Kory Dondzila always has an umbrella (this specific one, actually)

04 Nov 2022

Kory Dondzila always has an umbrella (this specific one, actually)

I was delighted to attend Strange Loop in St. Louis in September, where I met many lovely, fascinating folks. Kory’s outfits stole the show, and she and I managed to sneak a shoot in between the talks. Let me introduce you to them!

Tell us a little about you.

I’m a transfeminine genderfluid software developer and consultant, and I work for Atomic Object (AO). I enjoy playing all kinds of games, have a large board game collection, love to cook, and love spending time with my cat Ulthar.

What brought you to Strange Loop?

I’ve been to Strange Loop once before, back in 2018, and it’s an enjoyable conference with a wide variety of talks. The variety means I’m not stuck in one area for the whole conference, and is beneficial while working for a software consultancy; being able to attend both soft skills talks and a variety of technical talks can be very useful in a position where I might be on a few different projects in a single year.

What are you wearing in these pictures?

The hooded double slit dress was made by a friend who owns Bad Latitude - it’s a combination of the double slit skirt and the hooded crop top. It’s a great outfit on its own, though the addition of the corset really takes it to another level.

I bought the corset and utility bag from Lady Heather’s Fashions, who I met at GenCon back in August. She makes leather fashion and accessories, although this particular corset isn’t one of her own creations.

The other interesting piece is the umbrella: it features Cthulhu, and I bought it from Vermilion Collection (it can also be acquired from HPLHS), which I almost always have with me. It’s great for blocking the rain as well as the sun, and has become very useful in both regards - for instance, I took the Amtrak to Strange Loop with 2 coworkers, and it started downpouring immediately upon arriving in St. Louis; I’m pretty sure my coworkers wished they had an umbrella that day.

What are the differences for you between working at a consultancy and a product company?

I’ve not personally had a full-time position at a product company, but I have been on a couple projects that were mostly extended lengths of staff augmentation. For me, the important differences would be the length of time spent on projects and the variety of said projects. I can get bored easily if I feel I’m not being challenged enough in the right ways, or if the work becomes very static and rote, so I enjoy that the nature of consultancy means that I won’t always be on the same project for multiple years; the current longest project I’ve had was just over a year. I switch to a new team, client, tech stack, and problem space roughly once or twice a year.

What drew you to tech?

I actually have an art background - a double BFA in Animation and Game Development. Those fields intersect closely with programming, and I picked it up with ease. I switched from my original focus of art into doing tool development and game programming, and then after finishing those degrees I figured that if I was going to continue in those areas I would probably need more than just a few coding classes (and a lot more math!). That led me to getting my Masters in Computer Science.

How did you land where you are now? Did you have a plan?

Atomic Object operates in Michigan, where I’m from. Towards the end of my Masters degree in California I started applying to places in areas I was looking for, and AO made the list. I emailed about the internship/accelerator position, to see if I could arrange an interview while I was going to be back home for Christmas, and they were very responsive.

The timing worked out for me to participate in The Atomic Games - a way for AO to bring in potential recent grad candidates to compete in a coding challenge. We coded up an AI to play a game, and faced off in a tournament. I did well enough, and they seemed impressed enough with my code, that they selected me for an interview. The rest is history.

What’s a project you’ve worked on that you’re proud of?

I worked on a project for Ford, helping build out the mapping system for Blue Cruise. Specifically we handled the map analysis for determining what road sections would be blue or red - i.e. which sections would the hands-off ADAS be available, and which would not.

There’s a lot of complexity around that, which can involve a fair bit of geometric math, computational geometry and graph theory - parts of math that I absolutely love. Having made that the focus for my Masters, I was relied upon for a lot of it.

Are you working on anything fun at the moment?

I recently made a room randomizer for the old Sierra game Shivers, from 1995. Shivers is a classic first person point-and-click adventure game, with a small community of speedrunners. Despite not speedrunning games myself (yet), I fell into the community due to my love of the game.

They already had a randomizer for other parts of the game but had been unsuccessful at making a room randomizer, and due to my knowledge of graph theory I was asked to handle the algorithm. I did, and it’s been working quite well! It’s currently in beta, and it’ll be pretty exciting to see it used in speedruns officially (and maybe on Games Done Quick).

Is your professional style different from your personal style?

They’re not different at the moment. I’m still developing my wardrobe, so my outfits are limited, but I have definitely worn this dress and corset to work. Usually I’m more inclined to wear the dress for office parties, but I’ll regularly combine various pieces, and I’m almost always going to do my eyeshadow.

How has your style evolved to what it is now?

Ha, well before I started my transition I had no style - I didn’t care about wearing anything in particular, or looking a certain way. Not that I didn’t want to, but I was scared to break out of the role I had been playing for 30 years of my life. I spent too much time telling myself I couldn’t.

Any advice for folks reading this?

I just want more people to find and explore their own styles: don’t let some inner voice tell you that you can’t wear something because of society’s gender norms or that you might stand out or whatever. It can be hard to overcome, but that voice can be useful to discover what you’d actually enjoy wearing.

Thank you again to Kory for being willing to wake up early, on a surprisingly chilly morning, to do this shoot with me. If you find yourself in St. Louis, stop by Kaldi’s Coffee, where we grabbed coffee and pastries afterwards. And if you find yourself struggling with anything around computational geometry, you know who to call!