Farhanah Sheets’s coding path has taken her wherever she wants to go - through four states and five very different industries.
What field or industry are you currently in?
I'm currently working in the EdTech (education technology) industry. However, this is my 5th industry in technology. The other industries that I've worked in are networking (doing
embedded programming), factory automation, media, and healthcare. There are definitely differences between each industry (mostly programming languages!), but with the power of technology, moving between them is possible and has allowed me to learn and grow in numerous ways. I wouldn't change my crazy path for anything!
What company do you work for?
I am a Software Engineer with edX (www.edx.org). We are an education technology non-profit created by Harvard and MIT that provides a platform for top universities around the world to share their courses. Every single course on our platform can be taken for free or for a lower cost than attending the universities in person. Students can gain different credentials based on their wants or the available programs. I find their mission of providing quality education to all to be one that I can fully support and that motivates me to go into the office every morning.
What advice do you have for women who want to pursue leadership positions?
Do the thing that you're too worried about doing. Ask that question in the meeting when the plan doesn't make sense or there's terminology that you don't understand. Speak up when the logical workflow being presented doesn't sound like it will work quite right. Throw out the suggestion of a new feature or coding fixes when you're in a planning session. Or simply just be yourself. It took me a while to be okay with being myself at work. I tried to make sure that I would totally "fit in," and with that, I was more nervous to share ideas in case they would "rock the boat." When I decided that I was going to just be me at work, lots of things changed both personally and professionally. I still occasionally get butterflies in my stomach when I lean into the table during a meeting and speak up, but I know that if I don't, I'll never get to where I want to go. I've also noticed that when I do speak up in a meeting, people listen. They may not always agree, but the fact that a conversation can happen from that point really gets the ball rolling and the butterflies subside.
Have you had to make any sacrifices in your personal life to achieve your professional success?
My husband and I have lived in a long distance relationship for at least half of our eight year relationship. Tech for me has been a very mobile career path and has brought me across four states. My husband has moved with me for most of my jobs, but that doesn't mean that we both moved at the same time or that the location of my job was always the best location to provide him with the best opportunities for his career as well. While long distance was never fun, I believe that all of the changes and challenges we encountered brought us to where we are now, which is with great jobs in a city we love and with no more long distance moving in the foreseeable future.
What are ways you stay current? Do you have any favorite websites or podcasts?
The main way that I stay current is by taking on new projects at work. At any given time, I probably have at least 50 tabs open across multiple Chrome windows on my work Mac (that's not really an exaggeration). As surprising as it sounds, I don't normally work on code outside of work for side projects. I find more enjoyment in solving puzzles (jigsaw or logic), reading, and trying out new restaurants.
However, if there is a skill that I know I'll need to learn for work, I'll put time aside to try to learn it. For example, I took a long weekend to try to get a Mongo+Express+AngularJS+Node project together for a role that I didn't even have yet just to prove that I could at least learn the basics to get the project up. After getting the absolute basics, I worked through a Udemy course to gain a better understanding. I've also done multiple courses on CodeAcademy to either relearn languages that I hadn't used in a while or to try to learn new ones. More recently, I'm slowly working my way through the MIT Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python course on edX in order to learn more about Python fundamentals. Not all online courses work for everyone, so don't feel bad if one doesn't seem to be clicking and you need to try another one covering the same topics. And don't forget: if you get stuck, ask questions! Google and StackOverflow will be your best friends!