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Engineering Unzipped: Q&A with Autumn


Autumn Ragland


November 15, 2022

Engineering Unzipped: Q&A with Autumn

Meet Autumn, one of our fearless Engineers from team USA. In this edition of Engineering Unzipped, Autumn shares her experiences at Zip so far – from being her authentic self, to fostering inclusion for our Zipsters and making our products more accessible for our customers.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm Autumn Ragland, a Software Engineer II, and I've been at Zip for a little over a year. I joined as an Engineer I after teaching in a local not-for-profit coding bootcamp in Memphis.

Why did you choose to build your career at Zip?

A previous mentor had recently joined Zip from a more established company that worked with the waterfall methodology. At Zip, she’d been loving working in a fast-paced environment with an up and coming product and a startup mentality.

She told me that she was getting to work on really interesting initiatives and that I should check Zip out, which I did, and then she referred me. Getting involved in a lot of new things was a big draw for her, and it was for me too. Early in my career, the pull of joining a company that was ‘moving and shaking’ was very exciting.

In my role at the bootcamp, the teaching curriculum was a higher level approach, and so now getting to go deeper and develop specialisms is a really exciting part of my job. I always knew I wanted to be an Engineer and to come to a place where I can aggressively nurture my skills has been a great part of the experience. We work in a very agile way, which can have its pros and cons, but it means that there’s always something new and interesting with different projects rolling through.

Tell us about a piece of work or initiative you’ve enjoyed working on at Zip that has created a significant benefit for the community.

As we continue to grow there’s been more of a realisation that we need to make our products more accessible with a real focus on internationalism. We know not every customer in the US using Zip speaks English as their first language and up until recently we were doing manual translations at checkout.

It was my project to get a platform called Smartling set up for checkout, and make sure our Engineers understood the workflow. It’s been fun and it feels really meaningful to be able to make our products accessible and enable our customers to view the checkout process in multiple languages.

What started as a project in our little team has now moved into different parts of the product such as the app too. Initially the language was set by default based on browser language, and then we’ve added a drop down option at the beginning of the checkout flow, so we can see who’s actively making changes. We’re still running the data to explore if there are other ways to implement the language change but so far there’s a strong metric pulling through to show the impact of the work which feels nice.

Why is it important that Zipsters feel that they are able to bring their true, authentic selves to work?

I think it all really boils down to not feeling burnt out. Because work is 40 hours a week, and during the other 120 hours that are left you're usually able to be true to whoever you are. So if you have to actively change who you are during those 40 hours, that's going to get real exhausting, real fast.

As long as you're upholding a reasonable degree of professionalism, then you should be able to be yourself. You shouldn't need to dress differently or speak differently. If you’re normally opinionated and vocal, then you should be comfortable being that way at work too.

Not having to constantly make that switch will keep people from feeling tired, and make them more valuable team members.

I know everyone on my team comes as themselves and it makes them easier to talk to. It also helps with technical decision making because I have a sense of who they really are and what they like beyond just writing code.

What needs to change for the tech industry to become more inclusive, and what can organisations like Zip be doing more of in order to play their part?

This is a question that companies have been trying to figure out for a while, which is good. It shows we’re all moving in the right direction. Though I think the ‘build it and they will come’ approach isn’t the right one. Organisations need to take a more active approach than just telling people they have initiatives that make them a great place to work.

To build a safe community, you have to get the people in there. So consider actively posting jobs in places that target minority groups like women and people of colour, using job listings removed of language that may be isolating to those groups, even opening opportunities up to students from non-traditional backgrounds.

And then once they’re there, you have to retain your people. A lot of that is down to encouraging people to come as themselves, so that they want to stay and feel supported to do so. It’s integral to the whole idea, that you can’t support people if you don’t have them in the first place.

Setting meaningful benchmarks like we do at Zip for gender diversity - with the goal of building a team that’s 40% women, 40% men and 20% other gender identities, and then looking at these metrics in an intersectional way, for example goals for women of colour, and meeting them in a reasonable timeframe…I feel as if that’s the only closed loop that will get organisations like ours closer to true diversity in time.

What one thing that people outside of the organisation may not know about Zip makes you proud to work here?

Something I really like about Zip are the SIGs (Significant interest groups) that we have. I know a lot of companies use them but they’re very active here.

I’m a part of the SIG for Women and genderqueer non-binary identifying people in tech, which is a very specific Slack group with only about 40 of us in it. We run happy hours and anytime a new Zipster joins that fits that criteria they’re added to the group - it’s just a nice place to chit chat on tech specific subjects. There’s also a co-working SIG every Wednesday, where it’s not really about interacting, but more body doubling, which is a common practice for people that have ADHD or challenges with focus or attention - I love it so much and get so much done in that hour.

I also really enjoyed my interview experience. The coding portion of my interview was with another woman, and as my first serious tech interview I felt very nervous. The hiring manager was incredibly knowledgeable and kind, and at the end she even gave me a pep talk which made me feel so supported, even before I was hired. Six months into the role, the experience I had made me want to interview candidates myself and so far I’ve been a part of about 17 in all - that experience informed the approach I take with candidates today.

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