Back to School with Very Local, Technology

Q&A with Nicole Young on learning to code and Black women in Tech

She has built a YouTube channel to share her experience about working in tech with others

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“…the only person who can truly tell you that you are not capable of accomplishing something is yourself.” – Nicole Young

Pittsburgh-based tech freelancer, Nicole Young, has a sense of positivity and encouragement that radiates through her social media presence as she fulfills her mission to help women and people of color succeed in the tech world. In her YouTube series, “Black Women in Tech”, Young shares her experience in the industry and urges people to challenge themselves by learning to code.

Her YouTube channel and other social media outlets offer valuable tips for her followers — from how to get a job in the tech world to creating the perfect work-from-home office space. She provides helpful resources on how to learn to code. The self-taught coder uses her platform to reassure other people of color that if she can learn to code and be successful in the tech industry, they can too.

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Young did not grow up surrounded by tech influences and even recalls actively avoiding the technical sciences in school. With an interest in both psychology and athletics, she pursued a degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology at West Virginia University. A minor in African-American Studies and History sparked her passion for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Young traveled to Malaysia to teach English as a second language through the Fulbright Program. In Malaysia she realized she wanted to become a digital nomad. A digital nomad is someone who makes a living through technology and has the freedom to travel and work remotely.

In one of her YouTube videos, Young explains that she wanted to have control over her life while making a direct impact in the lives of others. When she returned from Malaysia, she jumped into the tech field and found a job working with artificial intelligence at a small start-up company. Her role eventually brought her on a journey to grow as a self-taught developer and freelancer.

Want to learn more about Nicole and how to get into the tech industry? Check out her YouTube Channel and Instagram.

Q&A With Nicole Young 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Very Local: Tell us a little bit about your work in tech here in Pittsburgh

Nicole Young: I started at an artificial intelligence startup and was quickly introduced to the worlds of data science and coding which became of great interest to me. I began learning how to code in my free time and got involved in the local tech community. Now, I am working as a tech freelancer where I combine my skills, old and new, to provide services to small businesses and “solopreneurs” looking to update and increase their digital presence.

What are your reasons behind why and how you encourage POC to pursue a tech career?

When I entered the tech scene here in Pittsburgh, I didn’t have any experience or a related degree. I was starting from scratch with little context. I dealt with impostor syndrome, microaggressions, and feelings of isolation throughout my time working and often suffered through these things in silence as the only Black woman at that company.

When I found a community of Black techies here in Pittsburgh, through Black Tech Nation, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of relief because I felt like I had finally found people that understood what I was going through from a place of experience. I felt heard, supported and like I could finally breathe. This motivated me to pay it forward.

I started sharing my journey in learning how to code, being a Black woman in tech and other aspects of this career shift on social media and my YouTube channel because I wanted to help provide the same feeling to other people who were experiencing similar things. I wanted to use my voice and platforms to gently reassure other pPeople of cColor that if I can do it, so can they; that we are in this together and have someone rooting them on even if it feels like no one else is.

What is one of your biggest life lessons?

The one that has been a recurring lesson in my life is the notion that the only person who can truly tell you that you are not capable of accomplishing something is yourself.

What have you experienced as a young Black woman in tech in Pittsburgh? There’s this idea that Pittsburgh is such a tech city now; have you been welcomed with open arms?

I definitely think that there are great organizations like Women in Tech Pittsburgh and BTN and other “pockets” in the tech industry here that are doing a great job of fighting to make Black women and people of color feel accepted and welcomed. However, Pittsburgh’s tech industry as a whole has a far journey ahead in making this a place where all people can thrive. My hope is that more leaders and stakeholders will understand the true meaning and importance of inclusion and diversity in creating strong and long-lasting companies in this region.

Are there some prejudices you experience and things you would want POC to know getting into tech?

Definitely; microaggressions are very real and are an ever present part of my experience. Knowing that they will be there is important when getting into tech, but this isn’t much different than any other industry. My advice is to always prioritize finding a community, make self-care and reflection a regular part of your routine, and to use whatever ways you see fit to call out actions of prejudice when they happen.

What are your favorite spots in the city?

I could go on forever about the great food spots and hidden gems I’ve found around the city. I live in the North Side near the Mexican War Streets so I frequent spots like Badamos Pizza, Allegeheny City Brewery, Siempre Algo and Commonplace Coffee. Some of my top picks outside of the North Side are Di’Anoia’s Eatery in the Strip, Showcase BBQ in Homewood, and (of course) Millie’s Ice Cream.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

I love being outdoors and adventuring with my boyfriend and our dog. We love hiking, picnics in a park, or just strolling the many neighborhoods of Pittsburgh in search of great spots to take pictures.

What are your favorite lifestyle and tech Instagram accounts to follow? Anyone in Pittsburgh?

I am a part of a small community of Black people in tech that are doing similar things as I have been; sharing their experiences and tips to people wanting to learn. I really love that we can support one another. I also love following fellow Pittsburgher Alison Falk (@falkyou, @thewomenofsextech, @witpgh) who shares a lot about her journey as well as cyber security and she advocates for women in tech and sex tech. I always learn something new from her pages.

Where do you get inspiration for your personal style?

I have been following the whole minimalist movement since I was in college and I try to stick with classic and simple looks while staying true to my personality. I also really love the street fashion and the style of photography that often comes with it. All of those things heavily influence my aesthetic.

Can you share a few of your favorite personal resources for anyone looking to get into coding and the tech industry?

Here in Pittsburgh, I would definitely suggest checking out Women in Tech Pittsburgh and Black Tech Nation. The networking and community building I was able to do between those two communities had an enormous influence on my journey and confidence in the tech industry.

I would also like to suggest digital resources like my YouTube channel for those just getting started and freecodecamp.org as well as Skillcrush to find quality lessons for gaining foundational coding skills.