Rocket Science: Paola Mata
Paola Mata is an iOS Engineer, a tech community leader, and a strong advocate for diversity. She is currently building great Cooking experiences for The New York Times and co-organizing the Women in iOS community.
What’s been your COVID deep dive?
I’ve been strength training on my own for a number of years. When the gyms started to shut down, I thought, “They will be reopening in a month or so.” When that didn’t happen, I was frustrated and looked for a few different activities like yoga and other workouts I could do at home. But it was hard to find equipment.
In September, I finally decided to go the personal training route. I signed up for a coaching program thinking, “Let me try it for six months.” I ended up loving it so much and extending it for a full year! Coaching has really taken my strength and fitness to the next level. It’s been so empowering during this time of heavy restrictions and limitations.
Also, raising my dog Alfie. He’s a goldendoodle. Very sweet, very friendly. And a lot of work. You can’t turn away because they’re always doing something – getting into some trouble, chewing something they shouldn’t, or just having random accidents. It’s crazy. But he’s been a welcome distraction.
What’s the worst cliché companies use when trying to nod to diversity?
There’s a thing I’ve noticed a lot of the bigger companies do when they reach out to underserved, underrepresented schools. The outreach efforts are still … what’s the word? Misleading? Yeah.
I’ve done a lot of organizing, and so you end up working with a lot of companies who want to throw money at the problem by throwing events or something. But, at the end of the day, they still want to hire the same kind of candidates who have gone to the bigger-named schools.
They seemingly have some kind of prioritization where, even for people of color, they will still favor elite schools like Stanford or someplace similar. When it comes to hiring, there’s some institutional bias for where people are educated and who even qualifies for some of the jobs they claim to have.
You’re very candid on Twitter, how has your relationship with social media changed over the last year?
I think it became harder for me to be on a platform like Twitter because the mood was darker last year. People were starting to feel burned out and depressed, not to mention the political tension leading up to the election and inauguration. It’s gotten better recently, which is why I’ve been on Twitter a little bit more.
I discovered TikTok during the pandemic, and it was a game-changer. It’s been fun discovering some new interests. And I’ve made my own TikToks. Very silly stuff. It’s a fun, light-hearted place, which is what I needed more of versus the difficult discussions that tend to happen on tech Twitter, because we do like to talk about some of the problems a lot.
Over the last year, it was overwhelming me to be constantly reminded of topics like, “Tech is a terrible place,” because of sexism, ageism, etc. Normally, I had a lot of positive things in my life that allowed me to take that in as well as all the good. Also, it’s not the full picture. Obviously, I am here because I like it. I enjoy this work. I enjoy the people in the community. For me, it felt it was not personally directed at me, but it was personally affecting me.
What inspired you to go into development?
I was working in a very different field, working in nonprofits doing more administrative work, and it wasn’t challenging me. There wasn’t any room to grow.
I did some programming in high school, so it wasn’t a completely new thing for me to learn. But like with math, if you haven’t done it in a while, you forget everything. I had a blog that I wanted to style differently, so I took an online class on HTML and C and enjoyed it. I thought, “Why not look into this a little bit more?”
I started looking at boot camps and training programs I could do while still working full-time. The program that accepted me was teaching iOS. I had no plans to pursue iOS in particular, it was an opportunity that became available and I thought it was too good to pass up. Why not?
What are you listening to right now?
I really like Dua Lipa. I’m not usually super into pop music. But anything uplifting and fun right now, especially while I’m doing a difficult cardio session or when I’m doing some heavy lifting, that’s what gets me going.
What’s become your favorite restaurant in Philly?
I haven’t had the chance to explore as much as I would have liked, since I moved out here only months before everything shut down. But when we were still doing a lot of outdoor dining, my brother came to visit and we went to Zahav, which recently won a James Beard award for best restaurant in America. I was so amazed my brother, who’s from New York, introduced me to it, and I live here! Why don’t I know about it? And it’s 10 minutes from me, walking distance.
What surprised you about being an organizer for Women in iOS?
I’m normally somebody who’s pretty introverted. If I go to an event, I’ll stay on my own and not approach people. What surprised me was that, as an organizer, people would approach me because I’m in charge and they’re sort of looking to me for direction.
It brought me out as a leader, as somebody who has something to say, who’s valuable to the community in some way. It gave me more of a drive to be a presence in the community and to be a voice.
As the pandemic went on, fewer and fewer people were attending virtual meetup events, so we’ve kind of tabled them for now. I’m sure once we’re able, we’ll start up again because I think people really appreciate having the community and mentorship and camaraderie.
Give us a brainless TV recommendation.
There is a newish show on SyFy called Resident Alien. It’s a lot of fun. It’s humorous, but there’s a deeper element to it because it’s about an alien who’s posing as a human. Oh, and he’s on a mission to destroy earth, so as he’s becoming more human, he starts to slowly wrestle with the moral dilemma of destroying humanity. It’s hopeful.