#GivingTuesday

Squarespace is partnering with Coalition for Queens (C4Q), a tech non-profit that increases economic opportunity for underserved communities through technology. In addition to donating $70,000 to C4Q, we’re proud to feature one C4Q graduate every week for five weeks, giving them a chance to tell their story, increase their profile, and spread the word that anything is possible.

 

 
 

About C4Q

C4Q believes that people from every community and background should have the opportunity to learn to code, work in tech, and create the companies of the future.

Their innovative program equips talented adults from low-income and underserved backgrounds with the coding skills and entrepreneurial training they need to launch careers in the tech industry.

Today, C4Q graduates are working at some of the world’s most innovative companies, including BuzzFeed, Kickstarter, and Pinterest, earning salaries that have increased from $18,000 pre-program to $85,000 post-program.

 
 
 

C4Q GRADUATE PROFILES
 

Madelyn Tavarez (11.29)    //    Kadeem Maragh (12.6)    //    Christella Dolmo (12.13)    //    Moawia Eldeeb (12.20)    //    Paola Mata (12.27)

 

Paola Mata

C4Q 1.0 Graduate

Paola was born in Ecuador and raised in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating C4Q, she became an iOS developer at BuzzFeed and helped launch their News app. She also co-founded NYC Tech Latinas, an organization that seeks to increase the visibility and representation of Latinas in the tech industry in New York City. We asked her a few questions about her career, her altruistic pursuits, and her future goals.

 

Q: Tell us about your experience at BuzzFeed. How did you get hired and what do you enjoy most about your job?

A: I was already a big fan and even followed some BuzzFeed writers. When diversity recruiting service Power To Fly formally introduced me, it was a natural fit. I was psyched to get started and couldn’t be happier with what I’ve found. BuzzFeed Engineering is full of very talented, passionate, and great people. The company shares my values and continues to make me proud.

I joined the News app team early on and saw our project develop into this gorgeous, smart product. Getting it into the hands of our users and seeing them respond so positively was an incredible feeling.

Q: What is a problem in the world (big or small) that you would like to solve using technology? How would your solution work?

A: There’s a lack of women and minorities in STEM fields. I’ve become part of the solution by learning tech skills, but I want to go further. Inspiring and encouraging people through technology can improve their lives and their communities. I believe that being a role model and a mentor—something I never had growing up—would be significant in achieving this. Community groups like NYC Tech Latinas will also help further this cause. I am proud to be a co-founder of an organization that aims to empower women to build awesome things.

Q: What have you learned from your experience with NYC Tech Latinas?

A: Organizing NYC Tech Latinas has helped me develop leadership skills and a level of confidence I did not know I had in me. I feel that I am a better person because of this experience and that the tech community is better because we exist. It has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life.

Q: Tell us a bit about your future goals.

A: I'm always trying to improve my programming skills in one way or another. I'd like to get to a point where I can work independently and from anywhere in the world. But right now, I enjoy working on a solid team and learning from my peers. NYC Tech Latinas is working on future meetups. We have a lot to accomplish, and I’m looking forward to seeing our community grow.

 
 

Moawia Eldeeb

C4Q 1.0 Graduate

Moawia is the co-founder of SmartSpot, a tech-based fitness tool that corrects a person's form in real time. His journey started on an Egyptian farm where he and his family worked before landing in New York City. Financial hardship made staying in grade school difficult. But after years of self-education, he enrolled in Queens College and participated in C4Q’s program. This helped him transfer to Columbia University where he met a friend who encouraged him to apply to YCombinator. As a YCombinator Winter 2015 graduate, Moawia raised $1.85M in venture capital for SmartSpot. We asked him a few questions about C4Q and his startup.

 

Q: Why did you want to enroll in C4Q?

A: My whole life I have been left to figure things out on my own. Since my parents were farmers in Egypt, they didn’t know much about education or how things worked in the U.S. When I came here, computers fascinated me most, and since then I have been doing my best to learn all I can about them. But every individual has their limitations. I felt that C4Q would help me move closer to my goal of having a career in technology.

Q: Where did the idea for SmartSpot come from?

A: I was training with a friend at Columbia University's gym. I explained how I was working on an app to train him and others remotely. He started suggesting improvements, and a few months later we made a demo of SmartSpot. 

Q: How did your experience growing up influence the creation of SmartSpot?

A: After graduation, everyone is searching for a job at a big company. Choosing to start your own company takes a different mindset. Growing up, I never emulated what others my age were doing. Knowing this about myself made it easier for me to leave all the job offers behind and choose a very different path.

Q: What is the hardest part of running your own startup?

A: So many things don’t go your way early on, and you just have to keep fighting. Many times things will just look hopeless, like it's all over, but you just can't give up.

 
 

Christella Dolmo

C4Q 2.2 Graduate

Born to Honduran immigrants, Christella was raised in the Bronx borough of New York City. She learned to seize opportunities after seeing her family overcome financial barriers. Upon graduating from C4Q, she was accepted into Kickstarter’s summer internship program. She is now a full-time software engineer on their mobile team and a scholarship recipient to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference 2016. We asked her a few questions about why she applied to C4Q, how she’s overcome obstacles, and what advice she’d give to aspiring engineers.

 

Q: Why did you want to take this course?

A: Before deciding to become a software engineer, I pursued a career in accounting. I wanted to help people make informed financial decisions, but after interning at an accounting firm I realized it wasn’t for me. Continuing my education was also a financial hardship, so I took time off from school to figure out my future. I started taking online courses in different topics and enjoyed programming the most. I began attending tech meetups and hackathons. It was at a Queens tech meetup that I found out about C4Q’s program.

While there were many great online resources, I applied because I wanted to learn and work with other people. I also felt that as a nine-month program, C4Q would provide comprehensive instruction in iOS Development. And it did.

Q: What are the largest obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are?

A: Imposter syndrome. This manifests when I’m not vocal about my ideas for accomplishing a certain goal. For whatever reason I think they’re not good enough. Reflecting on what I’ve accomplished so far has helped me get over that. At Kickstarter, my teammates and I encourage each other to share ideas. Seeing my concepts incorporated into the product has been a great lesson for me in dealing with that.

Q: What advice can you offer to others from underserved backgrounds who are trying to break into tech?

A: Attend meetups. You can talk to both seasoned and aspiring engineers. In my experience, people who already have tech careers are open to sharing programming resources. I highly recommend doing side projects and pushing them up to GitHub, because it’s a good way to reinforce your knowledge. You’ll likely use GitHub in the workplace, and you get to show off your projects to peers and prospective employers. After you’ve gained the knowledge and have some projects to showcase, continue attending meetups and develop relationships with the people you meet.

Q: Who has been the most influential person in your life?

A: My mother. She was my earliest example of someone who worked hard to reach their goals. Attending her college graduation when I was 11-years-old really motivated me to be tenacious in reaching my own goals.

 
 

Kadeem Maragh

C4Q 2.1 Graduate

Kadeem is a technical analyst and software engineer at JP Morgan. He’s passionate about developing socially-beneficial products, like a transportable device capable of scanning food for nutritional value. His dedication to changing the world through technology is most apparent in his advocacy for the Internet of things or IoT. We talked about C4Q, his future, and IoT.

 

Q: Where are you from originally and what was life like growing up?

A: I was born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. To be honest, while growing up, life was rough for me and my family, but I always had a roof over my head and never went hungry. One of the biggest things I learned was how to use what little resources I had to solve massive problems. Ultimately, that struggle is what’s led me to tinker with technology since I was young and it’s what’s made me so creative.

Q: What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future?

A: My goals are to build my experience at JP Morgan and then start my own company. During my time at C4Q, my team was working on a project called Mozie. It helped bridge the gap between mobile development and IoT. The point was to teach kids how to code by building a robot that they could control via a mobile device. With my own company, I would try to go into hardware programming, robotics, and IoT.

Q: What is a problem in the world (big or small) that you would like to solve using technology? How would your solution work?

A: Third world countries lack technology because they lack funds. I’d like to create products like Raspberry Pi so that people in these countries could access the Internet. Closing the knowledge gap, or at least access to information, would do huge things for the world.

Q: What advice can you offer to others from underserved backgrounds who are trying to break into tech?

A: Network, always work on improving your craft, and never let anyone dissuade you. In this day and age, it is easy to find information on just about anything. Learning to utilize the resources out there, you can obtain experience by working on passion projects or by volunteering. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know for help or advice. There are a myriad of people in this world who are willing to help if you are just willing to reach out and say hey. Lastly, there will always be times where you feel discouraged or that this industry isn’t for you. In those moments, it’s imperative that you continue to strive towards your goals. Never let self doubt cripple you from following your passion.

 
 

Madelyn Tavarez

C4Q 2.1 Graduate

Madelyn’s determination and talent helped her overcome insurmountable odds: She’s gone from working as a waitress and commuting 3.5 hours in pursuit of higher education to being Pinterest’s first Android Apprentice. She is now a full-time developer at Pinterest. We asked her a few questions about Access Code, Pinterest, and solving problems through technology.

 

Q: Why did you want to enroll in C4Q?

A: I was always very interested in coding but never thought I could actually make a career out of it. During the days of Myspace, I would spend hours upon hours adjusting the code on all of my friends’ webpages in order to add cool features. Playing around with HTML and CSS was fun, but I never imagined I could turn it into a job.

A few months before obtaining my degree in economics, I realized that I did not want a career in banking or finance. I wanted to pursue a career in a field that would allow me to solve tough problems while being innovative, autonomous, and creative at the same time.

Q: How did you come to get hired by Pinterest?

A: C4Q informed me about a new apprenticeship program they were piloting in 2016 to help transition diverse, qualified, and trained individuals from non-traditional tech backgrounds into new engineering careers in technology. I was ultimately selected as one of three students from across the nation to join the program. I was the only one selected to work on Android.

Q: Describe a difficult situation in which you have persisted despite obstacles. How did you overcome this challenge?

A: In order to make ends meet while chasing my dream, I worked as a waitress in New York City three days a week and commuted 3.5 hours to college in upstate New York the other 4 days. My mother is a single mother of three who tried her best to provide us with everything we needed and more; but as the oldest child, it has always been my responsibility to help her by filling in where she needed me. I love my family and would do anything for them.

Q: What is a problem in the world (big or small) that you would like to solve using technology? How would your solution work?

A: My dream is for other girls like me who have a passion for learning—in any field—to be able to reach their goals and live up to their dreams, even without a formal education. There are many girls in my family’s country, the Dominican Republic, and in many other third world countries who cannot receive a proper education because of socioeconomic constraints. If we could find a way to bring computers into the homes of these families, and create effective self-paced, skills-based educational programs, we could impact people's lives and global economies for decades and centuries to come.

Q: Why do you think diversity is essential to technology?

A: Amazing things are taking place in science and technology and they are such exciting fields to contribute to. There are a million problems left to solve and they cannot be solved by one specific subset of people—that is why diversity is essential to our industry.

People from diverse backgrounds have a variety of experiences and knowledge at their disposal that others, who have been traditionally represented in technology, do not have. These diverse folks should be given the opportunity to use that knowledge to help impact and improve the world.