Member Spotlight: Lorena Mesa
We had a chance to chat with Lorena this past to talk about her transition from political analyst to software engineer, & all the incredible projects she is involved with in all around the US, Central America, and beyond!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure! Let's see, on the professional side I think it's fair to say I've lived a few different professional lives. I have spent time as an English educator, university instructor, graduate student, a political consultant, and most recently as a software engineer! Yet in all the lives I've lived and titles I've held a common theme uniting my work has been a passion for complex problem solving and a desire to innovate. Today I'm employed as the sole software engineer on the Sprout Social data science team. This role uniquely positions me to work on interesting machine learning problems while also developing the infrastructure that empowers my data science team to explore, tinker, and produce.
I made the pivot from political consulting to software when I began to see that my passion for learning and also for doing social good could be matched in software. In software there's always new tools to use, new problems to solve, and the variety of problems you can answer are endless -- there's lots of opportunity to build new solutions that can great impact society for the better.
In my personal life, I'm equally as driven for challenges and new opportunities. I enjoy traveling and always am seeking opportunities to do so, as well as try new hobbies. I picked up the sax ~ 10 months ago and have been enjoying it tremendously! I'm also an avid runner - distance preferably. With this year's Chicago Marathon I'm up to 12 with no plans on stopping running anytime soon!
That's incredible! On top of all that, you’re also the co-founder of PyLadies Chicago. What is PyLadies all about?
PyLadies is an international initiative of the Python Software Foundation, a community dedicated to those that identify as women and Pythonistas to come together to learn, teach, and give back to the broader Python open source space. When I founded the Chicago chapter in 2015 I was looking for a space that was language specific - Python as it's my favorite language - that also spoke to my identity of being a woman. In tech woman are greatly underrepresented and additionally as a Latina I felt that I wanted a community that could bring together women of diverse backgrounds to share their experiences and knowledge, to offer camaraderie as needed.
My time working with PyLadies led me to become more active in the global Python community too. I'm currently serving my second term as Director on the Python Software Foundation (PSF). Without PyLadies I don't believe I'd have found the technical community that I consider "home" now.
A project I'm working on in both my roles as a PyLadies Chicago organizer and PSF Director includes developing an inaugural PyLadies conference. Along with other PyLadies and PSF board members, we are looking to develop a conference in the coming 12 months that will be dedicated to PyLadies.
What would be your top advice for women just starting out in web development?
Don't be afraid to fail. In fact, I encourage you to fail often and fail frequently. Failure teaches us to have a healthy attitude towards change and in turn opens up our horizons. I like to compare it to a style of software development known as hypothesis driven development. If we start with a hypothesis of how a system works, we are open to experimentation for how we craft our software. If something doesn't work as you expect, you can gather new insights and iterate to try again. Failure in our own lives does that. Also -- failing at something really just means you're getting better at your craft. As the tacky yet completely on-point saying goes, "aim for the moon, even if you miss you'll land amongst the stars", and isn't that a grand goal?
Can you tell us more about your own transition into tech?
I began working for a political consultancy in Chicago after grad school when I started to participate more in the local tech community.
Chicago has a rich civic tech scene, something I attribute to the Obama for America (OFA) campaign. An OFA alumni myself, I had begun to code for some of our voter outreach work during my time at OFA. Many folks who saw the impact that code could bring to civic projects brought that idea to projects like Code for America (CFA) or meetup communities like Chi Hack Night, a local meetup dedicated to civic tech. While working on various political campaigns, fundraising efforts, and political reform effort in my time as a political consultant I found I was spending more and more time participating in the civic tech space. Inevitably I went on to participate in a "disaster response" themed hackathon in spring 2013, where my team was selected by the Red Cross as the winning team. For the next few months I continued to work on this open source Red Cross volunteer management software. Working on that project led me to become increasingly fascinated with web development. Fast forward to fall 2013 and I had applied to Dev Bootcamp, was accepted, and by Jan 2014 began my immersion program.
My transition into tech can therefore be seen as the culmination of my years doing political work on various campaigns and seeing the impact technology has on civic problems.
You're currently a full-time nomad worker! Where do you usually work from?
recently began a Certificate in Data Science at Georgetown University in Washington DC. While my company is based in Chicago, I have gone full-time remote while I'm pursuing this program. Currently I'm working at various co-working spaces listed on Croissant in Washington DC that are conveniently located next to whatever Airbnb I have booked.
Prior to starting my program at Georgetown I have been traveling more frequently as a PSF Director speaking at conferences and assisting in developing Python conferences around the United States and Central America. These stints traveling had me working from my Airbnb, a cafe, or a coworking space.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Lorena! You can follow her coding and data science adventures on Twitter @loooorenanicole. You can learn more about the incredible things she's working on via LinkedIn.