The tech space is growing and it’s important we see Black women in those spaces. I got to speak to Kimmoy Matthews who is a content strategist at Google, working in the tech space and runs the website keepingupwithkimmoy.com. Prior to that, she was a tech writer in the DC area. Read below as we speak about potentially sketchy travel programs, the basics of tech writing, and the need for Black hires in tech beyond coding.
Joi: Thanks for chatting with me, Kimmoy. What’s great about your website, Keeping Up With Kimmoy, is you have kind of this breadth of experience that’s a mixture of tech and travel, which I find super fascinating. So I’m really excited about opening up the floodgates with questions about your experience.
Kimmoy: All right, let’s dig in.
Joi: So you’ve done Remote Year, it’s a program where you work remotely in a new country every month. Can you like expound on what was your experience doing that program? What motivated you to apply for that program? And for you now, what is your process for planning trips that are either for business or for pleasure?
Kimmoy: Okay, well, I have had a dream of traveling the world for a very long time. So I decided that I would need to save a certain amount money in order to do that. So I said, “Okay, when I hit around $20,000 – $25,000, I will just go and travel the world for a year.” So it took me about maybe two or three years to save that amount of money.
I had that goal in 2014, like the end of 2014. And I was researching about other people who were traveling and stuff like that. And what I was finding was about white kids in colleges that went backpacking. But I didn’t want to backpack, so I was like, “How am I going to make this happen? I want to travel but I don’t want to be like a vagabond or anything.” I was on Twitter and of course, I was following all these bloggers and travel bloggers, and I just saw this tweet that said, “If you want to travel with professionals around the world, going to a different country every month, sign up.”
At that point, it was just a single landing page. There was not a lot of information and it was just, “If you’re interested, give us your email address.” Anybody today would probably think it was a scam, and you definitely have skepticism at that point. But I was like, “Shoot, I’m just going to go for it and see what happens.”
That I was around the end of 2014, and then early 2015 they said, “Okay, we got your application and we want to do a round of interviews.” I got selected out of I think it was 25,000 people around the time I’d applied. Once I got in I was like, “All right, I’m going to do it. I’m just going to go for it.” I asked my job if I could still work with them while I traveled, and they said no. They did not have a strong remote policy and it has never been done before. So I was like, “All right, I quit.” And I had the money saved up, so I was like, “All right, I’m leaving.” That’s how I ended up on that program.
And the experience was mind blowing, life-changing, emotional, amazing, colorful, just out of this world, like I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And it changed my whole point of view on lifestyle. Like how do you design a life that you want? It changed my whole view on work, how important is work and the things that I want to do for work, and where do I need to be to be productive. It changed everything. So yeah, I’m so balancing work and travel and the life that I want, but I feel a lot more confident in creating a life that incorporates both travel and work.
Joi: Kudos to Remote Year, because to your point I would have thought this was a Joanne level of scam.
Kimmoy: Yes, we all did. We all had some level of skepticism, but I think when you want something so bad, like the worst thing that could happen was we lose our deposit. But I think those of us who were brave enough to sign up for this program, because — it had never been done before — so I think at that point everyone who decided to go in, we were all in. So we’re going to travel no matter what, [even] if the program turned out to be a scam.
I think, yeah, we definitely had that level of skepticism, but we were just like, “Bouncing the ball.”
Joi: Were these kinds of countries that didn’t require vaccinations, didn’t require visas, and things of that nature?
Kimmoy: Some of them do, so we definitely had to get visas beforehand, and vaccinations beforehand. But the countries were easy to travel to. We went to parts of Europe, and Southeast Asia, and I did not complete 12 months. I stopped at 10 months because I got hired by Google. I flew to California to go work for them. So by the time we were in South America I stayed in Argentina for a couple of months before going to California. We were in very easy to travel countries.
Joi: Nice. So perfect segue way: you’re currently a content strategist at Google. And I think I read that you are on contract kind of doing tech writing. Explain that process because I didn’t know that that was a capability of Google or something that they offered. Talk to me about the day-to-day work that you do, and what are some tips to break into the tech writing space, especially as a black woman?
Kimmoy: I’m so excited to talk about this. First I’ll talk about what technical writing is. It’s basically writing instructions — and I don’t want to make it seem as easy as it is — but it’s simple. It’s basically writing how to do something. You’re helping users how to understand how a product works or how to use a particular product. So I know all the black girl nerds that are reading this, they have apps, they use websites every day, and there are certain things that you just need to figure out how to use, right?
So, in my particular case at Google, I was working on Adwords, which is an online advertising platform. It’s really huge. It’s very complex and these big billion dollar companies need to know how to use it to create sophisticated ads. And I was responsible for about maybe 14 or so product features. So my audience was teaching these sophisticated advertisers how to use our platforms and how to use these product features to make whatever fancy ads they want to make, right?
The bottom line is you have to be able to learn how a complex system — complex products, website, whatever you want to call it — learn how it works, and be able to break it down into layman’s terms for whoever your audience is. I like to give the example of your favorite travel website, if you go to orbitz.com or whatever. There’s a lot of text on the website. All the text that you see, it’s probably written by a content strategist or a technical writer. We make things easy to understand, easy to use.
With that being said, how do you break into the industry? I have a whole program on this, which I’m so excited to share. And one of the reasons I’m excited to share this is because you brought up a really good point. I know for a fact that it’s really difficult to get minorities, women, black women into tech. And there have been so many initiatives to get us involved in STEM — science, technology, engineering, mathematics. And for whatever reason, these companies find it hard to recruit us.
But there’s been a lot of push for people to become developers, which is great, nothing is wrong with that. But if you don’t want to do that and you like writing or you like learning the behind the scenes of the tech apps and stuff that you see, if you like that sort of industry and you can explain how it works, then there’s another avenue for you to break into tech. I want people to be aware of this field first of all, and then not feel like you have to become a developer to get into tech. Those are the two things I’m hoping to achieve with my little corner of the world, my blog.
I have a website (Keeping Up With Kimmoy) that walks you through how to explore this field, and they give you worksheets that explain like the five most common technical writing jobs. As you probably know and the audience knows, there’s always a fancy title for the same thing, right? It could be developer or engineer or coder, the same thing applies to technical writing. At Google I’m called a content strategist or a user experience writer, sometimes it’s technical writer, sometimes it’s product writer, etc.
But I walk you through all of that. And I help guide you through like, “Okay, what do they do? Who do they work with?” So you do a little bit of research and then you have to make some steps to create a portfolio. You cannot get into tech without a portfolio. My thing is you do the job before you get the job. Kind of like how developers create their own mini apps or they create some kind of game or whatever. You as a tech writer would start creating a portfolio of technical writing content.
On my website, I have a bunch of exercises to help you create your own. I have like an exercise with zip car, plus exercises with Apple Pay and Android Pay. You could pick your favorite app or website or product and start writing instructions for it, and actually test it out with somebody real. Test it out with your sister, your mom, or whatever and see if they can actually follow your instructions to complete a particular task. Once you’ve started putting together that portfolio, then you update your resume with all the technical content that you have created.
In many cases with people who are interested in this field, they have a written content somewhere at some point, whether in their personally life or in their career, even if they weren’t a technical writer. So before I even became one, when I was an engineer at the Naval Research Lab, I still wrote technical specifications with some of the product I was working on.
So you will have to do some research and see like, “Okay, what kind of stuff have I created for other people? What kind of instructions have I created?” And add that to your resume, pull that out, add that to your portfolio, and then you start doing some research and applying for the jobs that match your interest. That was a long answer, but I have the whole process on my website to help you through.
Joi: You found a lane that works for you that’s not very well known. And I’m a firm believer in the tech space, and to your point, I think the developers, coders are super important, but there’s also a need for marketers as well.
And not just like the traditional, what people view marketers as in terms of doing ad sales. But more like product development. A good example is the YouTube Black History Month gift that they gave all their Black YouTubers that do very well in the space and they gave them these gold pins with their faces on it.
Things where you’re engaging your day-to-day consumers who have made you a lot of money is interesting because it has that intersection of really reaching out to those consumers, but it also recognizes that diversity/inclusion is what is really going to propel tech forward. We are some of the fastest growing people that adopt tech early. We’re the earliest people and the largest populations that are attached to our mobile phone first, right? So making sure that you have people that represent the consumers in that space, whatever that looks like to me, is important and something that I love. So to hear you explain it and how you got into the space and now being able to take your learning and teach it to others is very inspiring.
Kimmoy: Well, thank you. Absolutely. And diversity and inclusion is a huge, huge topic. And so many positions are opening up regarding diversity and inclusion. So you are definitely perfectly positioned to do that type of work because this is your platform, this is what you do. So it’s just a matter of leveraging what you have right now and tweaking your resume, tweaking your portfolio, and of course doing the research, like I said, to see what types of opportunities are available. Because I think in the beginning we don’t even know what to look for.
So that’s why in my program I tell people, “These are the job titles that you will actually look for if you were interested in doing tech writing.” And the same for you, you will have to do some research to see like, “Okay, diversity and inclusion is a big thing, what are some of the job titles that are looking to fill in that role?” The same principles apply even though I’m talking about tech writing in like modules one and five, but the core of it all is leveraging what you have and knowing exactly how to tweak your resume and how to create a portfolio, because, like I said, you just can’t get into tech without a portfolio and I also tell my students, “Get prepared to take a test.”
Now, the tests aren’t usually that hard like compared to an engineer. But as long as you prepare yourself, then you’ll fine. I failed a test for Facebook, because I just wasn’t prepared. So you just have to be prepared for the test that they give you. The opportunities are there and I just want people that look like me to know about them. So anything we can do to spread the word I’m all for it.
Joi: Well, thank you so much, Kimmoy.
Kimmoy: No, thank you. Thank you. This is fun.
Joi is a Marketer, sometimey writer, sarcasm enthusiast and podcaster for Black Girls Nerds. You can also find her on Twitter (@jumpedforjoi) tweeting about random stuff.