Aspiration, Exploration, and the Art of Coding

Zaire Patterson : Software Engineer at Rally Health

Writer : Michelle Bird

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As a young girl, I thought I’d be an artist or astronaut.

My mom always said I was creatively inclined and even caught me in the bathroom making a sculpture out of tampons when I was little. That’s why I ended up studying art history in my undergrad. 

The astronaut one is a bit tougher to explain. Science was intriguing to me; I remember taking school trips to the Academy of science and exploring the planetarium. Realistically though, I felt a bit of a barrier between myself and the sciences because there weren’t very many women represented in STEM. I still worked hard to be in AP Chem and AP Bio to keep my options open but didn’t seriously consider it as a career option.

Employment in the art history world is extremely competitive, so after college, I decided to make myself more tech-savvy to better my chances.

I began taking some computer science classes at a local community college to try and learn web design. My thinking shifted from just learning a few skills to planning out what courses I needed to fully construct whole websites and make a career out of it. As an African American woman in computer science, I stood out from the class and had to prove myself with little encouragement. At times it even felt like the students and teachers were opposed rather than working together in this exciting new field. However, my determination pushed me to finish my computer science studies, and just before I began to pursue a full-time career, I was offered a place at Techtonica. This program is a coding boot camp for women and non-binary individuals, offering stipends during the six-month program. Coding had always intriguing to me and now I had the opportunity of studying alongside other women, making it less intimidating. Working alongside other women created an environment of encouragement and growth, and we had resources and guidance through each process. I started at Techtonica thinking that, maybe, I could be a software engineer, but I left it thinking, “I am a software engineer.”

Since then, I’ve come to work at Rally which has proven to be an amazing experience. Sometimes I feel like an impostor because I came to tech from such an nontraditional way compared to most other people.

It can become overwhelming constantly thinking “What’s the next thing I have to learn and will I be able to do it the correct way?” Yet, being here I’ve learned that everyone is more or less in the same position. We are all here to try and learn, develop, and figure things out. That’s the point of Rally. We want to work with people to help figure out what is going on and how it can be better. It is easy in STEM fields to slip into feeling inadequate, but the main thing is that you know you have what it takes. Working with this company, I have learned that it’s important to remember, “Just because you didn’t come to this place traditionally doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes.”

Great things are happening at Rally. More and more women and people of color are being hired, diversifying our community.

I’m lucky because Techtonica has given me a lot of relationships to network with, and I feel like I have a ton of support in my development as a software engineer. Working at Rally means I can share the encouragement and guidance that I have received with others who need to be supported. I hope to always be helping people realize who their authentic self is and how to become the best version of who that is.