illustration for Gaining Freedom and Helping Others Find Success with Pariss Athena

episode 49 Joel Hooks

Gaining Freedom and Helping Others Find Success with Pariss Athena

You don't have to be passionate about code to have a successful career as a developer. Pariss Athena talks about how it isn't the code itself that motivates her to get better at understanding it. It's what being good at code provides that drives her.

The financial freedom code gives Athena enables her to give more to the people and communities that are important to her. Success to her is freedom and helping others find success too. She is working on the Black Tech Pipeline, a platform to bring resources and exposure to the black tech community.

What can those of us who are already established in this industry do to help underrepresented people? Athena says speak up, reach out to the community with opportunities for jobs, speaking engagements, podcasts, etc. Diversity doesn't just happen by default. Systemically we don't have a society that enables that. We have to be active and be a part of the team to make it happen.


"Gaining Freedom and Helping Others Find Success - with Pariss Athena" Transcript


Pariss Athena

Joel Hooks


Joel: Hi Pariss.

Pariss: Hey Joel.

Joel: I'm really interested in your general story and about what you've been up to. It's something I've been following since last December I think is around the time where you really kind of highlighted my Twitter timeline, so I want to get into that, but you're fairly recent to this field of web development and you've become a web developer, and you've done lots of different things. You're an actor, you were in the personal wellness and hygiene space, and I was wondering at what point did you have the F this moment that made you switch and change your mindset and pursue this career in web development.

Pariss: It kind of started where I was a waxer and I was okay with being a waxer. I made decent money but it was just that I really enjoyed, I met different people all the time. I even got to wax a few celebrities. It was a really unique sort of career I guess, but I knew that being a waxer, I couldn't move up from there so I decided to enroll in school for marketing. During my time in school I actually went to a function that my brother's school was holding and when I was walking down the hallway of his school, on the left and right side of me there were posters and pictures of Obama and just quotes talking about STEM and STEAM and kids needing to learn to code.

Pariss: I was like, "What is coding? I keep hearing about it." So I ran into my brother's principal and I was like, "Hey, why are kids learning to code? I don't understand what it is." He explained to me. He was like, "You know, if you don't have some type of technological background you're probably going to get left behind because people are literally being replaced by machines."

Pariss: Which is true because as a waxer I was losing clientele to laser hair removal, which is a machine, so that hit home. So I was like, "All right. Let me find out what coding's about." So I went to school a few days later and I was like, I talked to my advisor and I was like, "Hey, I want to get into coding. Where can I go and learn to code?" Then she told me about the Resilient Coder's Boot Camp, which happened to be in the same building as my school. Then I went to a hack-a-thon. I got accepted into their program and then it took off from there.

Joel: So you went straight into from basically no experience in development or coding or what have you and jumped right into the boot camp. How was that as an experience? Going from kind of zero to 60 I would assume, because boot camps are intense.

Pariss: Yeah. It was difficult once we started learning JavaScript. Before that it was all HTML, CSS, learning about sort of marketing ourselves and what a work environment with technologists looks like I guess. It was a lot of that stuff and then we hit JavaScript and that's when everything took a turn for me because I was really good at HTML, I was really good at CSS. I was like, "I like this." I was like, bringing ideas to life visually.

Pariss: I was really good at that and then came JavaScript and making everything functional. I did not get it. My brain just didn't understand. It was just difficult.

Joel: It's like a completely foreign language, right?

Pariss: Right.

Joel: Like you're in a new and weird foreign land. It's almost a vocabulary issue, right? Even hello. Where's the bathroom? Like if you're learning the language and trying to travel.

Pariss: I know. It was a totally different way of thinking and I'm still learning JavaScript.

Joel: Oh yeah, me too.

Pariss: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like I've learned it, but yeah, that's where it got rocky for me.

Joel: I think a lot of people are looking at boot camps and it's an amazing paradigm. I really love the entire space of society that we can go and we can learn this trade and be craftspeople and get good jobs and that sort of thing. But if you were looking back now knowing what you know and where you're at, and we were going to do a boot camp straight from scratch, what would you recommend to prepare or how would you approach it differently?

Pariss: I would probably focus more on JavaScript going straight into a boot camp because I know this isn't for everyone. I think personally for me I got HTML and CSS really easily. It kind of clicked for me really quickly, and then once it got to JavaScript, and I feel like a lot of people without sort of a techy background might have this same struggle, just learning JavaScript is hard. It's just so difficult.

Pariss: Like I said, it's a completely different way of thinking and I would have focused more of my time on learning JavaScript than sort of playing around in HTML and CSS. I would have been like, "All right, I've got HTML, I've got CSS, the fundamentals. Good. Cool. Let's keep it moving," and just spent my time in JavaScript.

Joel: Yeah, and your course is like an eight week course, and that's extremely short amount of time to learn a programming language. Do you think a longer session?

Pariss: Oh yeah. Longer. Also, we were sort of, my cohort was kind of the guinea pigs of Resilient Coders, that cohort. We did learn a lot and all of us, our careers all took off, but the program has changed so much where the cohorts are now learning unit testing and integration testing, backend development. They're learning things that we didn't, we still after graduating we didn't even know those existed. We didn't know about testing, any of those things. I had to learn on the job. For my first job they wanted me to write unit tests and I was like, "What is that?"

Joel: Yeah, what's a unit test?

Pariss: Yeah. They're like, "You don't know what that is? You didn't learn that?" So there was a lot I guess that I should have learned but I didn't, but that was just my cohort specifically.

Joel: Like how do you even know what you don't know?

Pariss: Right, I know. Yeah, they're just expecting. They're like, "That's so important. You should have learned that." I'm like, "Okay, but I didn't," so I had to learn on the job.

Joel: So who's the standout in this space? Who would you recommend that people pursue in terms of a boot camp or that sort of program?

Pariss: Definitely Resilient Coders which is Boston based. Like I said, they learn full stack. Now they're learning about unit testing and networking. They're learning a whole ton of things that I probably still don't even know about. Then I keep on hearing about [Lambden 00:06:06] School. I haven't done my too much research on it, but I know a few people who graduated and they're all very, very successful and they learn the ins and outs of these programming languages. They're like ready for a job and they're getting amazing offers straight out. I think that's really amazing.

Joel: It's a nine month, 12 hour day program too. It's not joke. They do a part-time one that's 18 months and six hours a day or whatever. It's longer but it's still, it's intense and they're rigorous I would say.

Pariss: Right. I think that's great. I think it's better than needing to go to school for four years and paying tuition. I think a shorter program and being so intense, I think that's a great alternative.

Joel: The one I saw, so Flat Iron is a pretty good one, but what stood out to me with them is for like $150 or something, a low cost, you can take their online Introduction to JavaScript. They have several introductory courses that you can take before you go to the school, which I thought that was interesting as well, kind of coverage of ... I don't know anything aspect of entering these things, which can be daunting.

Pariss: Right, right. You can kind of learn anything online. You don't even need to go to a boot camp. You could definitely just be self-taught.

Joel: Like generally speaking because we all kind of regardless of who you are in the US you probably spent eight to 12 years in our public education.

Pariss: Oh yeah.

Joel: So having that, needing that carrot and stick of the grades or just somebody to hold you accountable can be super valuable. But I agree, I learned like on nights and weekends, but it was full stack actually and just with books and doing tutorials and just getting in there. But it's like consistency. You have to be consistent and self-motivated to do that.

Pariss: Right. It's definitely up to the individual. You definitely have to be disciplined.

Joel: I know I've heard you say a few times that the code itself, the JavaScript and just that isn't really what drives you and what you're passionate about. It's more of a vehicle to get to where you want to be, and I was wondering what are you passionate about? Where are you going to use these tools that you've been developing?

Pariss: Honestly I'm using coding just for financial stability. My end goal at the very end of the day is freedom. I don't want to have to work for anyone, so I would take what I get from coding and maybe put that into real estate, invest it. I don't know, just invest it into anything that will bring me some type of stream of income.

Pariss: Right now I'm just trying to learn code though. I really do love acting and writing and all of that, but I did have to put it on hold because those industries, it's really hard to make money, especially if you're a newbie and you're coming in. You don't know anyone. You don't have any connections. It's hard to get work first of all and then to get paid is even worse, so I just kind of put those aside for now.

Joel: Like the luck factor, the real extreme.

Pariss: Yeah.

Joel: It's a factor in everything, right? With the luck factor really presents itself with Hollywood, so.

Pariss: It's true. Yeah, Hollywood is a super cutthroat industry and it terrifies me, so I feel like if I go back into it it's going to be because I do know people, just kind of going in as a wide-eyed inspired actress it can be a little scary.

Joel: I've had this discussion a few times and to me the idea of passionate's fine. You're passionate about something and you want to do this. But then there's the opposite side of that. How do you fund passion? I don't think you necessarily have to be super passionate to do your job well as a web developer, but can use it as a lever to fund what it is you really want to do.

Joel: Whether that's good works or your own personal time and how you want to frow as a human. All that and just our modern day and age requires that it be funded. So it sounds to me like you have kind of an entrepreneurial bend. That's me too. I started programming not because I was really passionate about coding, but this is the way I can build something that's my own on my own terms and for myself.

Pariss: Right. Yeah.

Joel: And help people, right? You've got to make money to be able to help people in a lot of instances I think too.

Pariss: I know. That's what I'm going through right now. I have to make money to continue building and expanding on my community and being able to do things for people within my community. That also pushes me though to I want to continue getting better. Even though engineering is not my passion, development is not my passion, my passions drive me to become better and kind of grow in this industry because obviously the better you get, the more years of experience you have, the better you get paid and so that's just what drives me.

Joel: I've heard you talk a lot about user experience design in engineering as something that you really have been drawn to, and I think that's probably where HTML and CSS were important and you took to them.

Pariss: Right.

Joel: I was wondering what do you love about user experience design and what draws you to that?

Pariss: I just think it's really cool. I know a few UX designers and I watch them work and they're just so particular and they think of things that I don't. When it comes to buttons and they're like, "You know, does the user have to extend their thumb this far to press this button? Do users want to do that?" It comes down to those little things and to me that's amazing.

Pariss: I wonder how they view the world. I want to see the world through their eyes because I feel like I'm missing so much and I just think it's really cool. I feel like that's something I would have probably truly been passionate about, but I also didn't know about UX design. I knew about coding and I was like, "I have to get into coding." I didn't know UX design was a thing. I didn't learn until not that long ago.

Joel: That was probably through Twitter, huh?

Pariss: Twitter, yeah.

Joel: That's where I came across your profile on Twitter and you use Twitter in kind of a similar ... It's my internet social place but it's beyond that, right? It's this place to network and meet people and it has had a profound effect on my personal career. For you, how do you explain Twitter to people that might not be familiar with it or haven't figured it out?

Pariss: Twitter is that platform you don't want to delete from your phone. That's the app that you need to keep in your phone and don't clear it for storage or storage space or anything. Twitter, there is an unbelievable amount of opportunity that comes through that platform. I just recently got my new job off of Twitter. I've made amazing connections off of Twitter.

Pariss: I've traveled because of Twitter. I'm doing speaking engagements because of Twitter. If you utilize it correctly obviously and you're using it to network and build a circle of smart and well connected people, then it's going to work to your advantage.

Joel: I think it's weird to a lot of people when they first make contacted. Like, "What am I supposed to do with this? I follow ..." whatever the celebrity is and actors and Hollywood types, and to me it's like well, you might be doing it wrong.

Pariss: It's true. I know. I tell people. They're like, "So how did you get this? How did you find out about this?" I'm like, "Twitter." Everyone always laughs at me and they're like, "Twitter," because they know it for the memes and the gifs or gifs, however you pronounce it. They use it for that stuff and I'm like, "Yeah, you can use Twitter for that to look at it and stuff, but ..."

Joel: I do use it for some entertainment. I'll follow entertainment people or people that think in interesting ways, but for the most part it's like my industry and I want to broaden my spectrum of what's going on and what's happening and keeping the pulse and following along. Because that's part of this gig, right? If you're going to work in tech, you need to stay current and Twitter by far is my number one source to help me do that.

Pariss: Same thing for me, which I learned on my own. Actually, as soon as I got onto Twitter because I only got onto Twitter last September to talk about my journey finding my new job as a developer. That's when I noticed. I was like, "Hey, there's a lot of developers on here." I didn't know that Twitter, Tech Twitter was a thing, and so I found that community and then I accidentally formed my own.

Joel: Yeah, because on December 1st you had your, "What does Black Twitter in Tech look like?"

Pariss: Oh, yeah, Black Tech Twitter.,

Joel: Which now has thousands of responses and I remember that day because I'm watchman you and you, was it like 18 hours straight it felt like that you were just retweeting everybody that responded to that particular ...

Pariss: Yeah.

Joel: Because it just kept coming and growing. An amazing group of people that I personally hadn't been exposed to and I want to thank you personally because it really has made my timeline better because I followed so many people. I would look and see what they were talking about and now it's like I'm exposed to a world that I honestly wasn't really aware of. It's been a great benefit to me, which led into the #BlackTechTwitter, which has then grown from there. You tweeted it out and then what happened?

Pariss: Yeah. I tweeted out, "What does black twitter and tech look like?" I was just expecting maybe just a few people to sort of post their pictures and tell me what they do in the industry because again, when I got on Twitter, that's when I realized wow, there's a big tech world on this platform. I wanted to know where are all the black and brown people. So I did that not expecting to get the response I did, and my phone, it blew up.

Pariss: I could refresh my notifications every few seconds and I'd have hundreds of new replies, retweets, comments, whatever, messages. It was insane. I didn't really realize what had happened. I didn't think it was a big deal at first until people were saying, "Wait, I think you just did something. I think you just exposed this community no one knew existed." I'm like, "What?" It took me a minute because I was so busy retweeting everyone.

Pariss: But it felt really amazing and it made me really happy. It also made me a little disappointed to be a black woman and not know that my people did exist in this industry because I don't ever see them at work or conferences or meetups, but I guess that's the beauty of the internet obviously. You get connected to people you wouldn't otherwise be able to.

Joel: The community's there, it just hasn't been brought together and needed ... You have to have a catalyst and bring that together. So that's gone on from there. You've started the Black Tech Pipeline, which is a platform you're building and opening up a whole new box of challenges and opportunities and stuff. I was wondering, so can you explain Black Tech Pipeline and what that is and what your goals are for that?

Pariss: Sure. So Black Tech Pipeline is a platform for the Black Tech Twitter community and supporters, so I want this platform to be able to help bring sort of resources and opportunities and exposure to the black community in tech. So that means job postings, especially junior ones, mentorship opportunities, chances to collaborate with people within your community, being able to speak to them, which I have a discord for Black Tech Pipeline.

Pariss: Putting on events and hack-a-thons, conferences. I want this to grow to be just a platform of opportunity and resources. If you need something, I'll go to Black Tech Pipeline. If employers don't have a very diverse pipeline, where do they want to go? Black Tech Pipeline. That's what I want Black Tech Pipeline to become, just opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.

Joel: I think that's awesome and totally great effort on your part. I'm wondering, those of us that have an established career and influence, how can we help the efforts that you're hoping to gain with Black Tech Pipeline?

Pariss: Speak up to the community and if there are job openings, if there are speaking opportunities, you want to let all of the underrepresented people know because you don't want to be the conference organizer who's posting all the speakers and they all look exactly the same. That's a problem because these communities do exist in this industry and we're here. You can speak up and ask, "Hey, Black Tech Twitter, does anyone here want to do a speaking engagement? Is anyone interested in applying for this or that?"

Pariss: Just reach out to the community and we see this every day, people are tweeting very ignorant things that for example, a lot of people might comment on Black Tech Twitter somehow being racists because it has the word black in it, so they think it's exclusive to only black people and no one else. That's not what it is. To have allies who don't look like us speak up for us and let them know this is a community that was brought together just to bring exposure to themselves. Just speak up. Supporters always means taking action, not just sort of talking about it.

Joel: I've learned, and this is my personal experience, because when Egghead started, our instructor roster and still frankly largely is, just kind of a wall of white dudes, and some part of me because I didn't really understand, and I was trying to figure out why is this, what do we need to do? How do we become better, right? I want to improve and offer opportunity to everybody. It doesn't just happen is what I've learned.

Joel: Systemically our society isn't in a place where it's just going to happen if you wait and see. If you get out there and you take action, be active, right? You've got to participate and be part of the team versus just sitting on the sidelines hoping for the best. Otherwise nothing happens.

Pariss: Exactly.

Joel: To kind of close this out, this is a question that I always kind of ask myself and I was wondering what does your definition of success, what do you see when you personally define success for yourself, what does that mean?

Pariss: for me, success is one, it's freedom and two, it's having people come back to me and letting me know how I've helped them reach their own personal success. I want to be that outlet. I want to be able to help people, and like people thanking me for Black Tech Pipeline or Black Tech Twitter, an opportunity they received because this community came together, that makes me feel really good. Yeah.

Joel: Yeah, and for me, I feel very similar. I want to help people and if I have any sort of legacy at all, I just want to offer a handout to give people a leg up and then freedom. Because I also wanted to define my own terms and not necessarily own a yacht, but have the free time to think and create and explore my passions.

Pariss: Right, exactly. Yeah, I definitely don't define freedom by I have all the money in the world. That's not what it is. I have my own version of happiness and I have my own version of success. Everyone's different, but yeah, just feeling free and not feeling stuck or regretful I guess.

Joel: Yeah, and doing our part to help instead of the opposite, I think that's important too.

Pariss: Right.

Joel: Well Pariss, I really appreciate it. Thank you for taking time out of your afternoon to chat with me. I really look forward to seeing what you do next. I look forward to seeing where Black Tech Pipeline is in a year from now, in five years from now because I think it's awesome and you seem like a good shepherd for this community. So thanks for your work and I'll talk to you soon.

Pariss: Thanks so much.

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