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

Dominique Clarke wasn’t at all interested in tech when she first considered which career path to take – “far from it, actually.”

And yet, Clarke is now a software engineer at Elastic, a search-based solutions platform, while living and working remotely in Philadelphia with her husband, Ryan. His love for the city began with internships at Campus Philly, Visit Philadelphia and Mount Airy CDC; his love for technology started with Girl develop it and be involved in the general Philadelphia tech community.

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

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Tell us your “Philadelphia story”: what is your connection to the region and what do you love most about being a young professional in Philadelphia?

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

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

While in college, I explored other areas of Philadelphia, passing historic row houses in Old Town and brownstones in Rittenhouse. I ate my weight on cheesesteaks or pretzels, ordered late-night chocolate chip cookies, and attended shows and art festivals. My time in college showed me what life as a professional could look like in Philadelphia: a balanced life in a city full of economic and cultural opportunities.

Eight years after graduating from college, my husband and I are working remotely. We can work from anywhere in the world, and I would always choose Philadelphia anytime! Its rich history, diverse culture, active tech community, and top-notch food scene make it a great place for a young technologist.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy picture)

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

I didn’t always know I wanted to pursue a career in tech – far from it, in fact. A kind aunt of mine in the tech field 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 instead pursued a sociology degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

During my studies in sociology, I also had an interest in communications. My internships throughout college involved communications roles at various non-profit organizations, including Campus Philly! These internships were my first experiences in website management and I was able to get an inside look at the secrets of building web pages.

In order to be more effective in my communication roles, I learned HTML to make small changes to web pages. Once I mastered HTML, CSS came as a natural next step, then JavaScript. My curiosity turned into a passion for learning software development, and then into a desire to change careers.

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

Beyond software that fits my personality type, meeting technologists throughout my tech career sealed the deal for me. I’ve met smart, ambitious, funny women in tech. Being around other technologists was addictive. I felt like I had found my people and was diving head first into the pursuit of technology.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy picture)

As a senior software engineer at Elastic, you work on many different aspects of technology, but focus on “the practice of fun-driven development.” Can you tell us more about this approach and its impact on your daily work?

Every job is in the service of others, and software is no different. I want the software I write to make the lives of everyone it touches a little happier, or at least a little easier. Software isn’t always exciting – unless you’re making games or medical software, it can be hard to see how your work brings joy or improves lives. Nonetheless, I want my work, even on the most obscure system, to be of the highest quality. I hope that whatever I contribute behind the scenes can trickle down to everyday people, including my own teammates, in meaningful ways that I may never see.

What is the most exciting or rewarding project you have 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 Synthetic Monitoring product, a browser-based synthetic monitoring tool to simulate user behavior and proactively identify issues on your website. We started piloting our global managed testing infrastructure and point-and-click script recorder. In minutes, you can set up synthetic monitors from locations anywhere in the world, without managing your own infrastructure. This type of software is a great help for engineers who monitor the performance of their web applications. I am delighted to be able to serve other software engineers in this way.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy picture)

How your internship and volunteer experience helped you determine 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 to my current career. I have worked for organizations that have strengthened Philadelphia, including Campus Philly, Visit Philadelphia, Mt. Airy CDC, and Mission First Housing. My work in community development, coupled with my love of technology and volunteer work within the Philadelphia tech community, has led me to Wilmington ZIP Code 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 Delaware’s economy. It was a perfect blend of my two interests: community development and technology. During my time at Zip Code Wilmington, I watched my students grow from up-and-coming coders to professional engineers. That’s when I decided I wanted this story for myself and decided to transition from my community engagement role at Zip Code to pursuing a full-time software role.

Dominique Clarke. (Courtesy picture)

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

Building a community in Philadelphia is done in different ways. In technology, your community starts first with your team at work. I have consistently encountered the most interesting and talented technologists in my professional roles. Even after changing jobs, the engineers I’ve met at work continue to be part of my tribe. One of the engineers I worked with in Dallas, TX even came to my wedding!

Beyond building relationships at work, Philadelphia is home to many active tech meetups. Although I was less involved in the Philly tech community due to short stints in other states and the pandemic, I first built a community in the Philly tech space by joining women at technological encounters. Beyond just participating, I volunteered and deepened my relationship with the leaders of these groups. Attending meetups was the highlight of my week. I tried to be present at as many events as possible, to learn, to volunteer and to meet as many people as possible.

If you had to give ONE piece of advice to a student or recent graduate who wants to pursue a career in technology, what would it be?

It is important to know that if you are pursuing a career in technology without a degree in computer science, the road to success can be long and difficult. That’s why I recommend computer science graduates and non-computer science graduates to get involved in 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 help you achieve better results, while easing your path to success. I had so much fun at JavaScript workshops, women in tech brunches, start-up parties and conferences. The community has been an incredible source of support and serendipity. Chance encounters turned into volunteer or professional opportunities. At the start of your career, don’t be discouraged. Reach out to Philadelphia’s wider tech community for help and companionship along the journey.

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Gordon K. Morehouse