More Than a Coding Club
Friday, May 28, 2021
Grappling with the lack of diversity, maintaining a healthy work life balance, and adapting to life in the Silicon Valley are obstacles that Lucy Zhang, DTech alumna ’19, has dealt with during her work. Nonetheless, she has overcome many of these challenges with a steadfastness and determination that she honed through the DTech program. DTech has not only aided Zhang in landing a position at Apple, one of the world’s premier technology companies, but also continues to impact her life beyond her career.
The Duke Technology Scholars Program, or DTech, supports under-represented people in technology during their undergraduate education. However, the impact that DTech has had on Lucy Zhang, DTech alumna ‘19, reaches far beyond her time at Duke.
The application process for technology internships is competitive and intimidating for many, but DTech opens doors for opportunities through mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.
After joining DTech in 2015, Zhang began her search for a summer internship.
“Without DTech, I wouldn’t have been able to get my resume into Apple. There was no chance. They gave my resume directly to a recruiter, rather than an application website where my resume would never get to see the light of day. My first internship at Apple was definitely thanks to the program,” said Zhang. “That first internship at Apple got my foot through the door.”
Overcoming Challenges of Gender and Race
The technology sector has been known for being heavily dominated by white males, often creating challenges for women, especially minority women, in the field.
“DTech itself really helped me learn how to deal with the workplace as a minority and a woman. There are very few Asian women on my team,” said Zhang, adding that DTech helped her navigate racism and sexism in the industry. “The program has taught me to not be afraid of having your voice heard, not being afraid of asking questions.”
Finding Comfort in Community
Moving across the country from Duke to work at one of the industry’s premier companies is an intimidating transition for anyone, and especially daunting for a first-year college student. During Zhang’s summer internship in Mountain View Ca., DTech arranged shared housing for her and other DTech women who were also working at Apple.
“During my first year with the other girls, we got to hear each other's experiences. Everything always feels better when you can share with others and you know you’re not alone. That helped a lot,” said Zhang. Zhang remembers the events, dinners, and outings that she enjoyed with her fellow DTechers that summer and throughout the school year.
“There was a really great sense of friendship and bonding. It may not seem directly related to tech, but it was really important to be able to have room to grow. You can’t be coding all the time, you’re going to burn out,” Zhang said.
Those friendships still stand today. Zhang has kept in touch with several DTech alumnae, including a few of who continue to work at Apple. The community that DTech has created continues to provide a necessary perspective for Zhang as she works in technology.
“When you’re in the Bay Area, it’s definitely like a bubble here. You get really deep into what you’re doing, and you think that everything you’re doing matters a lot,” said Zhang. “My mentors really helped me step back and realize that ‘there’s more to life than coding.’ The constant connection and communication reminded me that I wasn’t alone,” Zhang said.
Perspective Through Mentorship
Zhang also remembers the crucial role that DTech had in fostering mentorship. Specifically, she explained how Monica Jenkins and Sue Harnett, two of DTech’s leaders at the time, had a profound impact on her.
“They were constantly in touch with us, checking up on us, making sure things were going okay. We had regular get-togethers as well as outings to different companies,” Zhang said.
Zhang’s DTech mentor, Julie Keenan, also played a major role in easing her transition to the technology world. Zhang explained that having the guidance of someone who is older and is in a different stage of their career helped Zhang see the “bigger picture” of her decisions and work.
“I still talk to her today and it’s been a very valuable relationship. She has a really different background since she doesn’t work in technology anymore, and instead works in consulting. She is a very grounding voice,” said Zhang.
Impact Outside of Work
Zhang thanks DTech for not only impacting her professional career, but also her life outside of work.
“DTech hasn’t just touched my tech life, but also my hobbies and other pursuits as well. Aside from tech, I like to write a lot. I got more into it recently because I needed something to work on outside of tech for that perspective that DTech really helped with,” said Zhang. “Since I started writing again, I’ve been opened to a whole different industry. Like the technology sector, it’s primarily dominated by white men. I see a lot of parallels in the industries from tech to publishing. It’s an interesting perspective because I can draw on a lot of these experiences and directly convert them over,” says Zhang.
She thanks DTech for helping her hone the skills and mindsets to cope with these challenges not only in the technology industry, but in the literary one as well.
Said Zhang, “I don’t think I can distill what I learned from DTech into one lesson because it was an experience.”