Photo credit: Saskia Potter

Hi there, Science Cheerleader Hilary here to introduce you to our newest squad member Della! Della is a current Seattle Seahawks Dancer, and when she’s not on the football field she works in the field of computer science! Read on below to learn about how Della balances her passions to be a pro in both!

What turned you on to computer science and when?
Unfortunately, I had to quit my competitive dance team when I was 15 since my parents could no longer afford it so I figured I needed a new outlet. One day, my school sent out an email advertising web coding on Wednesdays after school. I had a laptop and figured that because I used the internet so much, I should learn how to make web pages. My attraction to coding came from my desire to practice art. I was never a great drawer or painter, but I liked making digital art. I was in yearbook club putting together pages with Adobe InDesign, and I taught myself to use Adobe Photoshop and made my own cute graphics and web pages in HTML and CSS. The website classes were a feeder into a larger organization that aimed to get black and other underrepresented minority high school students interested in IT and technology. I kept up with coding from freshman year to senior year, and when my chapter team won 2ndin the national competition for the organization, I got a small scholarship for college and thought I was good enough at coding to do it in college.

Why did you try out to be a cheerleader?
Ever since I left my competitive dance team, I knew I wanted to dance again. Because tech is important to me, I had to pick a professional team that would allow me to continue doing STEM full-time while also giving me the chance to hone my craft, perform, and do what I love. I tried out for a few teams in my area with no success and took a year break to focus on my career. A few weeks before I moved to Seattle, I met a woman in a spa who was also a professional dancer. When I told her I was moving there, she said to try out for the Seattle Seahawks dance team, which planted the idea in my head once again.

Please describe what you do in your science career on a daily basis.
As a software engineer, my goal each day is to code and deliver results. My day begins with a team standup, where everyone circles up and takes 15-30 minutes to discuss what they did the day before and what they plan to do for the day. After that, there may be some meetings where people share write-ups of high-level designs for systems, or we might discuss a recent issue that had negative customer impact and brainstorm ways to prevent it. After that, you spend your day getting the work done you need to. When given a task, I am expected to deliver well-tested, concise, and adaptable code within an estimated timeframe.

What does it mean for you to be practicing in STEM?
I’m exercising and utilizing skills that so many people invested resources for me to learn and building my career in a meaningful way. Almost everyone in the world uses the internet, and even if they don’t, it still affects their lives. Such power can be used in innocuous, helpful, or harmful ways. My goal is to use my diverse presence as a builder and contributor to make decisions around how products get made, and to develop technology into a net positive for society.

How do the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your STEM career?
Attention to detail for sure! There are so many aspects of cheer and coding that require careful analysis and robust memory. In coding, you have to know the syntax for your languages, understand how services connect, and parse out useful information while debugging systems that you may not have written but still need to work with. Professional cheerleading mirrors this a lot. Knowing which direction to face on which count, remembering where you stand in the endzone for a particular routine, making sure you know which sideline routine to perform to which song–it’s a lot to remember.
It worth highlighting how the unique combination of being a professional cheerleader and a coder has benefited me in life, also. I am very cognizant of my health, I am very good with my time and making sure I do all the things I need to do, I plan like nobody’s business, and my calendar has everything I possibly need to keep track of in it! You could call it functional chaos.

There are stereotypes about cheerleaders in our society that make it seem unlikely that a cheerleader could be a software engineer. Obviously, these stereotypes are untrue, and you are a great example of that. How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about being a woman in a STEM field?
Most people are pleasantly shocked to learn that I’m a professional cheerleader and a coder, and are not judgmental. However, there are a lot of things I have to keep in mind as a young woman in tech in general. I have to assert my technical skills, advocate for a sustainable balance of work and time away from it, ensure that my voice is heard and considered, make sure I’m paid equitably, and that I’m credited for my ideas. In my opinion, I’d be dealing with such things even if I weren’t a cheerleader.

Best cheerleading experience?
Cheering at the Color Rush game during Week 5 against the Los Angeles Rams. In addition to getting to wear my favorite Action Green uniform, it was the most suspenseful and perfect game. We performed my favorite come-out routine, the weather was clear, the Seahawks won, and it was like a dream! If you had asked me before being an NFL cheerleader what cheering at a game would be like, I’d describe a game that went just like that one. What an amazing night! 

Best science-related experience?
Being able to study abroad in Budapest for computer science for during spring semester of college a few years back was an incredible experience for me. It was the 2ndtime I had traveled to Europe, but the first time I did so while being an adult, so I learned a lot about personal responsibility and I got to explore the culture and other countries on my own terms. Plus, I got a taste of lots of fun specializations in tech, such as cryptography, security, and my favorite: mobile development!

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
You don’t have to be liked by everybody. All you need to do is be kind, work hard, and show gratitude for those who notice and guide you. You’ll attract the right people by sticking to that.

What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I’m the oldest of 7 siblings! I love all my younger siblings very much and try to be a good role model for them.

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