4 min. read

Xena's One To Watch Award Winner 2023

Késsia Castro on learning how to embrace the opportunities as they come

The tech industry has the shared responsibility to open its doors and actively welcome emerging talent in its opportunity-filled world.

We need to create more sustainable forms of sourcing talent and we believe that starts with investing in the next generation of tech talent. The time has come to start shining some light and recognizing the trailblazers that have started from the bottom and are currently skyrocketing – with no intention of stopping. In partnership with HelloFresh, the One to Watch Award celebrates Europe’s emerging leaders in Engineering who have an exciting future in the tech industry.

We are beyond proud to introduce Késsia Castro as Xena’s One To Watch Award Winner 2023. In just the span of 2 years working in software engineering, Késsia went up the ranks and is currently a Senior Frontend Engineer at HelloFresh. Other than her impressive technical abilities, she gives back to a number of women in tech communities and is also a member of various gender equality initiatives at her company. 

Why do you think it is important to have more diversity in tech?

What we built in tech is dedicated to different types of users. Especially if you are working on a global product then you will confront a wild range of issues that requires different types of thinking and backgrounds to solve them. That’s where diversity comes in. Additionally, there are multiple studies that prove how diverse teams racially outperform in terms of better products, services, and results. 

If you take smart watches and facial recognition systems as examples; when they first launched they didn’t work properly with people of colour or those with tattoos. This leaves a lot of room to question the diversity of their teams and who is testing the products in the beginning.  It’s a clear way to see how a lack of diversity can limit the product or service you offer. On the flip side, diversity can only help you guarantee there will be amazing results.

What career advice can you share with a junior trying to advance in tech?

Stop doubting yourself.

It is normal to feel stuck or not sure what to do, but my advice is to just go for it. You’ll make mistakes along the way but you’ll learn from them – just make sure to keep track of everything you do and make your work visible as you go.

Learn to embrace the opportunities as they come. Don’t be scared of the challenges and don’t be afraid to be scared. It is okay to express your fears and ask for help. If you are a junior, go to the seniors in your team and ask for guidance, tips or tutorials they can recommend. 

If you ask for help, you will grow faster.

The sooner you ask for help, the quicker you will reach solutions as well. Do not let any barriers get in the way of telling you that asking for help is a sign of weakness, on the contrary, asking for help is better for you and the project.

I’ve come to realise that the perception of “going up the career ladder” isn’t as vertical and straightforward as it seems. It’s a complex structure and requires a mixture of technical but also soft skills. You need to know where to improve and take action accordingly. 

Learn how to cope with pressure. I changed careers from Psychology to Software Engineering. It was scary and a lot of pressure coming from family but also society as you’re older than the average. You feel like you can’t make mistakes and you need to get a job as soon as possible. I tried to read as much as possible and overwhelmed myself unnecessarily. Regardless of when you start, give yourself some time to learn but most importantly network and ask what is most relevant in the industry to complement your studies.

Building a network and attending events related to your field is crucial. There are several groups organising workshops, talks, and conferences such as: PyLadies, Women Techmakers, Women Who Code, Lesbians Who Tech, amongst many others. Some of those groups are even sponsored by big tech companies, so it is a great way to also connect with people from those companies and seek some guidance/mentoring.

How do you overcome technical challenges at work?

First of all, I see it as an opportunity. Try to remind yourself that it’ll help you grow and will be something you can showcase later. It really does help to simply change the mindset, to move away from the thinking that it’s a monster that will eat you. You need to be able to talk about it as well, acknowledge the difficulty and it’s okay to be scared but don’t stop there – get ready to face it. 

Failing is part of the process, you’ll learn from it.

There’s always a positive, regardless of the result. A while back, my team was overwhelmed with a project and I decided to step up and became a tech lead for the team. It wasn’t my official role nor did I have any background as a lead but I leaned into my soft skills even though I didn’t have the hard skills per se. I learned that to be a good leader you don’t have to be the best engineer in the world – it’s also about being a people person. So at the time, I put the most technical and experienced person under the spotlight to take the right direction and I was helping guide the overall flow.

The tech industry is constantly changing, especially in Front End. Even though there are new languages almost every day, just focus on finding what makes the most sense for the project, and overall context. But make sure to always keep an eye out and see what is happening! 

What are your goals for 2023 that we should keep an eye on?

I want to keep mentoring and working on gender equality through the ERGs at HelloFresh. As an overall career goal, I want to become an Engineering Manager. I’m starting to lead more and my main motivation revolves around community. On how can I help my company be more diverse and help others in general. 

As part of my path to becoming an Engineering Manager, I can recommend the Real World Engineering Management course. They also have a community to help women to advance in their careers. A great read is The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier. They’ve helped in my journey towards my goal and hopefully can help you too.

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