Candess: Washington Redskins Cheerleader and Software Engineer!

Hi everyone, Science Cheerleader Hilary here to introduce you to Candess, a 3rd year veteran cheerleader with the Washington Redskins and a software engineer with a degree in computer science! Get excited to meet Candess in person at the USA Science & Engineering Festival on April 7!

What turned you on to STEM and when? I always had an aptitude for math in middle school, but it was not until I created a MySpace page in high school that I considered programming as a hobby. I thought it was cool that I could customize my MySpace profile using HTML, and I figured studying Computer Science in college would be similar – I was very wrong. 🙂 Luckily, my father is a Senior Software Engineer as well (he also studied Computer Science at the same school that I did), so he was also very instrumental in encouraging a STEM career path for me.

Why did you try out to be a cheerleader? I auditioned to be a professional cheerleader because I fell in love with gameday performance when I was on the Dance Team while in college. I did competitive and studio dance growing up, so I did not dance in a sports atmosphere until college. After about four years of college dance, I wasn’t ready to give it up. My family raised me as a Redskins fan and I went to the same dance studio as some former Washington Redskins Cheerleaders (WRCs) as well as our director, Stephanie Jojokian, so it just seemed like the perfect next chapter in my life.

What is your day job like? I currently work for a strategy and technology consulting firm, but am contracted out to working for an agency within the Federal Government. Right now, I am a software developer for a microservice that takes information from other government agencies and processes them to be mapped accordingly in the database. A typical day for me involves a short scrum meeting to update the team on my accomplishments and blockers, then writing and debugging my code and then pushing my code up to our repository for code review. I am currently writing a Spring-boot application using Java and Apache Camel routing. I use new tools and languages literally everyday!

What does it mean for you to be practicing in STEM? I did not realize how important my presence was–not just in STEM, but especially in Computer Science–until I got to college. I was one of two graduating Black Women in my entire university that semester. I never had a class with a person that looked like me. I was never taught by a professor that looked like me – and I struggled with this for awhile, especially in the beginning of my studies. I initially felt left out and as if I did not belong in this field. It was with the help of my dad and remembering how important representation is in STEM fields that I started to learn that this is indeed what I am meant to do. I see myself as an ambassador for youth that are severely underrepresented in STEM by encouraging them to pursue their career path if that is what they are passionate about! I also see myself as an example for older generations in STEM to show that there is a need for more diversity in STEM fields like Computer Science.

How do the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your career as a software engineer? Being a great cheerleader requires me to be a great overall ambassador for my organization. That means communicating professionally, being punctual, being humble, and being determined to work hard. I can confidently say that being a cheerleader has taught me how to be a better employee and engineer. I use the same confidence I have when talking about cheering for the Redskins when I talk about the code I wrote to a client. I practice the same humility and problem-solving tactics when talking to my teammates and directors as when I talk to my fellow engineers and tech leads. Using the same passion for my Redskins and Computer Science careers has led me to be more balanced on both sides.

How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? I could go on for days about the stereotypes for cheerleaders, especially in the NFL, but most of them are lazy. A simple conversation with most NFL cheerleaders will show you that we are some of the most accomplished women in our careers, personal lives, and communities. The same issue goes for being an engineer. When you think of a NFL cheerleader and a software engineer, most think of the two being polar opposites. Breaking down the stereotypes in both of these industries is what drives me to excel. I am very passionate about representation and how it impacts the decisions of our youth. I want young girls to see me and think “Oh, I guess it IS possible for me to be a professional cheerleader” or “Oh, I guess it IS possible for me to be an engineer” or even “Oh, I guess it IS possible for me to be both!” I am passionate about this because I did not have it when I was growing up. I had no imagery of Black Women in technology and programming courses were not offered at my high school, thus making my career path more rocky than those of my counterparts because I felt as if I did not belong. Therefore, I now make an effort to show young women that they can be cheerleaders and engineers!

Best cheerleading experience? My best cheerleading experience with the Redskins would be shooting our swimsuit calendars as well as going on a military appreciation tour. My best dancing experience in college would be dancing in former President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.

Best science-related experience? My best science-related experience was building my first mobile iOS app. Seeing your first app on a real device is something that I’ll never forget!

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self? The advice that I would give my twelve year old self is not to worry about missing out on anything because you are so focused on school and dance, because this will prepare you for these two awesome hobbies to eventually become your careers!