In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we catch up with senior software engineer Duretti Hirpa.
Who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?
My name is Duretti Hirpa, and I’m a senior software engineer at Slack. I’m unabashedly into people, Beyoncé, snacks, and the ever changing role of technology in our lives. I spend my days making Slack better, working on my snack podcast (snackoverflow), as well as trying to make the tech industry a more welcoming and equitable place for lady-identified and/or marginalized people.
When you were in your 20s…
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?
Growing up, I was inordinately obsessed with being an “adult”. Now that I’m here, I realize we’re mostly winging it. Additionally, my expectations were really normative – spouse, baby, house, but conversely, I told myself my twenties were for me, that I get every year in my twenties to myself, to figure out what it was I wanted and how to get there.
In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
I come from a family of immigrants (shout out to East Africa), and as such, I had a lot of dissonant societal views coming at me: women should have a career, but being married with babies is your most crucial function. It took me a long time to see myself separate and apart from my family, or as something more than a potential wife and mother.
What was your first job like?
I moved to the Bay Area in 2008, at the very beginning of the recession. I had just graduated from university, and had approximately $500 to my name. I found a contract position at an educational startup and I felt so lucky to have found something that I could live on (years later, I’d find out that it wasn’t that much, and I was supposed to be withholding taxes from my paycheck. Tax season 2009 was rough). The job itself was mostly scut work, but I felt so thrilled to be earning money at something I truly liked. I couldn’t help but feel I getting away with something.
What was your first apartment like?
My family is quite a large one, and we have always loved the hustle and bustle of living with others; as such I’ve never lived alone. After graduating, I lived with a friend from university who had done all the leg work – she found the apartment, she got the lease sorted, all of the adult unpleasantries that go with finding a place to live (shout out to Kristen). It was a two-bedroom, one bath apartment. It was carpeted and homey. We hung our handmade crafts on the walls. It was located in a huge complex with lots of children, and a tiny, tiny dive bar in the parking lot.
Did you experience any big life changes?
Not really. Worked, paid student loans; rinse, repeat. (I don’t really have an answer for this one!)
In what ways did your friendships change?
Growing up, I believed that the friends you made in college were your “forever friends”, and as such, I had a hard time leaving university and learning to put down roots elsewhere. Eventually, I learned that the people who really care about you figure out ways to keep in touch, conversely, it’s possible to feel intensely lonely while you make friends in your new city. It gets better, though.
What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
That we all play at intimacy, and embodying true vulnerability and acceptance is the hardest thing we do as people. In the words of Rilke:
“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
How did your relationships with your family change?
I grew closer to my siblings, and learned to humanize instead of idealize my parents. We’re all human people trying to make it as best we can.
How do you feel society viewed you?
I’m not sure! What I do think is that I stopped caring how it viewed me. I think if I concentrate too long on how I’m viewed by others, I wouldn’t done the things I’ve done (talk about your classic extrovert’s dilemma: act first, question later). I think I spend a far greater amount of time struggling with how I view myself.
How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I think I got better at self-regulation. That being said, there’s something to being unregulated. When I was younger, I made decisions with a lighter heart. I’d like to still have the wisdom that comes from making those choices and the bravery to do so.
How did you change intellectually?
I think I wanted to see the receipts more. I still pretty much believe everything I read in books though.
In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
It’s like the title of the David Lipsky book about David Foster Wallace – “Although of course you end up becoming yourself”. I was always me, things just settled more into place.
How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
I think got WOKE. Most of my early and mid twenties were spent trying to answer the question, “How should a person be?” I wrote lists and lists of admirable qualities, and tried to become the kind of person that embodies those qualities. I became more accepting of the humanity in others, but more skeptical of the systems we put in place.
What was the most embarrassing moment?
Urnmf. I’m not sure! They probably have to do with being interested in someone and being shot down? You get over the intensity of that, too.
What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?
Yikes. I’m an intensely positive person. I don’t tend to dwell on disappointments (and I’m having trouble recalling one now). I’m of the attitude that if there’s a set back, that’s fine: there’s always gonna be setbacks. You can’t let it derail you. Ever forward, and all that. Ultimately, I’m stubborn, and once I truly make up my mind about a thing I want to accomplish, there’s very little that can stand in my way.
Who was your biggest influence and why?
It’s lonely being The Only One in the Room. I think the younger kids are more woke, they have this catchphrase, “you can’t be what you can’t see” – professionally, I don’t know of anyone that’s been my biggest influence. I guess my answer will be Beyoncé. The answer is always Beyoncé.
Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?
Michael Jackson died, and with it, a bit of my childhood. There’s a passage from Nick Hornby’s About a Boy that sums it up perfectly:
He hadn’t been shocked by the death of a pop star since Marvin Gaye died. He had been… how old? He thought back. the first of April 1984… Jesus, ten years ago, nearly to the day. So he had been twenty-six, and still of an age when things like that meant something: he probably sang Marvin Gaye songs with his eyes closed when he was twenty-six. Now he knew pop stars committing suicide were all grist to the mill, and the only consequence of Kurt Cobain’s death as far as he was concerned was that Nevermind would sound a lot cooler. Ellie and Marcus weren’t old enough to understand that, though. They would think it all meant something, and that worried him.
I was 23 the summer Michael died.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
Of course – that’s thing about moving linearly through time: you never know if the decisions you make are the right ones. I cheer myself up by thinking about the multiverse version of Duretti, who has made the choice that I ultimately didn’t go with. It helps me be less indecisive, strangely, to think that some other version of myself is doing the other thing I’m waffling on.
Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?
Not really..! Maybe a montage of increasingly vigorous eye-rolls at people telling dad jokes?