Since she was in the fourth grade, Maria Volpe wanted to be a biologist. But after working in the lab during her freshman year at Hunter College-CUNY, she quickly realized her heart wasn’t in it. That summer, on a whim, she signed up for an introductory computer science class, and “two weeks in, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It just clicked immediately,” she says.
“In biology, it felt like everything was a slow burn,” Volpe explains. “In computer science, I’m able to build things and see them work, and solve puzzles every day. Those are two things I love to do.”
Now the 22-year-old is set to graduate from Hunter College this May with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a full-time job as a back-end software engineer at Kustomer, a customer-support platform.
Volpe got her foot in the door early, interning with Kustomer last summer through CUNY 2X Tech, a partnership between NYC Tech Talent Pipeline and CUNY that matches undergrads pursuing tech-related bachelor’s degrees with internships in their field. Hunter College and Lehman College launched the initiative in 2018, and Volpe participated in the first cohort.
“Maria is just one example of the talented graduates of CUNY and other local institutions that are helping NYC businesses to grow and thrive,” says Lauren Anderson, Executive Director of NYC Tech Talent Pipeline. “Through efforts like the TTP Residency internship program, the Mayor’s CUNY 2x Tech initiative works to double the number of students like Maria who are earning tech bachelor’s degrees and securing in-demand roles in the city’s tech ecosystem.”
For Volpe, learning real-world application of her computer science skills was invaluable.
“School is teaching you computer science fundamentals and theory. But when it comes to actual hard programming skills and coding skills, you need to do that on your own,” she explains. “Being exposed to industry practices and standards was so helpful to me.”
“A lot of women have impostor syndrome, especially students my age or beginners in programming,” she says. “I go to meetups and I talk to people, and I often have to give them pep talks.”
Kustomer is a web-platform company providing software that enables businesses to keep a record of all communication with clients, effectively streamlining customer service. “It’s exciting to be working on something so public facing,” she says.
If she could give advice to female peers who aspire to careers in tech, it would be to trust in their abilities.
“I’ve noticed a lot of women in tech have impostor syndrome, especially students my age or beginners in programming,” she says. “I go to meetups and I talk to people, and I often have to give them pep talks. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the tech industry in general because there’s so much to know, and it feels like you have to know everything right away, but that’s not the truth. You shouldn’t let not knowing everything get to you, because nobody expects you to know everything.”
Her other advice: “Learn to do by doing.”
“Building real-world things is tangible proof that you’re capable of doing more,” she says.
To learn more about the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline and its partnership with CUNY, visit techtalentpipeline.nyc.