Overcoming Adversity: Meet Our Software Engineer, Kevin Carr
See Kevin Carr's journey into engineering as well as his passion for this year’s Black History Month theme: Black Health and Wellness.
Recently, Devine Loving, an Account Development Representative from BigCommerce’s Lead Generation Sales team sat down with one of our newest Software Engineers, Kevin Carr. The two discussed Kevin’s journey into the field as well as his passion for this year’s Black History Month theme: Black Health and Wellness.
Quick highlights from this interview:
- Kevin endured traumatic events during his childhood, but his grit enabled him to overcome his struggles.
- Kevin created his own path when he didn’t know anyone in his community who could guide him.
- Kevin considers himself successful today, but he admits his view of the term “success” has evolved.
- Kevin is passionate about changing the narrative around mental health, especially in the African American community.
- Kevin yearns to give back to aspiring professionals and is open to connecting with anyone who may benefit from his experience.
Getting to Know Kevin
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Kevin.
I never get to really tell this story often, but I grew up in a small town where my father wasn’t around, and my mother had her drug abuse problems. Childhood was sort of impoverished. One memory that sticks with me today is the time when I was about 9 years old. My mother got arrested and taken away right in front of me because of a warrant she had for drug possession. Even before that moment, things were tough. I still have countless memories of regularly eating at community hospitality centers, and we even temporarily lived in a homeless facility.
I had a lot to overcome, but here I am now. I have my fiancée and my 3-year-old daughter as well.
You are strong, and I’m glad to hear that you have a fiancée and a little kid. What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
When I was 10, it was hard to imagine myself doing anything outside of what I saw around me. There was a lot of negativity, and it was really hard to imagine myself becoming something.
I do remember having a drive of wanting to be successful. I can remember thinking, “Man, I don’t know what it is, but I want to do something to end this cycle of poverty, oppression, and negativity.”
Do you feel like right now you’re successful, or are you still aiming for continued success?
That part of being successful–I think that evolves. Yes. In a sense, I am. I feel I have accomplished a lot.
The desire [for success] hasn’t really changed much because once I got into my career, the next thing was, “How do I grow from here? How do I get better in this role?”
My desire has evolved into becoming a better engineer. It’s an ever-going journey.
You have a lot of success you’re still going to achieve, so tell me. What got you interested in engineering?
Engineering is one of those things that I always felt deep down–this could be something I could do. No matter what field of engineering you’re in, the overall description behind engineering is solving problems. I really enjoy that. That aspect of my job and the reward behind helping someone achieve something–I had a drive towards that.
But, it kind of seemed unreachable because I didn’t know anyone in engineering in my community, where I come from, or in my network until very recently. The whole ‘getting there’ seemed out of reach. I finally took those steps to reaching those goals by having an open mind and trying out new things when they came my way.
Because that was a challenge of yours [lack of representation], what did you do to create that network and start to familiarize yourself with those who were in the industry? Maybe someone black like you to talk to and get advice from.
Right after my high school, I did go to college, and I enrolled at a HBCU [historically black colleges and universities]. The reason I did that was because I wanted to build that network. I wanted to see other professional black people. I knew they were out there, and I wanted to be a part of it.
At the time, I found a mentor who I really looked up to because he had achieved all those things I mentioned earlier when I was 10 [years old]. I wanted a family of my own and wanted to be there financially and emotionally for them. This person was who I wanted to be. We developed a mentor/mentee relationship, and through that, it helped me build networks with other people who had come from backgrounds like myself and were still overcoming it. It was super inspiring, and I’m really glad I got to network at a HBCU and got that experience there.
I’m gonna start here. You cannot say you went to a HBCU without repping your HBCU.
I went to Prairie View A&M University (PV). Unfortunately, I didn’t graduate. I dropped out after about two years.
I went to work because life happens, but yes, I loved the experience there. I got exactly what I was wanting when I enrolled and joined the college.
You’re not a failure for not completing your studies there. Like you mentioned, you got what you needed–you got the skills and learned some new skills that helped you get to where you want to be now and later down the road. With that being said, what is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
After I dropped out of college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next. I knew what I was currently doing, construction labor work, was not what I wanted. I came across this coding bootcamp, and I remember hearing that some of the folks who had gone through it had achieved their goals of becoming an engineer.
One of the sayings I remember was, “The one thing that determines success is grit, that don’t give up attitude.”
When I heard that, I thought, “I got that. I can do that. I can put the work in.”
It really changed my perspective.
Honoring Black History Month
This year’s Black History Month theme is Black Health and Wellness. How do you define health and wellness?
For the health part, I look at that as your physical well-being, free of illnesses or injury. For the wellness part, I look at that as your emotional or mental wellness, and it goes beyond that. It could also be financial.
What is something, physical or mental, that you participate in to keep that balance [of physical and mental health]?
There has been a lot of focus on mental wellness, and that is something that I try to apply because where we come from, especially as black men, we grow up being told to be tough and not to show weaknesses. Going to talk to a therapist would be seen as a weakness.
We’re really seeing a lot of change around that, so that’s something I really have been doing for myself and trying for my own teachings with simple, mindful breathing activities like meditation.
I’m glad that’s something you do. Hopefully those who are reading this (who do not do this already) will try it out to help with that balance. What inspires you most about this year’s theme?
This year’s theme is nice because it really touches on some of the disparities that black people have to endure when it comes to the field of medicine–disparities in medications, healthcare facilities, and access to different healthcare. There’s been a lop-sided offness there.
I am really inspired that this theme can highlight and bring some awareness to that, shedding some light on where African Americans in general have endured in the healthcare industry.
What do you hope people in our community will take away from this theme?
I definitely hope people can take away the mental health aspect. Taking the time to make sure you are okay mentally will really help you, which is not only important to you but the people you love. I really hope we can change the narrative in the community around mental health, especially to young, black men.
Life at BigCommerce
How long have you worked at BigCommerce?
I’ve been at BigCommerce for 11 months now. As you know, this is my first job working as a Software Engineer, and it has been a really amazing 11 months–everything I dreamed of.
You haven’t hit the year mark yet (only one more month), but congratulations in advance! What convinced you to join the BigCommerce Engineering team?
I had two offers [11 months ago], so I got to choose between two companies. I can remember choosing BigCommerce in particular because even as an outsider, I could see how much the company was invested in diversity and inclusion.
This was something I honestly had a lot of anxiety about. When I was studying and learning, I joined a Slack channel of other black coders who work in the professional industry. A lot of their experiences were positive, but some had some negative ones–just like in any other position.
I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know how my experience was going to be. As I was applying, I really had to key out for companies that showed an interest in diversity and inclusion. That was my reason for joining BigCommerce Engineering.
What does your current day-to-day look like (projects, interactions with teams, etc.)?
My day-to-day usually starts with a team meeting (called a stand-up meeting). It’s a quick, 15-minute meeting where everyone gives an update on what they’re working on, and it’s a time to get help on something if you need it. Then I have a few hours to work on tickets I need to work on, and I may have a few meetings in the afternoon. Other than that, it’s mostly meetings or working on the tickets I was assigned.
I also participate in BCinColor, which is our employee resource group that supports black, indigenous, and people of color, as well as their allies. I recently got to participate in a panel that was put on by BCinColor. It was my opportunity and some other engineers to share their different paths, and it was meant to highlight all the different routes and opportunities one could take into engineering. Events like that are great because I think when people want to try something new or change the narrative that they’re not liking in their lives, seeing and hearing other people tell their stories is really impactful. It was really impactful to me when I was making my journey through.
Aside from working as a Software Engineer and participating in BCinColor, what also gets you excited for your work days at BigCommerce?
This question is pretty easy for me because I get up excited everyday, not just to work at BigCommerce. BigCommerce is a great place, but I also get to do something that I enjoy.
In my previous careers, I didn’t have that fulfillment in my role. Going to work was a drag, and I can remember hearing people talk about how you should find a career that doesn’t feel like work. It should feel like what you want to do.
I didn’t think that existed. It sounded like some cliché thing that people always say.
Now that I have lived it, it really is true. I get excited each day because I’m just grateful that I can be part of something that is truly rewarding outside of just the monetary value. I get true fulfillment out of this career, solving problems each day.
You’re either going to do what you love to do, or you’re going to do what you have to do in order to do what you love to do. I know you’re doing what you love to do right now. Tell me about your biggest win at BigCommerce so far.
I work on the web team, and we were trying to go live at a site, but this one bug was stopping us from doing that. The ticket [for this bug] got assigned to me.
I went to sleep that night thinking, “How am I going to figure this out?”
It came to me in the middle of the night at 3 in the morning. I thought, “Gosh, I got it.”
I couldn’t wait to get online and share it with the team. I was able to solve that bug, and we went live the following day. I was proud of that moment because as Software Engineers, solving bugs is what we do. To be able to solve that bug and help the company grow in that aspect–I was extremely pleased and happy to do it.
You’re problem solving in the day and problem solving at night in your dreams. That’s great to hear. Just to wrap up, what advice would you give to an aspiring engineer?
I would tell anyone who wants to get into engineering or any kind of career change, don’t listen to that self-doubt. I had the opportunity to get into the field a little bit earlier, and because of my self-doubt, I pushed it away.
That self-doubt is human; it’s natural. You’re going to experience it anytime you’re learning something new.
As long as you have the underlying interest in the field and you really want to do that, everything else seems to work out. There’s a learning curve, but you will eventually learn it.
Just keep at it.
If you really enjoy engineering and you can see yourself doing this, give it a shot. Really give it a shot. Push through.
You’ll be amazed at what you actually may accomplish.
If any aspiring engineers would like to contact you, how should they reach out to you?
Look me up on LinkedIn. I would be happy to answer questions and give my advice. When I was starting, that’s what fueled me. I’m always open to giving back and doing my part.
Looking for a new engineering role?