Meet the Topknot Team: Miah Sanchez
This post was initially published on the Topknot Blog on February 2, 2021.
Meet Miah Sanchez, Topknot’s first intern. Miah is currently a junior studying Computer Science at Cornell University. We were introduced to Miah by ColorStack, a nonprofit supporting Black, Latinx, and Native American students to enter and succeed in careers in technology. With the support of ColorStack and tapping into her own drive towards taking risks, Miah chose to try out life at a startup instead of pursuing another internship at a larger company. She joined us this January and will be back again in the summer, getting a front row seat to how quickly things move at the earliest stages. We recently sat down as a team to talk about Miah’s journey to Topknot and how she’s experiencing startup life.
The Topknot team is small. Why add an intern?
Claire: Fresh ideas and perspectives are always welcomed at Topknot. We were thrilled to add another creative voice to the mix. Beyond that, we’ve been intentional about our team culture, professional development, and delegation of responsibilities, and we knew that we could create a mutually beneficial experience for a spectacular young person. Once we made the decision that an intern was right for us, I reached out to Jehron, ColorStack’s Founder, for recommendations of engineers in his network. He immediately came back with Miah’s name, and I began the process of interviewing and professionally wooing her that day.
What first drew you to the idea of working at Topknot?
Miah: A lot of the work that I’ve been doing outside of school has been targeted towards Black and Latinx womxn in tech and it wasn’t until summer 2020 that I realized that in order to succeed professionally, there is a lot of personal work and reflection that needs to happen. Topknot was very in-line with that self work I knew I had to do. I decided to go through the application process and it just felt so different. My first conversation with Claire was so casual. It felt the opposite of the pressure I typically feel to conform or present myself in a certain way during tech interviews. And then I met Topknot’s Founding Engineer, Daphne.
What was the impact of meeting Daphne?
Miah: I almost wanted to cry after I had finished speaking to Daphne. I don’t even think that I’ve ever really had a conversation with a Black woman in tech, in software engineering, older than me, not in college. I wanted so badly to be mentored by her. I had already accepted that it would be extremely difficult to find a mentor in engineering that I identified with so I downplayed its importance. After talking to Daphne, I realized how necessary it was for me to have someone like her in my life! The conversations we’ve had so far have been so powerful and she inspires and motivates me every single day. :) I am already so so grateful to her.
What was the impact of meeting Miah?
Daphne: Meeting Miah has been a blessing. After a decade in tech, this is the first time I have worked directly with a Black woman software engineer. I am so used to the isolation that to have Miah here at Topknot — pair programming with me over video chat and talking through her goals in her academic and professional journeys — honestly feels like a gift I’ve been waiting for my whole career. Our one on one meetings go from being super technical to mutually vulnerable. There have been moments when we’re talking through tasks for the week and I can sense some imposter syndrome creeping in on her end. I recognize it so easily because I know the tells — the very slight look of hesitation while trying to sound confident, the questions that are meant to appear put together but underneath actually reveal some worry — the kind of tells you would only know if you have done them yourself. Because we share so much — identities, journeys, trust — we can safely name these moments for what they are. Miah even indulges me as I share my own experiences dealing with imposter syndrome. I’m not sure if she knows it, but those conversations have contributed to healing some deep, long standing wounds from being in this industry. There are so many times that I almost left tech for good, but working with Miah reminds me why I continue to stay.
Turning down an offer from a large, prestigious tech company is not an easy choice. Why did you take the leap?
Miah: I love software engineering, but I also really love product thinking and being able to contribute to those conversations. Internships at large companies generally focus on one or the other. I knew I would have to be somewhere different if I was going to flex both muscles, but choosing a startup can be scary. First, going to a school like Cornell and studying CS means there’s this pressure to have your entire life figured out and a 6-figure salary by the time you’re 21. I also just feel like sometimes as a Black woman the expectation is that I follow the rules and remain grateful for the opportunities that come my way without the space to question what’s best for me. I wanted to question, though, and to take risks. After many discussions with friends, mentors, and people that I really respected and admired I knew that coming to Topknot was what I needed to do. Playing it safe wasn’t an option for the life and career that I eventually want to have. To top it off, the work Topknot is doing is AMAZING and the odds of me having a Black woman manager at a large tech company were so low that I think I would have really regretted not saying yes to this opportunity. Plus, what’s one summer compared to the rest of my life?
What are you most hoping to learn and/or get out of your internship?
Miah: I’m really excited to learn about all the moving parts of building a company. Entrepreneurship is something that I’m really interested in and I know that working with Claire, Brook, Daphne, and Sarah is such a privilege and an amazing learning opportunity. They all bring different ideas to the table and I love seeing how ideas are discussed and tackled. I’m also really looking for mentorship and guidance from everyone on the team and even just in the 3 weeks that I’ve worked here I already feel so supported and safe and I could not have dreamed of such an amazing experience.
What has been the biggest impact of Miah joining the team?
Daphne: Like any tiny team, we have an ongoing list of technical projects that have yet to get started due to there only being 24 hours in a day (#startuplife amirite?). In her first week, Miah jumped right in on one of the projects and, not long after, had made such great progress that her work has already saved the team a considerable amount of time and effort.
Brook: Since Miah is a great mix of curious, skilled, and excited to get hands on, she was able to jump right in with engineering experiments and conversations. Her presence and contributions have been energizing on an interpersonal level, and catalytic for our product.
Sarah: Miah is a bright light! She approaches conversations and ideas with incredible thoughtfulness, and on many occasions has offered a profound observation that has unlocked new possibilities for the team and what we’re building.
Claire: Our goal before we started Topknot was to be a place where exceptional people came to work and thrive. Miah’s decision to join us and the work she has done is a daily reminder that we’re making good on that promise.
Did you make the right decision? ;)
Miah: HECK YEA! An opportunity like this is so rare and so special. I wake up and I’m excited to work and spend time with the team! I had told Claire when she first interviewed me that I didn’t think that an opportunity like this would be available to me until after I graduated college so I truly feel so blessed to be a part of this amazing space and company. I’m so excited for the future of Topknot and I’m ready to be a part of it!