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For the fourth year in a row, Optimizely, in partnership with Hack Reactor @ Galvanize, is running the I/Own It program to help women and underrepresented minorities jumpstart their career as software engineers. In a previous post I outlined the impact this program has and why we continue to offer it. I’m very excited to announce that we’ve concluded the application and selection process and to introduce our 2019 recipients.

I’d like to first take this opportunity to thank every individual who applied for the I/Own It program this year. Each one of you put a lot of your time and energy into the application process and we greatly appreciate your effort. This level of commitment speaks volumes about you. It also gives me confidence that every one of you will realize your goal of having a career as a software engineer.

As in years past, we’ve selected three recipients from this outstanding candidate pool. Each of these recipients will begin the Software Engineering Immersive program offered by Hack Reactor @ Galvanize in early December and then will join us here at Optimizely for a three month, fully-paid internship with our Engineering department in mid-March. The three recipients of our 2019 I/Own It scholarship and internship program are Yelena Chamanova, Noel Mendoza, and Polina Nguen. Here’s a little bit more information about each of them.

Yelena Chamanova

Yelena is originally from Turkmenistan, where early in her school years she began studying Turbo Pascal and how to build websites. Even though the internet and media access were restricted, she taught classes on computer basics and the English language to her peers.

Photo of Yelena Chamanova at the Beach

I/Own It 2019 Recipient Yelena Chamanova

After high school, Yelena got an opportunity to come to the United States and received a degree in International Relations. She never abandoned her passion for software and creating new things. Yelena helped establish an online presence for several companies in Turkmenistan. When she moved to the Bay Area, she decided to pursue a career in software engineering. Toward this goal, she worked at Google as a Russian language analyst, while also building her coding skills using online resources. Apart from coding, Yelena also enjoys foreign languages, cycling, and photography.

Every day Yelena is grateful for the opportunities in the Bay Area, the accepting queer community she found here, and the possibility to devote her time to building things that matter. She plans to mentor other underrepresented minorities to help them build successful careers in tech.

Noel Mendoza

After attending Georgetown University and majoring in Culture and Politics, Noel decided to return home to Los Angeles as an educator for  Teach For America. He taught high school Spanish for 2 years in Watts and, after fulfilling his teaching commitment, decided to enter the startup world. He joined numerous start-ups that exposed him to coding as he worked alongside engineers while doing sales and tech support. Simultaneously, Noel noticed his parents began to depend on technology and apps and it became vital to support his parents mentally, emotionally, and financially.

Photo of Noel Mendoza

I/Own It 2019 Recepient Noel Mendoza

His parents’ experience, together with his time at startups, inspired him to learn how to develop applications that can assist those in need. It reinforced his belief that technology can be used to service humanity and ultimately make the world a better place. Having no prior experience in coding, he enrolled in a Web Fundamental course and soon was hooked. He began taking more courses in JavaScript and Python part-time, and ultimately decided he wanted a career in programming. 

He plans to use his skills to create more opportunities by implementing coding in high school curriculums. He hopes to change the lack of tech exposure, which he experienced, and eventually create a pipeline that will allow students to pursue programming and tech as they progress in their educational careers.

Polina Nguen

Polina was born in Russia and immigrated to the US when she was 21 years old. She started off working as a housekeeper and a kitchen helper while learning English in her off time. Later on, she attended Drexel University and majored in Mechanical Engineering. After graduating, Polina worked as a Mechanical Engineer/Designer. Her passion to code started with Matlab at Drexel University and led her to enroll in Treehouse, where she learned the basics of Python and JS. Not soon after, she started taking the online Master of Science in Computer Science program at Georgia Tech while continuing to work full time as a Mechanical Designer in San Francisco. Polina hopes someday she can apply her mechanical and software engineering skills to make a difference in the everyday life of professionals throughout a wide spectrum of industries including architecture, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, construction and manufacturing.

Polina Nguen Photo

I/Own It 1019 Recipient Polina Nguen

 

Each year, it takes a large effort from a number of people to run the I/Own It program. Since the beginning, we’ve been fortunate to benefit from the dedication, experience, and teamwork of our partners at Hack Reactor @ Galvanize. In particular, I’d like to recognize Kelly Jackson, Program Manager for Scholarships and Galvanize Foundation, who helped make I/Own It a success again this year. We are thankful for everything that Kelly and her committed team have done for I/Own It these past months. There is also a devoted crew of Optinauts who once again volunteered their time to this program. Thank you to Jess Chong, May Delos Santos, Justina Nguyen, Acacia Pappas, Lauren Pappone, Lina Spevak, Nicole Thompson, Mandy Trinh, Alyssa White, Spencer Wilson, and Ryan Yee. Last, but certainly not least, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Press, Optimizely’s SVP of Engineering, for his unwavering commitment to the I/Own It program, from the start. Without his support again this year, I/Own It wouldn’t be possible.

For anyone who is interested in beginning a career as a software engineer, please check out additional scholarship opportunities for the Software Engineering Immersive program offered by Hack Reactor @ Galvanize. If you would like to participate in the I/Own It program in the future, please visit our website and sign up for the mailing list; we’ll notify you when applications open again in the future

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