was someone available to help tutor me. A lot of times they were just grad students or students who had already taken the course, and they also had many conferences and connections with companies that had internship openings. That was really important while I was in Santa Barbara. I actually got referred to my first job by someone who was part of that group and Techqueria, that organization I joined when I was in San Francisco. They're the reason I found out about Dev Bootcamp and, the scholarship that I applied to as well as, just like the tech industry in general. Seeing other people who are already in industry who look like you or come from similar backgrounds is really helpful.
[00:13:31] Kamrin Klauschie: That's awesome. I didn't realize you had joined Techqueria before coming to Dev Bootcamp. So you were basically watching from Santa Barbara. Is that what you're saying?
[00:13:41] Lupita Davila: Yeah. So I actually have been applying to engineering jobs since I graduated college, but I never got very far in the interview process, because college didn't really prepare me for technical interviews at all. It wasn't until I started meeting up with people in Techqueria, I would just get referrals from them and they would hop on the phone with me and give me tips on how to do well in technical interviews, and a lot of times those referrals would lead to phone interviews. But, I wasn't seeing much outcome from that. So even though I was a designer and I was applying to these jobs, I felt like I needed to actually study more or learn more about web development before making the full transition. I went to a lot of conferences where I would meet up with people from Techqueria and that's where I met CJ, who was a Dev Bootcamp alumni. So I was very, very intentional with wanting to transition over. It just wasn't working out by just applying to jobs.
[00:14:50] Kamrin Klauschie: Is that how you got into web design that you had just applied for some roles and it was easier to jump into web design?
[00:15:00] Lupita Davila: Yeah, exactly. I was a freelancer while I was in college, so I made a lot of money on the side to help pay for school by building websites for small businesses, and I also had a job as a Web Designer at a Parks and Rec office. So I had a portfolio and when I graduated, I just used that portfolio to look for jobs.
[00:15:22] Kamrin Klauschie: So you found out about the F8 scholarship. How did it feel when you found out that you were selected?
[00:15:30] Lupita Davila: Oh, I was so excited. It was like this feeling. I had definitely cried. It was super risky, even though I already had a full-time job, when you have a family, who's low-income you think a lot about them, and so you try your best to help them out. If I made the decision to leave my stable job and go do this, and then I would need help from them, that worried me a lot. So my only two options were to save up money and wait, or if the scholarships pop up here and there apply to them and see what happens. So for me, it was just like a huge relief, and also a lot of excitement because I had been wanting to go to the Bay Area for a really long time and pursue this.
[00:16:15] Kamrin Klauschie: Facebook too. It's amazing.
[00:16:17] Lupita Davila: I was at the parking lot of my job on the way home and I was just like reacting to all of it in the parking lot. Funny. I just called everyone. I called my parents, my boyfriend. I told everyone. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I don't know what to do." I didn't say yes right away, but I called everyone and told them.
[00:16:38] Kamrin Klauschie: How did folks react, like your friends and family? Was it universally like "This is your dream, you have to go," or did you have to overcome any challenges when you got accepted?
[00:16:49] Lupita Davila: I felt a lot of support from people close to me, especially my mom. She was so supportive and so happy for me. I'm really thankful for her.
[00:16:59] Kamrin Klauschie: So this brings us to the point at which I met you, more or less. You went through Phase 0, which is hard. I've done it too. It's part time, and you were working at the time, right, when you went through Phase 0 at Dev Bootcamp?
[00:17:12] Lupita Davila: Yeah, I was working.
[00:17:12] Kamrin Klauschie: I remember when you first came on site, you booked a meeting really quick, like in week one or week two, and I just remember you were worried and on the couch and the careers office. Imposter syndrome was kind of present, but I won't forget that moment because I felt really struck that you were ready to take feedback and work really hard. So I always look back on the first time that I met you as "Wow, this person is really unique and amazing." I remember that first conversation, I was really trying to hold you to some high goals and like standards with some tech companies, 'cause you had dreamed of working with Yelp and YouTube and you seemed really informed and ready. Looking back now on that moment and that person that you were at the time, what do you wish that you knew then that is more clear now?
[00:18:03] Lupita Davila: I would say try not to worry so much. I was super worried about the job hunt, even when I wasn't job hunting.
[00:18:12] Kamrin Klauschie: Yup! I remember!
[00:18:14] Lupita Davila: Had I not also taken the steps that I did so early on, I probably wouldn't have been satisfied. I know myself. I needed to be doing something about it. If not, I would have been even more anxious.
[00:18:27] Kamrin Klauschie: I think you did an amazing job of channeling your worry into working hard and listening to other people's advice and making sure that you were dedicating your time and effort to the right things. It wasn't like crippling anxiety. It was like this: I'm going to be anxious from the moment that I stepped foot in this place, because I want to get the best out of it and I want to reach my goals. The other thing that I remember as you transitioned into your job hunt is that you made it so far in some of the technical interviews that you did with Yelp and YouTube in particular, but they didn't make you an offer. I see this as one of the major limitations of the technical interview process is that there's not really a lot of consideration for how long someone has been studying programming full-time or really much consideration for their educational background at all. And so I was just curious, how did you feel then about that process at Yelp and YouTube, and what did you learn about it?
[00:19:29] Lupita Davila: I definitely felt very crushed when I got rejections. I'm very hard on myself sometimes. Had I not had the support from my family and other close people to me, I probably would have given up, but I would have felt very discouraged. I think looking back now, I really believe things happen for a reason and I was very focused on performing well. And I think I forgot to think about "is this company, the right atmosphere for me? Do I like the people who I will be working with?" Because I was so focused on studying and my performance, I forgot about those things, specifically with the YouTube interview, because that was such a hard interview. It was very challenging, but I also learned a lot from them and I'm really thankful that I was able to go that far. Had I not done that, I think I wouldn't have been ready by the time I had my Twilio onsite.
[00:20:33] Kamrin Klauschie: The practice worked in your favor. As you're saying, it all happens for a reason.
[00:20:39] Lupita Davila: Even if you don't end up at the company that you were hoping to end up at, if you aim really high, usually these companies have really intense interviews, and if you study, preparing for those, most likely by the time you've hit your later on-sites are gonna feel way more comfortable. I'm really thankful for those interviews, 'cause I studied really hard for them.
[00:21:04] Kamrin Klauschie: It just gets better over time. You have to be at the right place at the right time. And I remember when you were going through the process too, I think it was YouTube, but correct me if I'm wrong, there was an interview you did where there was a Latina engineer that you were introduced to and I remember you coming back and sharing how much that changed your perspective on the interview. I'm curious for the people who see themselves in engineering all the time or their identity is really represented, this aspect I think is often overlooked. I know I've had conversations with Google and other companies about being more intentional about making sure that candidates are introduced to engineers who are like them. I'm curious if you can just speak to that experience for a little bit and the difference between how it feels when you know someone in the room is from the same background as you versus what it feels like in a technical interview when maybe no one in the room looks like you?
[00:22:02] Lupita Davila: I think it makes a huge difference for me. I did have an interviewer who was Latinx, and even though I was very nervous overall, just the fact that someone like me worked there. We didn't explicitly talk about it at all. When I saw their name and then actually met them, I felt "wow, like I can be there one day." And the same thing goes for other companies that maybe the interviewers weren't necessarily Latinx, but if they were female, it made a huge impact on how I thought about the company as well. Because with my experience doing Computer Science in college, the stereotype is that most computer scientists are men, so just being able to see someone who fits your underrepresented background, it just makes a huge difference.
[00:22:56] Kamrin Klauschie: I remember you came back from that interview feeling like you did a lot better, you felt more confident, and it just is like a better interaction overall. That really stuck out for me a lot. And I've tried to have that conversation, hearing your experience with more companies. There are some really great companies that I think are more deliberate. It's hard though, too, because if you only have a few underrepresented engineers, you don't want them to be in interviews all the time. But I think it does make a difference when you're interviewing an underrepresented candidate specifically, so I've been advocating for that with companies, based on your experience.
[00:23:30] Lupita Davila: Or even having, maybe, I would say someone who is the diversity inclusion person at your company, because most interviews will have the technical side and the non-technical side. But even having someone there, like maybe they're not necessarily an engineer, but the fact that you were able to speak with someone who is underrepresented themselves, that makes a huge difference.
[00:23:54] Kamrin Klauschie: I'm curious if you were given the opportunity to change or improve the process that you went through at Yelp or YouTube, or other companies too, in order to hire more people that are like you, what would you do to change the process? How would you make it better?
[00:24:10] Lupita Davila: I would say the worst interviews that I had while I was job hunting were the ones where I just felt very disconnected to the interviewer. Perhaps they were on their phones while I was working on the white boarding problem or it felt like they weren't trying to get to know me as a person. For me, it's just the interactions that I have with your interviewers shows to me, what type of culture is acceptable at this company, so if they're not paying attention to me and they're on their phones while I'm sweating bullets up on the whiteboard like that never feels great.
[00:24:52] Kamrin Klauschie: What about the technical interview itself? Do you have preferences for things that you think allow you to perform best?
[00:25:02] Lupita Davila: I personally have a preference with live coding problems and not so much whiteboarding algorithm questions. Just because, especially now, I knew this before, but especially now, working as an engineer, you never really actually have to work with algorithms or sorting methods, all of that stuff that they have to study for these on-sites, they're helpful to know, but I don't know if they really reflect, what you're able to do, so having more hands on questions might be better.
[00:25:40] Kamrin Klauschie: I feel like that's such a huge barrier for nontraditional engineers, especially. You learn really great programming habits and how to work really well in a team, and then when you get into your interviews, you have to do a whole different demonstration of skills that are more theory based.
[00:25:58] Lupita Davila: Especially those, I don't know if mind games is the right word, but when they give you a riddle, when it's not even related to programming at all, but they want you to solve this riddle. Those are terrible as well.
[00:26:11] Kamrin Klauschie: I feel like they're landmines.
[00:26:12] Let's transition into your time at Twilio. What has your experience been at the apprenticeship? What inspired you to go into the apprenticeship, generally?
[00:26:23] Lupita Davila: The reason I chose to go with the apprenticeship was because it was so awesome on-site. My favorite part of the on-site with Twilio was the fact that I was able to sit with the Head of Diversity and Inclusion and really ask her questions because it's important to me. What is this company working on? What are the initiatives? How will I feel comfortable at this company? I felt like when they gave me the offer, it was very significant to me that they mentioned, they specifically told me, we have an awesome quiet energy and we think you'd be a great addition to this team. I think just being able to hear that was awesome because being an introvert, a lot of times you feel this pressure of being someone you're not, of being super extroverted, and you feel like you have to perform a certain way in interviews and be very talkative and fit this mold. The fact that they noticed this part of my personality and also express how they think it's valuable. I knew as soon as they said that, like I'm going to totally work at this place because they saw me as who I was, and I didn't feel like I needed to be anyone else. The actual program itself was awesome. I was hired with four other apprentices, so it was a small group, which was nice. The program is awesome because we not only got to work together as a group, but then we were paired with a mentor, from the teams that we were meant to join after the first two months of working on a project for Twilio.org, and then by the time I got to work with the actual engineering team, they were very intentional with giving me feedback on how I was doing, and I had a performance review every month. Their intention was that we don't want to surprise you at the end and we want to give you consistent feedback.
[00:28:39] Kamrin Klauschie: It's often really hard for managers and even, individuals, when you're on a team to give and receive effective feedback. I know it's something, we focus on a lot at Dev Bootcamp, and to know that there's a company like Twilio, that is so focused on that and has really built a program around growing people, it's so magical to me. It's just such a testament to their values and their culture as a company that they do this program. So just to close it out, what advice or words of inspiration would you have for aspiring apprentices out there?
[00:29:12] Lupita Davila: I would say that apprenticeships are a really good opportunity. If you get the option to take an apprenticeship, if you feel like the people behind the program are really rooting for you, you should totally do it. You learn so much from being an apprentice. I had this perception that, "Oh, an apprenticeship. It's not as good as a full-time offer," but I think especially coming from my past failures in school, I knew that I needed the mentorship. If you're looking for a mentorship, these programs are a great option.
[00:29:54] Kamrin Klauschie: Definitely. What about if we have any folks who are like Vivek out there that are like, I'm thinking about starting an apprenticeship, I'm so worried. I don't know if engineers value a program like this, what would you say to the aspiring program manager, apprenticeship founder out there?
[00:30:18] Lupita Davila: This type of program really changed my perspective on engineering and if you're able to impact this like Guatemalan American woman perspective on that's like really meaningful. And also, I think you'd be surprised at how much support you'd get. I think the teams that you would be working with will be surprised. I think there's just this gap of engineers, especially hiring managers, not realizing how awesome bootcamp grads can be or non-traditional candidates can be.
[00:30:54] Kamrin Klauschie: Thank you so much, Lupita. This has been amazing. I wanted to give a quick shout out to the Urban Hive in Sacramento, where I am currently recording this podcast, and of course the shoutout to Twilio and Vivek and LeFawn and LaNenard and all the amazing people who have made Twilio Hatch a reality and have continued it into the future. You guys are about to start your next cohort, right?
[00:31:20] Lupita Davila: Yeah, I am so excited. I'm going to have a Hatch buddy, so we're all paired with a new apprentice so that they could have a resource, someone who's gone through it already. So I'm really excited about that.
[00:31:32] Kamrin Klauschie: The legacy continues. Thank you so much, Lupita.
[00:31:35] Kate Martin: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the apprenticeship.io podcast. You can learn more about apprenticeships and find us online at www.apprenticeship.io. Don't forget to follow us on Spotify, and subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
[00:31:53] Want to get a shout out on the podcast or support our work? Become a patron at www.patreon.com/apprenticeshipio.
[00:32:01] Until next time, we're rooting for you.