Zhenzhen You of Pantheon: “I’m particularly interested in creating a more inclusive environment in tech and helping entry-level engineers adjust and grow”

As a part of my series featuring accomplished women in STEM, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zhenzhen You. Zhenzhen is a software engineer at Pantheon, building dashboard web applications and design toolkits using React. Originally from a small village in China, Zhenzhen was the first person in her family to graduate from a university. […]

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As a part of my series featuring accomplished women in STEM, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zhenzhen You. Zhenzhen is a software engineer at Pantheon, building dashboard web applications and design toolkits using React. Originally from a small village in China, Zhenzhen was the first person in her family to graduate from a university. She’s received two Master’s degrees: Sociology at Renmin University of China, and Anthropology at Purdue University. While in China, Zhenzhen’s work focused on the daily lives of female sex workers in the red-light district. She first learned programming during a statistics course at Purdue. In 2016, she started taking classes in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Git, and website design through MotherCoders, a local nonprofit focused on helping moms break into tech. She also took self-paced courses on Python and SQL through Coursera and Codecademy. Then with a Techtonica apprenticeship of full stack JavaScript programming, she earned a position with Pantheon.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Zhenzhen! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was studying Anthropology at Purdue, I took some Statistics courses, which used SAS (a statistical analysis software) programming to analyze data. I loved it, and was really good at it. I could do programming for hours, without feeling fatigued or tired. Instead I felt excited and fulfilled. That’s when I realized that I should pursue my career in tech.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

When I first joined Pantheon, most of my work was focused on refactoring the dashboard application from Backbone (old framework) to React (new library). One of the refactoring work was the User Profile, with logic to switch among five different views. I finished most of the work in around two weeks. But it was so tangled to test the functionality, because I needed all different kinds of accounts and third-party connections to fit different logic. It was September when I first tried to test it. After tons of different testing approaches, I finally released the new User Profile in December… The interesting fact that I found is: engineering work may be more about testing the code, than actually coding the code.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

All the colleagues that I have worked with at Pantheon are really nice and willing to help. I really love the culture here. When I was doing the on-boarding, I had so many questions to ask. Sometimes I would hesitate to ask because I worried if I interrupted other colleagues too much. If I turned to my colleague next to me, he would say immediately: “It’s OK. I’m listening. Tell me about it.” They reassured me that I could always ask no matter what, and they really wanted to help me grow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

  • I want to thank all the volunteers who had come to help when I was doing full stack JavaScript programming apprenticeship at Techtonica. They were so patient and taught us so much.
  • I want to thank my mentor Ilaria, who has been so supportive since we met via Techtonica. She listens to my struggles and worries; cheers for my accomplishments and milestones; and is always willing to help. I’m so glad that I have Ilaria as my mentor and good friend.
  • I want to thank my Pantheon internship mentor Steven. He was so considerate, and catered to my growth needs. I felt very comfortable asking him questions. He would watch out for me, such as picking the right story for me to work on (not too simple, not too hard), and rejecting the wrong story for me. He also taught me to always dive deep into a bug or question, and use as many resources as you could find. My good internship experience is definitely a large part of Steven’s efforts.
  • I also want to thank my fellow apprentices at Techtonica, and my colleagues at Pantheon. Without them, I couldn’t get so far, and grow everyday.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m particularly interested in helping entry-level engineers adjust and grow, and creating a more inclusive environment (entry-level friendly, clearer path of entry-level to senior-level, international employee friendly) in tech.

For the incoming Techtonica intern at Pantheon, I’ll try my best to help her settle down. Just as how my mentors have helped me, I want to give back. Now it’s my turn to be a mentor.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

  • Take care of yourself. Accept yourself. And then grow at your pace.
  • No one needs to be perfect. Trust yourself and others.
  • Be gentle to everyone, including yourself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Every failure is an opportunity to grow. Every change is an opportunity to adventure. Growth mindset kind of builds into me. I keep my expectations realistic, and I am not afraid of change or failure.

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