About Danny Lopez
How did you learn about PDXWIT?
The first time I heard about PDXWIT was within the first couple weeks of attending Epicodus. About four or five women in my class were all going to go to the PDXWIT Summer Soiree, and it sounded awesome.
But I didn’t go. Because I didn’t really consider myself a part of the “tech” community yet, and I was worried I would be one of only a few men there. Even then, I recognized the irony of the tech scene being predominantly male, and me not wanting to be part of the minority at an event.
The next day in class, they were all talking about how amazing the event was, and how there were a ton of people, all genders. I regretted not going. It wasn’t long until another PDXWIT event came up, and I definitely wasn’t going to say “no” the second time.
What keeps you coming back to PDXWIT events?
If I had to choose two things, it would be the speakers, and the people you meet.
To give an example, I keep thinking of one event in particular that had a board of five women from leading positions in the industry. Each woman had a different story of how they got to where they are in their career, and the challenges they had to overcome. It wasn’t necessarily about them being a woman in a male-dominated industry. It was about personal growth and pushing yourself even it if makes you uncomfortable or afraid (like potentially being the only man at an event hosted by Women in Tech). Every single story was so inspirational and relateable.
After the panel I stayed and talked with people. The room had a very open vibe that was contagious, and everyone was very friendly and non-judgmental.
I originally started going to meetups because I’m a shy person, and I wanted to work on my interpersonal skills. This same open vibe carries across to all the PDXWIT events, and that is what keeps me coming back.
Also, on my first day at Zapproved, one of the women on that board I mentioned earlier, Jennifer Bantelman, walked over to my desk to introduce herself and welcomed me to the company. In that moment, I finally felt like I was part of the Portland tech community.
It looks like your career path includes the Washington Army National Guard as a signal support systems specialist. Was that your first job in a technical field?
Yes, I joined right out of high school, and it was my first real job aside from working at a trading card shop and the movie theater. I had always referred to myself as having an “engineer’s mind,” and I wanted to learn how things work, which is why I was excited to go into communications for the Army.
However, the actual job ended up being more about teaching soldiers how to use radio equipment, and not as much of the technical stuff as I had hoped. Fortunately, I was the guy people would count upon to fix anything that was technical, so I ended up becoming the jack of all trades.
Eventually our unit got a Satellite Transportable Terminal (STT) trailer, even though we didn’t have anybody trained on it. So, I ended up grabbing the manual and eventually found myself primarily being in charge of that.
You also studied wind turbines? How did you decide to do that?
I’m one of those rare people who find heights calming, so working on mechanics and electrical circuits while being 350 feet in the air sounded perfect.
However, it ended up being just an expensive life lesson. I pushed myself extremely hard though that course, and only missed about two questions total on all of the exams.
But in the end, none of that mattered. At the time I graduated the industry wasn’t hiring much due to a surplus of hydro power. The companies I wanted to work for weren’t interested in graduates from the school. Nobody from my class was having any luck either.
I lost motivation and gave up. About a year down the road, the people from my class who ended up finding a job were the ones who stuck with the job search for nearly a year; they were also charismatic with great networking skills.
I learned a couple of life lessons:
1) Sometimes, you push yourself hard to get to the finish line. But when you get there, it turns out to be just a checkpoint. And the race is even harder than you expected. At that point, it is even more important to stick with it and not give up.
2) Getting the job you want isn’t just about being the most technically qualified for the position. Being able to network and express yourself is equally, if not more, important.
This wind turbine school was also my first introduction to programming. We had a PLC (programmable logic control) class that I loved and understood instantly. My teacher told me I should be going to school to be an engineer instead of a technician. I think this advice made my decision to quit Comcast and go to Epicodus easier.
How have your experiences at Epicodus and Thinkful changed your career path?
Attending Epicodus was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I was hesitant to go to another trade school after not having success at the wind turbine tech school. So, I did extensive research about all the coding bootcamps in the Portland area.
The reason I attended Epicodus was because they offered a design course. At that time, I wanted to be a designer who knew some code. But I quickly realized that I enjoyed the coding way more than the design. By the end of the intro course I wanted to transfer out of the design track into the C# class. But, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so.
Although the curriculum was good, the most beneficial part of going to Epicodus was pair programming with somebody different every day. If you two work well together, you have a project that neither of you would have been able to come up with on your own, because it reflects the creativity of both people on the team.
Another great part of attending Epicodus is being an Epicodus alumnus. There is a sense of pride similar to graduating from the same college. Every time I meet an alumnus at a meetup, we immediately have a million things to talk about. Other alumni were always willing to give great advice once I started the job search process.
I attended Thinkful after Epicodus because I had learned about data science outside of class, and was interested to learn more about what that industry was like. I had grabbed coffee with a couple of people in the industry. At one point I attended a Thinkful meetup where I learned they offered a one-month Intro to Data Science course.
I attended the course, and I was delightfully surprised how easy they made working remotely. I always had the support I needed even though nobody was physically around me.
Has PDXWIT helped you recently in some way in your career?
The first meetup I attended was a PDXWIT event, an event I attended because I wanted to work on my networking skills.
At the event, I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I was shyly standing against the wall secretly building up the courage to try and walk over to someone and strike up a conversation. Luckily, one of the event staff, Karissa Barrera, walked up to me, and we started talking. I mentioned it was my first meetup and was shy. She wasted no time and dragged me over to a group of people and introduced me.
I wish I could say after that experience talking with people at meetups was easy. But I eventually found my way back over to the wall. It would take a lot more feeling uncomfortable, but at least it was a start.
After graduating Epicodus I started the job search, and one of the companies I was interested in was Zapproved. I turned in a job application. I noticed there was a PDXWIT event happening there soon, so I attended.
At the event, one of the first people I recognized there was Karissa. We started talking. I mentioned I had applied there, and I was interested in finding somebody to ask them about the company. Not much later after that, Karissa was waving at me from across the room to come over. I walked up, and she introduced me to a couple of Zapproved employees (who are now my coworkers).
They eventually put me in touch with the Talent Acquisition Manager. She said she would take a look at my application. It was not long after that I was going through the interview process, and started working as an associate software engineer.
What advice about working in technology fields would you like to pass on to other members?
I read an article the other day that sums up my advice perfectly in one line so I am going to quote that:
“Writing code is only a small part of what goes into shipping production software.” - Ana Ulin
Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t check all the boxes in the required section of a job description, or if somebody in your class understands the material way better than you. Being a software engineer is largely about learning new things and being able to work in a team.
People who want to hire somebody for their first job out of school aren’t expecting you to know everything, but they are looking to see if you can learn and work with others.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you think you have the technical stuff down, and don’t think you need to worry about the social stuff because you will woo the interviewers with your answers to their questions about algorithms, but the social stuff is just as important, if not more important. You may get anxiety just at the thought of working on your social skills, but I assure you nothing will help you out in your career more than being able express your opinions to others.