How I Got Here: Dominique Clarke got into software engineering through tech community work first

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Dominique Clarke wasn’t all that interested in tech when she was first considering which career path to take — “far from it, actually.”

And yet, Clarke is now a software engineer at Elastic, a platform for search-powered solutions, while living and working remotely in Philadelphia with her husband, Ryan. Her love for the city began with internships at Campus PhillyVisit Philadelphia and Mt. Airy CDC; her love for tech began with Girl Develop It and being involved with the general Philadelphia tech community.

Now, the University of Pennsylvania alum gets to combine both by working for Elastic while living in Fitler Square. Below, check out Campus Philly’s spring 2022 interview with Clarke on her career so far, what it’s like to work in her role, and her advice for those pursuing a similar path.

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Tell us your “Philly story” — what’s your connection to the region, and what do you love most about being a young professional in Philly?

I’ve always had a connection to Philadelphia. Growing up in South Jersey, my parents would take me on day trips around the city when I was young. We’d stop by popular Philly hotspots like Penn’s Landing, South Street, the Gallery (now The Fashion District), and Reading Terminal Market. Everything seemed shiny, mysterious, and fun at that age.

When it came time to select a college, I toured schools in Boston, New York, and even Atlanta, but when I thought back on my memories of Philly, I realized I had a world-class city with excellent schools right across the bridge. Once I reflected on my fondness for Philly, the decision of where to go for college came quickly.

While in college, I’d explore more Philly neighborhoods, walking past historic row homes in Old City and brownstones in Rittenhouse. I’d eat my weight in cheesesteaks, or pretzels, order late-night chocolate chip cookies, and enjoy live shows and art festivals. My time in college showed me what life could be like as a working professional in Philadelphia: a balanced life in a city full of economic and cultural opportunities.

Eight years after graduating college, both my husband and I work remotely. We can work from anywhere in the world, and I’d still choose Philadelphia any day! It’s rich history, diverse culture, active tech community, and top-notch food scene make it an ideal location for a young technologist.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy photo)

Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in the tech space? When did it “click” that a career in software development was for you?

I did not always know I wanted to pursue a career in tech — far from it, actually. A sweet aunt of mine in tech tried to convince me to pursue a degree in computer science, but at the time a career in software was far from my mind. I declined and pursued sociology at the University of Pennsylvania instead.

While studying sociology, I also had an interest in communications. My internships throughout college involved communications roles at various nonprofit organizations, including Campus Philly! Those internships were my first experiences managing websites, and getting an inside look into the secrets behind how web pages are constructed.

In order to be more effective in my communications roles, I learned HTML to make small changes to web pages. Once I had a hold on HTML, CSS came as a natural next step, and then JavaScript. My curiosity snowballed into a passion for learning software development and then a dedication to switching careers.

I realized that software engineering was the perfect balance of creativity and structure. On one hand, you know you’ve accomplished the task set before you if your software “just works”, but on the other hand, there’s a handful of creative ways to get to the same outcome.

Beyond software clicking with my personality type, meeting technologists throughout my time pursuing a tech career sealed the deal for me. I met smart, ambitious, funny women in tech. Being around other technologists was addicting. I felt like I had found my people, and dove headfirst into pursuing technology.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy photo)

As a senior software engineer at Elastic, you work across many different aspects of tech, but focus on “practicing delight-driven development.” Can you share more about this approach and how it impacts your day-to-day work?

Every job is in service to others, and software is no different. I want the software I write to make the lives of anyone it touches a little happier, or at the very least a little easier. Software’s not always exciting — unless you’re making games or medical software, it can be hard to see how your work sparks joy or impacts lives for the better. Nevertheless, I want my work on even the most obscure system to be the highest quality. I hope everything I contribute behind the scenes can trickle down to everyday people, including my own teammates, in meaningful ways I may never see.

What’s the most exciting, or rewarding, project you’ve had the opportunity to work on at Elastic?

There have been many diverse projects I’ve worked on at Elastic. Recently, I contributed to Elastic’s Synthetic Monitoring product, a browser-based synthetic monitoring tool to simulate user behavior and proactively identify issues on your website. We have begun piloting our global managed testing infrastructure and point and click script recorder. In minutes, you can set up synthetic monitors from locations all around the world, without managing your own infrastructure. This type of software is a huge aid to engineers monitoring the performance of their web apps. I’m thrilled to be able to serve other software engineers in this way.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy photo)

How did your internship and volunteering experience help you in determining your career path?

I mentioned that working in communications internships exposed me to web development, but my unique experience also led me down a very specific path towards my current career. I worked for organizations that strengthened Philadelphia, including Campus Philly, Visit Philadelphia, Mt. Airy CDC, and Mission First Housing. My work in the community-development sphere, paired with my love of technology and volunteer work within the Philadelphia tech community, led me to Zip Code Wilmington where I worked as a community engagement manager.

Zip Code Wilmington is a nonprofit software engineering bootcamp aimed at transforming the lives of aspiring technologists while strengthening the economy of Delaware. It was a perfect mix of both my interests: community development and technology. During my time at Zip Code Wilmington, I saw my students move from hopeful coders to professional engineers. That’s when I decided I wanted that story for myself, and decided to transition from my community engagement role at Zip Code in pursuit of a full-time software role.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy photo)

Philly’s tech community is strong, and there are often events, networking opportunities, or professional organizations to join to stay engaged. How have you built community in Philly’s tech space, and what advice would you give for someone hoping to do the same?

Building community in Philadelphia happens in many different ways. In tech, your community starts first with your team at work. I’ve consistently met the most interesting and talented technologists in my professional roles. Even after switching jobs, engineers I met at work continue to be part of my tribe. One of the engineers I worked with in Dallas, Texas, even came to my wedding!

Beyond building relationships at work, Philadelphia is home to many active technology meetups. Though I’ve been less involved in the Philly tech community due to short stints in other states and the pandemic, I first built community in the Philly tech space by joining women in tech meetups. Beyond just participating, I volunteered and deepened my relationship with the leadership of these groups. Attending meetups was the highlight of my week. I strived to be at as many events as possible, learning, volunteering and meeting as many people as possible.

If you were to provide ONE piece of advice to a college student or recent graduate who is interested in pursuing a career in tech, what would it be?

It’s important to know that if you’re pursuing a career in tech without a computer science degree, the road to success can be long and hard. That’s why I recommend both computer science graduates and non-computer science graduates to get involved with the Philadelphia tech community as soon as possible.

Technical.ly is a great resource for tech news and information about local events and meetup groups. Developing relationships with Philadelphia technologists can set you up for better outcomes, while also making the path towards success a blast. I’ve had so much fun at JavaScript workshops, women in tech brunches, start up parties, and conferences. Community has been an incredible source of support and serendipity. Chance meetings have turned into volunteer or professional opportunities. When starting out in your career, don’t lose heart. Reach out to the broader Philadelphia tech community for help and company along the journey.

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