Computational Life Sciences

Hear from Karlie, Our Senior Engineer, on Driving DEIB in Tech

Hear from Karlie, our Senior Engineer, on driving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in tech and more.

Jill Roughan, PhD

Jill Roughan, PhD

October 25, 2022

Hear from Karlie, Our Senior Engineer, on Driving DEIB in Tech

There’s magic that comes with writing and running code. This wizardry is what initially drew Karlie Verkest to a career in programming and has kept her on this path. Find out more about Karlie’s background and the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the tech world. 

Can you tell us about your background?

I've been doing software engineering work for about 20 years, but it's not what I originally planned. I went into college wanting to be an architect, and the Master's program I had my sights on liked computer science graduates, so I thought, "Well, I’ll give it a try."

I had never written a line of code before my first computer science cell and I immediately fell in love. It turns out all of the excitement and gratification I got from doing little architectural sketches was present for me in coding. Except it was even better: when you're doing an architectural sketch, it doesn't become a real thing until a bunch of money is spent and a bunch of people actually build it.

“With code, when you conceive it and you write it, it instantly becomes real. It just felt magical and wonderful and it was so much fun. That dream of becoming an architect soon was replaced by a dream of being a computer programmer.” -Karlie Verkest

To get hired as a Sr. Engineer at Form, did you have to go through just a Bachelor’s program? Or did you do a Master’s program too?

It's my opinion that you don't really even need a Bachelor's degree. I think it's very helpful and I'm very privileged to have been able to have that available to me, but I think whether you're learning in an academic setting or a boot camp setting, or in a professional setting, the most important thing is that you put your skills to practice and have a strong team of peers who can give you feedback and help you grow.

For a software engineer, once you're several years into your career, your educational background becomes less important. Although it's not insignificant, it's a kind of experience, just like a job is a kind of experience. So I think if anyone is thinking about a software engineering career, you have many options available to you. Some people don't go through any formal education and some people get a Ph.D., and all of those are valid, I think. But, as I said, the most important part is putting your skills to use with peers who give you good feedback and help you grow.

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Can you talk a little more about how you can start working in this field without a college degree? What resource can help make that a reality for someone just getting started coding?

Oh, there's so much.

First, I would say if you have an opportunity to go to college and it's within your financial means, that's a great way to get started. Not only from a career perspective, but it's an amazing experience as you're sort of transitioning in your maturity and independence. That's the path I took and it was great for me.

If someone doesn't have the means though, whether financial or otherwise, it shouldn’t be a barrier. There are other options besides college. I think in the past 15 years, we've seen an emergence of boot camp programs. Some of those are still quite expensive, but not “four-year degree” expensive.

Do you need to be good at math to go into software engineering?

I think you need to be good at logical thinking or conditional thinking. You need to understand “if-then” statements: Statements like, “it only rains when it's cloudy. Therefore, if there are no clouds, it cannot be raining.” In logical thinking, there's a term called the contrapositive where you turn a logical statement on its head, and it's this sort of equivalent opposite thing to say. 

So if you do go into a computer science degree program, you will take a course called discrete mathematics. Discrete mathematics is logic, framed with mathematical language, and that's really the most important part of math you’ll need to know. 

You're trying to build an initiative at Form on inclusion and tech. Can you tell us more about what that is?

I recently found an organization called Project Include, and they have a set of recommendations for having an inclusive organization. Each one of them is well-documented and has data backing it up. It has articles you can research, links, tools, and resources to make it easy. There's a lot of great information there and they also have resources for company leaders to hold each other accountable and to learn from each other and keep that standard up. So not only is it a set of recommendations, but it's also a good, little professional organization. 

One of the things that Project Include does is point that out as something you need to be careful about. If you do decide to keep salary negotiation as part of your process, what do you need to do to make sure that remains fair and accessible equally to everyone who's applying for your job?  These questions are great to be asking. Inclusion is one of these important cultural values that are very difficult to implement after an organization organically becomes non-inclusive. Which is why we’re lucky here at Form, we’re just starting and creating these healthy behaviors for inclusion and long-term sustainability.

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