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Taylor Poindexter

Engineering Manager Spotify

Taylor Poindexter is the co-founder of Black Code Collective, an organization that strives to provide a safe space for Black Engineers to collaborate and grow their skills. In addition to this, she is an Engineering Manager at Spotify, Some awards she’s received include: 2019 Power Woman of DC Tech, DC Fem Tech’s 2018 Power Woman in Code, DC’s 2017 Top Technologist, and 2017 Power Woman of DC Tech. In her spare time she enjoys traveling, working out, whiskey tasting, and spending time with her two amazing nephews.


Welcome back to Season 23 of the CodeNewbie Podcast! We sit down and talk to Taylor Poindexter, co-founder of Black Code Collective, an organization that strives to create a safe space for software engineers to thrive. She is also an Engineering Manager at Spotify. In her downtime you can find her adventuring, tweeting about tech, and creating whiskey videos for Instagram. She talks to us about her coding experience, the importance of taking breaks and what psychological safety in the workplace looks like. She also talks to us about her organization Black Code Collective.

Show Notes


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[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about psychological safety in tech with Taylor Poindexter.

 [00:00:17] TP: It’s a very human thing to make mistakes. It’s a very human thing to have questions. And so being in an atmosphere where you feel safe to ask those questions and make mistakes the way we all do can really help you grow a lot. And so just having that almost just allowed me to spread my wings.

 [00:00:35] SY: Taylor talks about her coding experience, focusing on self-care and mental breaks, and growing within your career after this.


 [00:00:50] SY: Thank you so much for being here.

 [00:00:51] TP: Thank you so much for having me.

 [00:00:52] SY: So let’s start from the beginning. What drew you to tech?

 [00:00:55] TP: Honestly, it was a family friend. I consider them family now, but just was encouraging me to take a CS class when I was in college and I originally was like, “Absolutely not. No, sir.” [00:01:06] SY: Why? Why absolutely not?

 [00:01:08] TP: I just didn’t think it was for me. Like I always thought that I was going to be like a business woman or like a doctor or something like that. And so because I had never seen an engineer that looked like me, I was like, “Oh, no.” But then he was like, “Just take one class and see what you feel about it. If you hate it, you never have to do it again. But if you like it, now you know that a new avenue is for you.” [00:01:30] SY: I love that.

 [00:01:30] TP: I took the one class. Honestly, I was terrible at it, even though I was like pretty good at school. But I appreciated the hard work that you had to put into coding and how you felt once you conquered the problem. And so that’s how I started.

 [00:01:44] SY: So people get tech jobs in a number of different ways. Some people go to bootcamps, some people teach themselves online, others have a degree like you. How has your degree affected your job search?

 [00:01:56] TP: I honestly think it made it really, I don’t want to say easy to get my first job, but it made it a lot easier for me to get my first job. But since that first job, I guess people see it on my resume sometimes and they want to talk about it, but I don’t think it’s really swayed people one way or another. It’s more so my career experience once I got my foot through the door.

 [00:02:16] SY: So you feel like it was really that first opportunity that wasn’t as hard as it could have been, but after that it didn’t really matter too much?

 [00:02:22] TP: That’s the way I feel like my journey has gone.

 [00:02:25] SY: So considering that you’ve been in tech for a little while, and I’m assuming you’ve done some hiring, some resume reviews of your own, how do you feel about a CS degree and how necessary it is when it comes to getting a job?

 [00:02:40] TP: I definitely have done hiring. I wouldn’t say that a CS degree is necessary, but I will say just because of the way, especially big companies are set up, if you don’t have the official degree, I would just make sure you have like the projects and other things to supplement your certifications and show that you can do the job. And I know that sometimes, or a lot of times the college degrees don’t even cater to what working in the field is like.

 [00:03:04] SY: Yeah. Yeah.

 [00:03:05] TP: I know that’s unfair.

 [00:03:06] SY: A common complaint. Yeah.

 [00:03:07] TP: Yeah. But I do think that some of the bootcamps that folks go through, they’re a little bit too short. Whereas at least like with my CS degree, it was four years of like intensive learning.

 [00:03:17] SY: What’s a good length for a bootcamp?

 [00:03:19] TP: Oh, honestly, if I had to say, I would say at least a year. I know that is a very long time.

 [00:03:24] SY: Yeah. So you’re thinking like a year full-time program, part-time program? If we could design the Taylor School of Coding, what would that look like? I’m very curious.

 [00:03:33] TP: I’ve never thought about this. I’m also like very much shooting from the hip right now, but I would say probably like a year, potentially part-time. The reason why I say it, at least for me, when I was first learning to code, it took a second for things to kind of settle into my brain so then I could build upon them. So I feel like sometimes when people are learning something completely new and drinking from the fire hose, it can be really hard to set that solid foundation. So I like the idea of slowing things down a little bit, digging deeper, instead of only spending a couple of days or a week on a subject and moving on so that people can have that solid foundation to build up.

 [00:04:09] SY: I think I agree with that. I think that the first time you encounter a technical concept, especially if tech is new to you and coding is new to you, it’s weird. Like, to me, it did not come naturally at all. It was really painful to learn how to code, and it wasn’t until you have that exposure, that repetitive exposure, that things start to finally sink in and things start to feel automatic and they start to feel a little bit natural, but it didn’t start off that way. So I get that. I get that necessity for just that repeated exposure and just having an opportunity to let that sink in. That makes sense to me.

 [00:04:43] TP: Absolutely.

 [00:04:44] SY: So I know that at your first job, your manager actually tried to sway you into a career in business because he didn’t think that you were cut out for a career in tech. I would love to hear that story. Tell us about that.

 [00:04:56] TP: Yeah. So as you can imagine, I leave college, go to my first job, but I didn’t have the confidence that I thought I was going to have. I left confident because I’m like, “Yeah, I got this awesome degree. Heck yes.” But the work world is completely different. And so I was unfortunately paired with a manager that had never had somebody fresh out of college. So he didn’t really know how to mentor and lay a foundation for me to then grow upon. And he also didn’t have the empathy to remember what it was like when he was first starting out. And so in addition to trying to learn how to be a working woman, now that I’m a full-blown adult and trying to gain that confidence in a space where I am the only black woman and one of the few women at all, was really freaking tough. And so he ended up trying to push me into being a business analyst because he didn’t think that I could be a software engineer and I was actually going to do it.

 [00:05:48] SY: Did you agree with him?

 [00:05:50] TP: I didn’t agree with him. Like in my mind, I was like, “I can do this. I can freaking do this. I just need the support.” But I also had somebody who I thought to be like an expert in the field, at least to some degree, because he was leading teams telling me that I couldn’t do it. So I was like, “Maybe he knows, right?” And like, “Maybe I should leave,” and kind of questioning myself. But then I told one of the senior software engineers on my team that I was thinking about making the pivot. And he was like, “Absolutely not.” And so I was like, “Why do you say that? I’m terrible at it. I just need to cut my losses and kind of move on.” He was like, “You’re not terrible at it. You just got out of college. You have a lot to learn. You have somebody who has been in the industry for 15 years trying to tell you that you don’t know anything, while also forgetting that he was once in your very shoes.” So you are more than capable of learning. You’re a really hard worker, and I’m going to help get you there.” And so he committed his time to setting that foundation with me and helping me build up my confidence so that I could then go forward. And if somebody gave me pushback and said, “I didn’t belong,” I could say that, “No, you’re a liar. I do belong.” [00:06:56] SY: you’re a liar. That’s right. You let him know.

 [00:07:00] TP: And just kind of having my own strength to continue to push forward. But in the beginning, I definitely needed somebody who I respected and considered an expert as well to believe in me.

 [00:07:11] SY: What about that experience with that manager at that first job? What about that impacted you the most?

 [00:07:18] TP: I think one, it was a reminder to myself not to doubt myself. And two, opinions are like buttholes. Everybody has them. And so just because somebody is giving me their opinion doesn’t mean it’s a good one.

 [00:07:34] SY: Buttholes!

 [00:07:36] TP: So just like kind of having that perspective. And then the final piece of it was like, “Okay, now that I know what it’s like to have a manager like that, put you down and not uplift you in any way, shape or form. When I am in management, I never want to be that. I want to be the exact opposite.” And so my management style, I basically did the opposite of whatever I felt they were doing to me and then supplemented some of the amazing managers that I had along the way.

 [00:08:06] SY: So you then went to a DC-based startup with an amazing team.

 [00:08:10] TP: Yes.

 [00:08:10] SY: Tell us about what that team did that made you feel so valued and so seen.

 [00:08:15] TP: Oh my gosh! Even just hearing about them made me tear up a little bit.

 [00:08:18] SY: Aww! Wow!

 [00:08:21] TP: So yeah, in that first job, once I got my confidence back and I finally felt like, “Okay, I can do this,” I was realizing that, “Okay, I need to lead this team. I need to go somewhere where I have psychological safety that I can continue to grow.” And for folks that don’t know what psychological safety is, is basically feeling like you can ask questions and/or make mistakes without ramifications. I’m not saying you’re out there doing things like deleting prod databases or anything like that.

 [00:08:46] SY: No consequences.

 [00:08:48] TP: No. But it’s a very human thing to make mistakes. It’s a very human thing to have questions. And so being in an atmosphere where you feel safe to ask those questions and make mistakes the way we all do can really help you grow a lot. And so I joined this team. Shout out to Will Durney and Chloe Powell, and I mean, they just truly poured into me. They helped me break some really bad habits that I had from my last job with not wanting to ask questions or kind of being off in a corner, spinning my wheels without letting the team know. And also just let me know that like, “I’m here for you.” Like, “I know that you’re a great engineer, you’re a great person, and you’re going to succeed.” And so just having that almost just allowed me to spread my wings and finally take the leap to reach senior back-end engineer with them.

 [00:09:36] SY: Tell me about what it took to make that happen because breaking bad habits no matter what those habits are is hard for any of us. Right? Doing it at work where there’s real repercussions to doing the wrong thing is even harder. So what did they do specifically that kind of got you out of that head space and what was it like for you to experience that?

 [00:09:58] TP: I think one thing is that like when I made a mistake, maybe I deployed a bug to prod or something like that, there was never a blame game. It was always like, “Oh crap! Okay. This thing went to prod.” Obviously everybody knows it’s my PR. But it was a very team-oriented thing, like how are we going to fix this? And it was very much normalized that these things are going to happen. And when they do happen, this is a team environment. And then also when they knew I was afraid to ask questions, sometimes they would like set aside 20 to 30 minutes in their week to be like, “This is your time, Taylor. You can come and ask me as many questions as you want. Even if you don’t have any questions, I’m right here and I’ve set this time apart for you.” So that I felt more comfortable not feeling like I was taking up their time, that wasn’t mine to take. And then also modeling the behavior that they wanted me to have. So one of the smartest engineers I know on that team, he would constantly ask questions. He would constantly admit when he made mistakes and it wasn’t an issue or anything like that. So kind of also modeling what he wanted me to do was great.

 [00:11:00] SY: So after that, you took a sabbatical, an eight-month sabbatical, which is quite a chunk of time to take. How in the world did you manage to convince someone to give you an eight-month sabbatical? How did that happen?

 [00:11:14] TP: So that was all self-funded.

 [00:11:16] SY: Okay. That makes a lot more sense. I was like, “Dang, Taylor! Somebody really liked you.” [00:11:22] TP: I ain’t got it like that yet. I ain’t got it like that. Give me a couple more decades or something. But yeah, so like in quarantine with like everybody else, I was burnt out being at a startup.

 [00:11:33] SY: Yeah.

 [00:11:34] TP: And so I just quit without having anything lined up and then just kind of started my job search journey when I was finally ready for it.

 [00:11:41] SY: How did that feel? Because I know that the idea of quitting your job, and I’ve quit a number of jobs, so I remember the feeling of kind of freedom of feeling like, whoo, I get to let that go and start a new adventure. But when you do it without having something lined up, that can potentially be stressful. How did you manage and how did you deal with the unknown of what job you were going to have next or when it was going to come? How did you manage that?

 [00:12:03] TP: Honestly, like referring back to all the times that people doubted me, I know that sounds probably mildly ridiculous, but like every time they thought you couldn’t do something, because some people would say like, “Oh my God, you don’t have another job lined up.” Like, “You’re not going to be able to find one.” Or like putting that like negative spin on it and that totally could have happened. I’m not saying that that’s not a possibility, but just kind of reminding myself like, “You are that, chic. You’ve done amazing things before.” I had enough savings to technically be off work for two years. So it’s like, “Okay. It would be surprising if I went two years and couldn’t find a single job.” [00:12:38] SY: Right.

 [00:12:38] TP: Even a job that I didn’t love. And I talked to my mom about it and I know I’m a big mama’s girl, but she was like, “Look, baby, if you want, you can come back home if things don’t go well. You always have the safety net.” So I think remembering those things then also continuing to talk to my network and people letting me know that like obviously you still have to interview and things like that, but like people that were willing to make connections and such things, I felt very supported.

 [00:13:02] SY: Wonderful. So what did you do with all those months off? What did you spend your time doing?

 [00:13:07] TP: So I’m a big whiskey lover. So I did a little bit of whiskey hunting.

 [00:13:11] SY: What is whiskey hunting?

 [00:13:13] TP: For folks that don’t know, the whiskey market is nuts right now.

 [00:13:16] SY: Okay. Oh, I don’t know anything about the whiskey market.

 [00:13:18] TP: Oh yeah. It’s out of control.

 [00:13:19] SY: The closest I come to whiskey is putting black unsweetened iced tea in what looks like a whiskey container. And people are like, “Oh, are you drinking like whiskey or scotch?” And I’m like, “I mean, maybe. You know? Maybe I am.” And I feel very fancy about it. It’s just iced tea, but I feel very fancy about it.

 [00:13:36] TP: I love that. It looks beautiful. It’s like a nice little decanter.

 [00:13:40] SY: Oh yeah.

 [00:13:41] TP: Oh yeah. The whiskey market is nuts. So people, they buy these bottles at what’s called MSRP, which is a price that it should be, and then they mark it up like four or five times the price.

 [00:13:51] SY: Oh, really?

 [00:13:52] TP: I do not do that, but because people are doing that, it makes it harder to find like the really cool bottles.

 [00:13:58] SY: Okay.

 [00:13:58] TP: So I go to different parts of the world to discover them and bring them back to my home.

 [00:14:02] SY: Literally parts of the world, like you’re traveling?

 [00:14:04] TP: Yeah.

 [00:14:04] SY: This is fascinating. We need a new podcast, the Whiskey Hunting Podcast. So you’re out there like hunting. You’re hunting whiskey like legit.

 [00:14:13] TP: Yeah.

 [00:14:14] SY: Interesting.

 [00:14:14] TP: Like I go to different cities, I like go to all the liquor stores and like see what they have and then fly them back home.

 [00:14:21] SY: Do you drink the whiskey?

 [00:14:22] TP: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

 [00:14:24] SY: Okay. So it’s not like Jordan’s where you just collect them and you never wear them?

 [00:14:26] TP: Oh no. Like basically any bottle in my home can be popped.

 [00:14:29] SY: Nice. Nice. Okay. So was this kind of the goal of the sabbatical where you just like, “I need some time with some whiskey”? “Let me go travel and find these.” Was that the idea or was there like a career angle to this at all?

 [00:14:40] TP: It was a career end goal and for self-care, honestly.

 [00:14:44] SY: Yeah.

 [00:14:44] TP: Just working from home at a startup in my like tiny one-bedroom apartment was just really draining for me. So just being able to take a beat and ask myself, because what I kind of realized is that I was letting life carry me places. And it’s like, “Okay, let’s stop this ride for a second. Where do we want to go? What pours into us? What makes us feel good?” And then reset and then conquer whatever that is.

 [00:15:09] SY: Very cool. And did you feel like you needed the eight-month? Because that’s a good chunk of time to kind of take a break. Did you feel good about that amount of time or how do you recommend other people approach breaks if they can’t take a full eight months off?

 [00:15:22] TP: I honestly set out, I think I originally said like three or four months, and then I was having too good of a time. I do understand that there is some privilege in me being able to do that. So for folks that can’t take that long of a time, I would try to chunk it out depending on your vacation. I know some people hate it, but I do really think that, at least for me personally, I don’t truly disconnect from work until about a week off. And so I try to take at least one long vacation every other year. That means two weeks plus in making it happen that way to truly decompress a bit. And if you can’t do that, finding ways to at least give yourself some level of joy every day. It’s like, “Okay, I spent eight hours or however many hours working for somebody else. What can I do for myself?” And if you can make it happen, do it before you even do your workday. I know not everybody is a morning person, but being able to wake up and be like, “You know what? What I want to do for myself before I go into my job,” was also really empowering to me.


 [00:16:38] SY: So after your sabbatical, you were a back-end engineer, then a senior software engineer, then an engineering manager. So you made a jump there. You made a jump from an IC, an individual contributor role to the management track. What was that transition like for you?

 [00:16:51] TP: It was awesome. Honestly, I was scared, not going to lie. Back-end team lead, like I wasn’t responsible for all the hiring and there was always somebody to kind of catch me. But when I made the shift to engineering manager, now I’m responsible for hiring everything end to end that has to do with my team. So I was nervous again, a little bit of a stretch goal, I mean, but it’s been absolutely amazing. I’m part of an org that was built by a black woman, and so it’s very diverse. I feel very supported. I feel very seen. So I feel like it was exactly the move for me.

 [00:17:22] SY: How did you know you were ready to go into a management type of role? How did you know you were kind of ready to move on from an IC over to manage?

 [00:17:32] TP: I sat down and I thought, “Okay, what energizes me about my previous role?” And I realized what it was is being able to give people what I wish I had had when I first started in my career, which is a psychologically safe place to kind of grow to their full potential. And I also realized that while I enjoy coding, like some people just like live for coding and that’s not me, I realized that I was doing a little bit of still spite-driven career development… [00:17:59] SY: Spite-driven, that’s amazing.

 [00:18:00] TP: Where I was coding to like prove everybody that said that I couldn’t do it wrong.

 [00:18:04] SY: I’m going to tell people that’s how I code now, spite-driven development.

 [00:18:08] TP: Right.

 [00:18:08] SY: No TDD, we have SDD.

 [00:18:10] TP: I’ve just proven everybody freaking wrong. And then when I really sat down, I’m like, “You have nothing to prove to these people.” Honestly, the people that you’re trying to “prove it to” are people that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. So do what brings you joy. So I was like, “All right, let’s make this happen.” Switched to management.

 [00:18:27] SY: And how do you like the management track? Do you miss the IC days?

 [00:18:30] TP: I love management. I’m not going to lie. And I have a great team, but the only thing that I miss about being in IC is that your day is your day. So like obviously things come up, but like I used to love getting ready to log in and having an idea of exactly what I want to do with that day and being able to put my headphones on and zone out. But as a manager, my day is everybody else’s day. So I may plan to do maybe some training, but my team needs me to unblock them or to support them mentally or something throughout the day. And sometimes I still struggle with that in addition to the number of meetings that I have.

 [00:19:09] SY: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

 [00:19:10] TP: Yeah.

 [00:19:10] SY: So let’s talk about psychological safety in the workplace. And we started this conversation a couple questions ago, but I want to dig into that a little bit more. How has increasing psychological safety at the workplace for you, how has that impacted your growth and your career trajectory?

 [00:19:30] TP: I think it has allowed me to grow so much more efficiently, not only because I’m in a space that I can ask questions to be able to grow, but now that I am a leader of a team because I’ve created a safe space for my engineers as well. Sometimes I think I’m doing great things as a manager. I’m making decisions, I’m changing things, but my team feels safe enough to tell me almost immediately, this is awful, or I don’t really agree with this. This is why I don’t agree with it. So not only am I able to like learn technical stuff and whatnot more swiftly, but also the changes that I make as a leader, I’m able to get swift feedback so that I can make these small course corrections instead of having these trash changes I’ve created like linger on.

 [00:20:14] SY: So we touched on the example of what it looks like to create psychological safety in a situation where someone might deploy some broken code or deploy a bug. Tell me a little bit more about some other examples of what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. If I’m a new manager trying to create that psychological safety on a team, what are some things I might do? Or alternatively, what are some things I should avoid doing to make sure I’m not risking that safety?

 [00:20:39] TP: I think first, even if you think that you’re like a cool manager and everything like that, like we all do, like remember the power dynamics that are in play? So remember to make sure that you’re not taking up a ton of space in meetings and that you’re leaving space for others to speak. But then also if you notice things that go against psychological safety, like potentially somebody speaking over another person consistently, you know, call that out. Like, “Hey, actually I think she was trying to say something. What were you trying to say, Ashley?” In making that space and also showing to the team like, “Oh, okay. So my manager doesn’t like when we talk over each other. We’re expected to allow everybody to say their piece.” And then also like reminding them that feedback is indeed a two-way street. So as soon as I join my team as manager, I sent them a survey to ask them how they like to be managed.

 [00:21:26] SY: Oh, I’ve done that.

 [00:21:27] TP: Yay!

 [00:21:28] SY: Yay!

 [00:21:29] TP: Excellent work. Excellent work.

 [00:21:31] SY: Validation for my management practices.

 [00:21:33] TP: You’re doing great.

 [00:21:34] SY: Nice!

 [00:21:38] TP: And even just small things like that, I feel like genuinely shows them that like, “Okay, this isn’t just like a one-way power dynamic. We are in this together. She wants my feedback just like she’s going to give me her feedback on how I’m doing as an engineer and creates this safe space to remind everybody that we are a team.” [00:21:55] SY: If you are the employee and you’re the one being managed and you’re not finding that psychological safety at work, how do you know if it’s time to move on, either move on to a different team, move on to a different company? How do you know when it’s time to start looking for another opportunity?

 [00:22:12] TP: I do like the point that you made of like potentially moving to another team because especially in big companies, like the culture can be so different from team and sometimes transferring internally can be easier than finding a new job. But for me, if I thought that like psychological safety wasn’t going the way that I thought it would, I would come up with maybe one or two issues that I’m having where I’m feeling unsafe and try to talk to my manager about it. I feel like even just that one conversation is going to let me know, like, “Oh, no, they just didn’t realize that these things were happening in the team or that they were doing these things themselves and they’re very eager to make the change.” Or when I try to talk to them, it’s very clear that, “Okay, you have no intention of ingesting anything that I’m really saying, and more so just making excuses.” It is the latter. I would try to change teams, if not companies, but I would start slowly but surely starting those job search processes, updating your resume, reaching out to your network, and trying to get things started that way before you reach full burn out. Because I feel like, too, in those situations we usually see the signs coming and we try to ignore them. But if you think that you see a sign where your company is on the verge of taking you a bit too far, start the process of updating that resume, start the job hunt, potentially like the internal transfer process so that you still have energy to actually be able to make the change because it’s hairy once you’re burnt out and you need to leave and you can’t take a break. That is a very big burden to carry.

 [00:23:37] SY: Yeah, that’s a lot. That’s a lot on your plate. So let’s say we have decided to leave our position. We are burnt out. We’re done. We are moving on and we are trying to identify a better opportunity. How do we make sure we don’t fall into the same trap? Right? How do we make sure that we are able to identify places that give us that psychological safety? What are some either green flags or some red flags to watch out for when we’re looking for new opportunities?

 [00:24:03] TP: I would say one, sit with yourself for a little bit and figure out what’s most important to you in your next job. Identify two, three things. And then I like to go through my network because I feel like even though Glassdoor is awesome, I feel like you don’t get a true picture unless you talk to people on the ground through your network to really understand exactly what’s going on there. And then once you get into the interview process, I usually don’t like to ask them questions directly like, “Do you have psychological safety?” [00:24:34] SY: Although it’s really telling if they say no to that, that question. That will really clear some things up for you.

 [00:24:39] TP: Straight off the bat. But I do believe in asking questions, like when I interview with my potential future manager, I ask them to tell me about a time when they’ve made a mistake. That seems like a very simple question, but I’ve had managers in the interview process unwilling to tell me about a time that they’ve made a mistake.

 [00:24:57] SY: Oh, really?

 [00:24:58] TP: Yes.

 [00:24:58] SY: They just refuse to answer to the question?

 [00:24:59] TP: Yes.

 [00:25:00] SY: Oh, wow!

 [00:25:00] TP: I can think of a time like I don’t… yeah, nothing really comes to mind. It’s like that type of thing. And so that alone lets me know that I don’t want to work for you.

 [00:25:07] SY: Yeah.

 [00:25:09] TP: So questions like that and sometimes, too, I’ll ask to speak to another person of color on the team for a potential team that I’m going to work for. And I’ll let them know that whatever they say to me is in confidence. But I want to know before I come here, “Is this a place that you would recommend a family member or somebody that you care about come that is also the same demographic as you?” And that has been very interesting as well.

 [00:25:32] SY: I bet.

 [00:25:36] TP: Because some people have absolutely told me like, “Please do not come here. Please do not come here.” [00:25:39] SY: Wow!

 [00:25:40] TP: And I respect them for that. And I didn’t say anything to the other folks. I just, “Actually, I think I’d like to stop this job interview process.” But finding those questions and finding those in networks to be able to figure out exactly what’s going on at the company can be a huge help.

 [00:25:55] SY: Interesting. What do you say to get in contact with that person? Did you literally say, “I would like to speak to another black woman on the team?” [00:26:03] TP: Yes.

 [00:26:04] SY: Oh, and they’re fine with that? They’re not like, but why?

 [00:26:06] TP: No. No. Surprisingly no.

 [00:26:10] SY: What are you trying to do?

 [00:26:12] TP: Right. No, but they never have. And I guess I should say the last time that I was job searching with these techniques, it was like also at the tail end of BLM movement and everything like that. So all the companies were saying… [00:26:24] SY: Right, right, was very top of mind.

 [00:26:25] TP: Yeah. So maybe in the next time I’m job hunting, they’ll be a bit more apprehensive, but they were all very welcoming.

 [00:26:32] SY: That’s a really good tip. I really like that. Coming up next, Taylor talks about starting a nonprofit and how important community and your network are after this.


 [00:26:55] SY: So I would love to talk a little bit about Black Code Collective, which is something that you co-founded about six years ago. What is Black Code Collective?

 [00:27:04] TP: Yeah. One of my favorite things ever. So it’s basically a safe space for black engineers to come together to not only grow their networks, but also their technical skills in a safe space, because I realized that even though I’m in a psychologically safe place now, a lot of us aren’t, and a lot of us don’t have vast networks. So being able to create that for one another and being that support group.

 [00:27:25] SY: Very wonderful. What does that look like? What kind of programs do you have, products do you have?

 [00:27:28] TP: So we have our Slack that we talk in literally every day, but we try to at least do two events a month. We’re based in the DC area, so we try to do one tech event and then also a social event for people to get together. And through Slack and then those in-person events, usually it’s helping people find jobs or work through technical issues they’re having. We also work through like coding katas together in Slack. So those are just some examples.

 [00:27:52] SY: Nice. And how have you grown it over the years?

 [00:27:55] TP: Honestly, just by word of mouth mostly. We’re obviously on, but kind of just people just spreading the word themselves. We haven’t really had to do much, which is kind of awesome.

 [00:28:05] SY: And this is a nonprofit, right?

 [00:28:06] TP: Yeah, it’s a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) compliant.

 [00:28:08] SY: Yeah. What have you learned about being a nonprofit leader, nonprofit founder? What have you learned about starting these types of organizations? I know a lot of people say, “I want to give back to the community. I want to build my own thing.” But you’ve actually done it. So what’s that been like?

 [00:28:20] TP: Honestly, it’s been amazing. Honestly, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me in my life. But I will say that I’ve realized that it is difficult to have sustained momentum. Because obviously, this is like our side project. So sometimes after your nine-to-five, it can be hard to find the energy. But I think what really worked in our benefit is that we have five co-founders.

 [00:28:44] SY: Wow!

 [00:28:45] TP: Right. Right. Right. But it’s worked out and I think that’s why we’ve been able to go for as long as we have because when some folks are tired out, the other folks can take the load. And it’s almost like the shared responsibility as we go through life, which has really worked out.

 [00:29:02] SY: What advice do you have for people who want to start communities of their own? A lot of times it’s hard to find people who might have the same life experiences that we have or come from the same background that we do. And being able to start a community is very appealing to a lot of folks. What advice do you have for people who might be in that position?

 [00:29:18] TP: I know people will hate this advice, but I do genuinely think multiple co-founders is great for that longevity piece. But with that, really vet your co-founders. If you’re going to be embed with them proverbially for the rest of your life or however long, you want to make sure that they’re a good match. And then also like being open to feedback. I do think one part that has helped Black Code Collective a lot is that kind of similar to how I was saying with like being in management. We consistently ask our members for feedback on how we can better serve them. And I think that has helped us because like a couple times we were on the wrong path. And people were like, “Actually, no, this would be most helpful to me.” And it’s like, “Oh, okay.” So asking for feedback and picking good co-founders.

 [00:29:58] SY: So what impact does being a part of a community like Black Code Collective have on people’s careers? I know that we all say we want community. We like the idea of it, but what impact does it actually have on our career trajectory and our goals?

 [00:30:13] TP: I think one direct thing is being able to find jobs more easily through the network, but then two, and even to this day, even though it’s been six going on seven years, like when we get together in person, I am still blown away by the number of black software engineers in my area because when we first started Black Code Collective, we were trying to guesstimate how many folks it would be and we’re like, “You know what? Let’s go for quality instead of quantity.” But now we have thousands of members.

 [00:30:39] SY: Wow! Nice.

 [00:30:40] TP: Especially for people that may work at companies where they are the only being in a space where you are surrounded by people that look like you, that uplift you and pour into you, I feel like is very recharging. And so I think that allowing people to keep pushing and being sure of themself is a big change that I’ve seen in a lot of people and something that people thank us for often.

 [00:31:02] SY: Absolutely. So as both a manager at work and a community manager just for the community, what advice do you have for people looking to get started in their careers, trying to get that first job, trying to break into the industry for the first time, what advice do you have for people like them?

 [00:31:16] TP: Your network is one of the most important things that you can invest in, and I know it’s difficult, but try to make it as authentic as possible. Don’t try to push the agenda right off of the top, but just try to create a lot of like loose connections that you can nurture over time, and I feel like those are the connections that are usually going to pay off for you in the long run. Not that you can’t ask somebody specifically to be your mentor and whatnot. I just find that usually those don’t shake out as well as maybe attending the same meetup that folks attend all the time. And slowly but surely building those bonds, also building up your portfolio so you have like concrete examples that you can show as you interview. And three, remembering that an interview is a two-way street. So just like they’re asking you questions, make sure that you’re asking them questions to make sure that this is a good fit for you. And lastly, just remember that you can do it. They’re going to be naysayers. And I’m not saying that you can’t listen to feedback, but don’t let somebody derail you simply because they’re saying that you can’t. Just stay the course and you can do it.

 [00:32:19] SY: Absolutely love that. Now the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Taylor, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

 [00:32:35] TP: I am ready.

 [00:32:36] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

 [00:32:39] TP: You should quit being a software engineer.

 [00:32:44] SY: And we talked about that. I’m so glad. Selfishly, I’m glad you didn’t listen.

 [00:32:48] TP: Me too. Me too. So are my pockets.

 [00:32:55] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

 [00:32:59] TP: Do it scared.

 [00:32:59] SY: Oh, I loved it. Who said that? I feel like someone famous said that.

 [00:33:03] TP: I have no idea who said it.

 [00:33:04] SY: Okay. I really like that. What’s the story behind that? When did you first hear that? How’s that applied to your life?

 [00:33:09] TP: It was during the sabbatical again. I was kind of like a rollercoaster of emotion where at first I was on my high horse, like, “Yeah, I’m going to get this job, it’s going to be perfect.” But interviewing is a long process. I’m sure that is not a news flash to anybody. So I started to get a little bit discouraged when I got my first rejection. And so I kind of started spiraling a bit and then I spent some time and I was reflecting and growing up, my dad always said kind of offhand, “Scared money don’t make money. Scared money don’t make money.” And so I kept thinking that.

 [00:33:41] SY: I like that.

 [00:33:42] TP: Yeah.

 [00:33:43] SY: You have some wise parents.

 [00:33:44] TP: Thank you.

 [00:33:45] SY: You got a good family.

 [00:33:47] TP: Thank you. And so at first I kept saying, “Scared money don’t make money. So Taylor, just keep pushing.” And then one day I just said, “Do it scared.” Like, “Come on.” Like, “It’s not going to get any easier. And what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? Mama said you can come home. Keep going.” [00:34:02] SY: Yeah, absolutely. Number three, my first coding project was about?

 [00:34:07] TP: It was my first year of computer science. It was a Tic-Tac-Toe game.

 [00:34:11] SY: That was my first coding project, too, Tic-Tac-Toe. What did you write it in? Do you remember?

 [00:34:17] TP: Java.

 [00:34:19] SY: Nice.

 [00:34:20] TP: What about you?

 [00:34:21] SY: Ruby.

 [00:34:22] TP: Nice.

 [00:34:22] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

 [00:34:27] TP: Everybody was once where you are. I feel like when you’re first starting out coding, it can sometimes feel like isolating or like incredibly frustrating. You don’t know if you’re ever going to get it, but I feel like everybody who was ever coded has at least been there one time. So it’s like they made it through it. You can make it through it. Just stick the course and make it through.

 [00:34:48] SY: It’s so easy to forget that, and I think it’s so easy for experienced people to forget it too. So everyone’s forgotten and then you’re just sitting there feeling stupid, forgetting that we’ve all been here before. This is the process. This is the journey.

 [00:35:03] TP: Yes.

 [00:35:03] SY: So that’s really important to keep in mind.

 [00:35:04] TP: Yeah.

 [00:35:05] SY: Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Taylor.

 [00:35:08] TP: Thank you for having me. This has been a blast.

 [00:35:18] SY: You got this. Love it. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, For more info on the podcast, check out Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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