Advocate for Yourself Early and Often with iOS Engineer Alaina Kafkes

If you’re ever in a situation where you’re wondering whether you should advocate for yourself, well then you’ve answered the question in your head. You definitely should advocate for yourself.


Hello, Alaina.  What do you do for work?

“Hi SheNomads. I’m Alaina Kafkes. I’m a software engineer at Medium, where I’m currently working on iOS development. But as I’m pretty new to the tech industry, I consider myself a generalist software engineer. I write a lot of accessible technical tutorials and blog posts in my free time about things like contributing open source and dynamic programming.

Some of my past appearances and writing have been in Free Code Camp, Twilio’s Cloud Communications Blog and The Practical Dev. My latest technical writing project is called Chronicles of a Junior Dev in which I introduce the ins and outs of being a software engineer to people who want to get into the tech industry. Besides writing, I do my fair share of technical speaking.

I use my blog posts, tutorials, and other writing endeavors to fuel my talk ideas. By the end of 2017, I will have spoken at two US conferences, one international conference and a slew of meet-ups.”

How did you get into tech?

“We’re going to do a little throwback to the summer after my freshman year of college. That summer, I had a lot of time where I was sitting around bored and one of the things I decided to do to alleviate that boredom was to take a mass open online course, offered by MIT that was their introduction to computer science in Python. I did not complete this class because I ended up getting busy with sophomore year college a few weeks later.

But something that stuck with me from that class was the problem-solving component of computer science. I loved that in the mook, I was taught a language with which I could logically communicate with the computer in order to be able to get it to do cool things. Granted those things don’t seem as cool anymore compared to other stuff that I’ve learned since then. But it is empowering to be able to use language to create things.

As a book and language nerd, I knew that computer science was something that I had to explore more in college.

My next quarter, I signed up for Northwestern’s Intro to Computer Science class and I was so lucky to have this amazing professor Sara Sood who immediately took me under her wing, heard my story about why I was interested in CS and immediately encouraged me to declare a major. Like as soon as she saw my passion and my performance in the class, she wanted me on-board with computer science.

After just taking two computer science classes, I ended up declaring a computer science major, which is a bold move. But there’s one more part of this story that made this move not less bold, but I guess what I’m trying to say is I had another encouraging factor pushing me to declare my CS major. That was Northwestern’s Women in Computing organization. When I was starting to get into CS, I saw that our Women in Computing organization was dying out, maybe not the best organized. There was an email sent out that was looking for new like young exec board members that could help bring the organization to what it should be, which is just like thriving, full of awesome women in tech.

I applied even though I was like, wow, I’ve taken one computer science class at this point. Like why would they take me? But then they did, which is crazy. Meeting the other women selected to be on the Women in Computing board was so encouraging for me, to me as a new computer scientist. I just got to meet these women who were more experienced than me, but who had been through some of the struggles that I was currently facing and I felt that with this community in hand, I could take on the computer science major.”

Do you have advice for those of us who struggle with self-advocacy?

“As I mentioned earlier, all of my talks come from something that I’ve written. The answer to this question is no different. In September I wrote a blog post called On Self-Advocacy, which I will share a link to at the end of this segment.

It has three anecdotes of how I’ve advocated for myself, which someone who is struggling with self-advocacy may find useful. I have one big piece of advice for people struggling with self-advocacy. I believe that the central self-advocacy struggle that people – especially underrepresented people in tech face is not knowing when to advocate for themselves.

People expect that advocating for one’s self could come off as annoying or asking too much or being too bossy, too pushy. The list of negative connotations goes on.

But my answer to when people should advocate for themselves is speak up for yourselves early and often. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re wondering whether you should advocate for yourself, well then you’ve answered the question in your head. You definitely should advocate for yourself.

The reason for this is even if you are afraid of coming off as annoying, bossy or any of those other adjectives that are used to put people down, who really should be rising to the top, I just have to say that if you don’t share your hard work, no one else will for you and that’s why I am a big proponent of advocating for myself and other people that I think are awesome as frequently as possible.”

Where can we find you?

“You can connect with me on Twitter, @alainakafkes. That’s just my name. From there, you can find my website and more info about my writing, speaking and software engineering.”

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