How a summer at Twitter helped one girl build mentoring relationships, confidence, and coding skills

Edie Arteaga had never coded before when she applied to the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program six months ago. But after spending the summer at Twitter in San Francisco, she’s gained a new confidence as well as new friendships, and she’s realized that she loves to code and is good at doing it! She describes her experience at Twitter, working in the city and getting to sit down to lunch with mentors and product managers, as “the dream.” The daughter of immigrants and the first in her family to plan on going to college, Edie credits her mentors at Twitter with showing her that she can be a successful woman of color in the tech world. She aspires to study business in college and eventually put her leadership and communication skills to work in the field of product management. Read on to hear more about her Summer Immersion Program experience!

What made you want to apply to the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program?
Initially I was given the opportunity by one of my friends who’s also a Girls Who Code alumni. She told me how amazing it was and how it brought her a new sense of perspective. She was going to take AP Computer Science, and I wanted to go that same route and test the waters of the tech field since we live in Silicon Valley and it’s inevitable that you hear everyone talking about code. So I applied online, and I got in. I was super excited to see a taste of the city life — working there, the trip, having to go every day 9 to 4. It seemed kind of like the dream.

Did you have any previous coding experience?
I didn’t. And that made me kind of skeptical, because I didn’t know if I was going to know enough. I had signed up for AP Computer Science at my school for the following year. I hoped that the Summer Immersion Program would give me enough of a basis and foundation to carry on through for my class, and it did. I didn’t know anything, but now I know how to code.

Tell me about some of your mentors in the program.
We were very lucky to have a lot of panels, and we connected with the panelists. We would email them, or sit down with them during lunch. That was the best experience ever. But the mentors we were assigned to were also really awesome. They would go to the furthest extent to help us get in contact with other people who were interested in our area of work. For instance, my mentor noticed that I was interested in product management, so she went out of her way and emailed one of the top product managers for the cybersecurity of Twitter. And I sat down with her at lunch. It was really amazing that she really cared and recognized what I was interested in and took action. I know a lot of other fellow students who also got opportunities to sit with some VPs of engineering. One even sat down with the CEO, Jack, and that was with the help of her mentor.

One person whose advice stands out to me was Michelle Hawk, a product manager at Twitter. She moved her schedule around to have lunch one day, and she told me about what it means to be a product manager and how to get there. I told her a little about my story, where I come from and what I want to do, and she said that I already had some of the characteristics to become a product manager, and that if I was in college, she would have hired me. That was the most encouraging and heartening thing that I had ever heard. I keep that in the back of my mind, that a product manager said that I’m going in the right direction, that they need people like me to enter the field. It was a good confidence boost, and it gave a reality to what I wanted to do. Coming into college is really nerve-wracking, to not know what area of work you want to go into. Now that I’ve narrowed it down to this very specific job, it makes me more ambitious because I have an exact end goal and I know the path to take. I’m really happy that Twitter gave me that clarity and vision.

You’re the daughter of immigrants, as well as the first in your family to plan on going to college. How has that affected your journey with coding?
Coming from a family of immigrants and being the first one to go to college, the pressure is really high to go into a particular area of work. For the longest time I thought I was going to go into medicine, because I just was too afraid of coding and I didn’t really understand what it was. I talked to a lot of other people at Twitter who were also the first generation in their families to go to college, and it was really inspiring to see that they’d come a long way and that I’m not all alone. And a lot of them loved to hear what I had to say, and about my story.

If anything I also inspired a lot of the fellow first-generation students at Girls Who Code. I would talk to them about where I came from and how economic adversity has really led me to grow this ambition for school and for what I wanted to do. Most importantly I was able to see and sit down with a lot of employees at Twitter. And they gave me a lot of inspiration — the colleges they went to and the majors that they offered. Given a lot of that range of scope and firsthand experience, I was able to really get perspective for what college can offer.

I feel like I was more prepared than anyone coming into my senior year. I’d tell the fellow students in my school about tips and tricks for applying to colleges, and they always are surprised, like, Wow, you know so much, have your parents gone to college? They assume that my parents have gone to the most prestigious schools. I’m like, No, actually, I’m the first one to go! But I’ve taken a lot of lessons from everyone at Twitter who’s super supportive and really wants to see that first generation of people to go to college make that first step.

What are your career aspirations? Did Girls Who Code have an effect on what you want to do?
As I said, I really am interested in product management because it takes leadership skills and communication. And that’s something that I really value as one of my primary characteristics. I really like to code and I really like that technical aspect, so if I can fuse those two together, that would be the dream.

Girls Who Code is the pivotal factor in my life for why I’m now going to be entering computer science. Without it I wouldn’t have really understood that computer science isn’t all about the numbers and how much you can trace and how many lines of code you can write. It’s really about the abstract thinking you can put into it. And it’s about resilience, because coding takes a long time. It’s not always the outcome, it’s always about the journey. I was able to become resilient, and I had some of the most astounding projects in Girls Who Code that taught me that I can go through it no matter what, and that computer science is really what I want to do. Just seeing the employees really happy at Twitter, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. I didn’t fear it anymore. I felt accustomed to it. The fact that we were able to eat there and be in the building all day, and roam around and get a tour, that really brought a new perspective, and a comfort.

It’s not about the grades when you’re in computer science — it’s about character and who you are. That was a new perspective and a new take that I can offer to the tech field. That it’s not always about the numbers, and I can really give a unique perspective and contribute that to a company.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your Girls Who Code experience?
One thing that I really took away from Girls Who Code, that was more important than the coding and the experience and the advice, was the amazing relationships that I built with my fellow classmates. We still connect, we’re very close now, and we still communicate. We help each other with code — I’ll text a piece of my code over to my friends, and they’ll help me debug it. I think the friendships I made are ones that will carry on beyond college, and we’re really interested to see where everyone is going end up in the future.

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Originally published at imagirlwhocodes.com on October 6, 2017.