Nicole Young is a self-taught developer and freelancer based in Pittsburgh, PA. After discovering the opportunity and freedom she gained while acquiring her new tech skills, she began sharing her story in hopes of helping other women and people of color do the same. Nicole uses her platforms (including Instagram and YouTube) to provide information and resources for those who are looking to get into tech fields and learn how to code, all while advocating for equity and inclusivity in the industry.  

Why did you decide to join a startup rather than opt for a more-established or larger company?

I was looking for opportunities where I could be more hands-on and learn new skills as I worked. I already knew the typical 9-5 cubicle life wasn’t for me, and wanted something with a little more flexibility. The opportunity to work at a tech startup presented itself almost by accident. I never thought that I would be qualified for a position with a company working with such innovative technology like I did. 

In addition to coding, what do you view as the most important skills for a developer to have?

The willingness to stay flexible is an important skill to have as a developer.  Sometimes you have to try new ways of solving problems and can never stop learning in order to be successful. Discipline is also a skill that I think was crucial on my journey of being self-taught.

Both have been crucial for me as I grow as a developer and freelancer. As a new developer taking on freelancing, I have to be able to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of what I am doing. It is also important that I stay flexible as I learn more about what I want from this career path. Staying rigid on my path would only hinder me. Discipline is the key to helping me develop the habits that I need to be successful, such as keeping a constant learning regimen in place and staying organized and proactive when working with multiple clients at a time.

How has COVID-19 changed the freelancing market for you?

Definitely, COVID-19 hit right as I was starting to launch my business and I lost a good portion of the clients that I had due to the uncertainty it created. Thankfully, I had opportunities with people in my network to keep my going.  It was discouraging but I devoted that time to learning, building and connecting with a community of people who were going through similar things.

What key things do you tell others about empowerment?

There are two things that I am constantly preaching to my community about ways they can empower themselves to accomplish their goals and gain confidence in their roles in this industry. The first is to create systems in your day-to-day life that make it easier to accomplish your goals. I created a plan that I reference often where I track my goals and projects, and that helps me to keep myself accountable.

The second is to find a community of people that are like-minded and have similar goals and experiences. Making networking a priority was probably the best thing that I could’ve done early in my career. I attribute a lot of my current successes to the connection that I have made both in person and online. With both a strong community and good habits I believe that empowerment is inevitable.

What’s the best way for startups and other tech companies to reduce or eliminate toxic work environments?

This is a great question and one that I think could be answered in different ways, depending on what exactly makes the environment toxic. From my own experience, something that I feel would have helped the environment was tangible efforts toward making the space more inclusive and collaborative. For example, some of the things that I feel could have decreased toxic environments in my previous experience would be:

  • Making efforts to discourage siloing and the “us vs. them” team dynamics.
  • Addressing problematic behaviors when they happen and correcting them.
  • Listening to and following through on suggestions made by Equity and Inclusion experts.

I think that it is most important to mention that companies can only reduce toxic work environments if the people in leadership and influential positions take the lead. It must start from the top for real change to happen.

In your opinion, is the tech industry responding well to the Black Lives Matter movement?

My short answer is “no.” From where I am standing, I feel as though many companies and decision makers were quiet when it was the perfect time to take a stand and use their voices, power and capital to take action. I understand that many companies gave donations and made statements on social media. However, besides a choice few, I didn’t see many companies and decision makers in this industry taking real action. 

I think it must start from within. If Black lives do matter, then it should be reflected in hiring practices, inclusion efforts and company cultures.