Xhama has been working for Brightspot since August 2017
Earlier this month, Rose interviewed Xhama Vyas, a senior software engineer at Brightspot, for the latest installment of On the Record with Rose. Their conversation touched on many interesting topics ranging from Xhama's professional growth since joining Brightspot to her advice to other young women interested in pursuing a career in the technology industry.
You started at Brightspot after graduating from the University of Virginia in 2017. Why did you decide to start your career here?
I met Avery Davila at the career fair the fall semester of my senior year. I didn't know much about Brightspot and went into the interview having no idea what to expect. I loved every person that I talked to and felt so welcomed. Everyone was so smart but nobody came across as intimidating. I loved the fast-paced, challenging atmosphere. Mission work was also important to me and I loved that my job would provide me with avenues to do community service. I'm very thankful it all worked out!
Since starting at Brightspot, you have worked as a software engineer on the Platform team. What are some of the features and improvements you've contributed to Brightspot?
I have been lucky to work on a lot of different things. I'm predominantly a back-end engineer but have had a few opportunities to do some work on the front end as well. My most recent project was Ops Desk, our newest product. Before that, I worked on a ton of different features and integrations for the Brightspot Platform and various proofs of concept. One integration that I built was with Sailthru, an email marketing platform.
What inspired you to become a software engineer?
When I started college, I didn't know anything about software engineering. So I took an introductory class and ended up loving it. As someone who loves math, it was conceptually similar but with more elements and creativity! There is a barrier to entry in the field for people such as myself without previous exposure who are starting from scratch, so I eventually became a TA to help people that were coming from the same place.
How do you feel that you have grown as a developer during the past several years?
I feel like I have grown so much. My biggest point of growth has been learning the importance of flexibility. I have learned how to adapt my course of actions to meet the needs of others, whether it is my own team, a client or the company. The other major growth experience has been working on projects on a much larger scale. My projects often take two to three months to complete. Breaking these larger projects down into daily tasks is a much different approach from the weekly assignments at school.
As a female engineer, what advice would you share with other young women who are interested in pursuing a career in the technology industry?
Society often teaches women to fear failure. Something I had to really internalize was never to view failure as a reflection of myself, but rather as an external outcome totally unrelated and independent of self-worth. Don't subdue yourself for others' comfort, and definitely never hesitate to ask questions if you don't know something. It's so important for women to approach these situations with confidence in themselves and their abilities to learn these complex topics. The threshold is not as hard and intimidating as it seems. Once you understand the basics, you can thrive, and it is totally worth it. Don't be afraid to fail. You fail in order to learn and it's essential to becoming a stronger developer.
In 2019, you traveled to Abu Dhabi to volunteer with co-workers at the Special Olympics World Games. Can you tell me more about what that experience meant to you?
I was so, so fortunate to go on that trip. It was one of the most inspirational experiences of my life. The Special Olympics athletes are so talented. The World Games was such a huge feat with so many cool experiences happening around the city. All of the athletes we met were amazing. I was also able to get to develop close relationships and a great rapport with other colleagues on the trip, particularly those with whom I don't work a regular basis. I also had the opportunity to help out on the World Games website and do some back-end work on a codebase that was new to me. It was an incredibly fun two weeks and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to help out.
Besides the people, what is your favorite part about working at Brightspot?
I really like the variety of work and the diversity of challenges. I am lucky to have had exposure to so many different problems, which has allowed me to continuously grow. Being on the platform team has also been a unique experience because everything we do has to be extensible for every project.
What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of the office?
Most of my colleagues know that I am very into music. I listen to music from when I wake up until I go to sleep. It's been like that ever since I was was a kid. I like hip-hop, followed closely by anything from Indian music, jazz, reggaeton—the list goes on and on. Outside of music, I also love to work out! I do boxing and kickboxing, although during COVID-19 I have transitioned to more yoga and weight training.
What is something you are most looking forward to doing once the pandemic is behind us?
Hanging out with my parents! Since they're a little bit older l have barely seen them this past year. I miss them so much. FaceTime has been great but isn't the same.
What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it?
I read a book called Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, which sounds really ominous and dark but it's fantasy and historical fiction. The book has many parallels to the Black Lives Matters movement. It's really interesting, because you're reading about a fantasy that is drawing heavily from African culture and mythology. It echoes true to today and the author seamlessly connects the story to the social justice issues of today. It was a really good read!