What is your current professional role and how did you get here?

I’m an iOS developer at Facebook working on Messenger where I focus on making video calling more fun. Previously, I found myself doing iOS work after landing a job at the national roadside assistance provider, AAA. They offered me the opportunity to learn Swift while rewriting their app from scratch when they saw my work making interactive experiences at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums. So just a year and a half ago I didn’t know how to make iOS apps at all!

What was the first app you worked on and what did it do?

Of course, the first one was some silly little to-do list. You have to start somewhere! After that, it was right to work figuring out how to pull together designs for AAA. The new experience made calling a tow truck just two clicks away and finding discounts as easy as launching the app.

What went well? What could have gone better?

Learning new things quickly is hard for everyone, when I started mobile development, having a mentor helped more than any tutorial. We can learn a lot by stubbing our toes in the dark until we find the right path, but having someone that’s willing to answer your questions is invaluable. Asking and listening helped me fix small mistakes before they became big mistakes. And on the topic of mistakes, I could have done better by being more patient with myself and reminding myself I can only do so much in a day. Everyone gets stuck at some point or another.

At App Camp, we emphasize that it’s important to have interests outside of tech and to take breaks from looking at screens. What are some of your interests outside of tech? What do you do when you need to take a break from work?

I spend a lot of time at museums, cooking, shooting film photography, and keeping up with friends and their projects. The last one is especially important to me. Most of the best ideas have come from making silly jokes with friends. One of my friends and I have a running gag where we re-write something that’s worrying us as a short farcical horror story to help cope with stress. One of those sillier stories became a twitter bot I wrote in a weekend for fun.

Why do you support the goals of App Camp?

I learned to code when I was in middle school. I enjoyed making silly apps but I also hit hard limits at difficult points in my experimentation because there weren’t easily accessible learning materials or mentors available to me. Today, it’s exciting to know there’s professionals dedicating their time and energy to help kids learn these creative tools to bridge those gaps. In the future, more workers will benefit from knowing how to code but even more importantly, right now, code can be an artistic outlet, something I think all kids and adults need.

What do you recommend to those who want to support more diversity in tech?

Community support is the most important factor for attracting and retaining great people. So many people don’t even begin because they feel unwelcome. Be eager to welcome new people in. Be constructive rather than critical with anyone learning. Be clear when someone isn’t treating others well.

If you’re an employer, or even an informal group, convince leadership about including clear community guidelines that reinforce positive behaviors and penalize the bad.  Put in effort to maintain a healthy community. It doesn’t happen automatically.

How can technology be a force for good?

The past 12 months have been chaotic for myself and a lot of my peers but I’ve seen so many inspirational resources pop up. There were dozens of websites that helped you register to vote in fewer than five minutes. Early this year, I found a website that guided me through answering simple questions to finding charities that support what I support. About the same time, someone wrote and published a phone app that finds your local representative and their contact info, then right there in the app you can call them in one tap making citizen outreach that much easier! All these applications make participating with the world around us easier and active. Diverse communities are important to our democracy.

Help more girls learn software development. Contribute to the App Camp For Girls Indiegogo fundraiser, get a cool perk, and enjoy the feeling of having helped the next generation of software developers.

Arik Devens, Software Engineer
Robin Kunde, IT Consultant