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Profile: Charlie Gerard, software developer at ThoughtWorks

“Even if women decide to work as developers because they are passionate and qualified, they are sometimes treated like diversity hires”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Charlie Gerard, software developer at ThoughtWorks.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Charlie Gerard, software developer at ThoughtWorks.

Charlie Gerard, software developer at ThoughtWorks

Charlie is a software developer at ThoughtWorks in Sydney. She is passionate about creative coding and hardware and spends her free time experimenting with technology, design, and art to create interactive prototypes. She also spends time giving back to the community by mentoring new developers, contributing to open-source software and speaking at conferences.

What got you interested in technology?

I think I’ve always been excited by technology but I didn’t always know I could be a part of this industry. As a kid, I loved electronic gadgets and I think the fact that they seemed a little magical to me got me really curious but I had absolutely no idea how to write code or how any of it worked.

Originally, I studied advertising and communication in France. I have a Masters degree in communication strategy and as part of my degree, I had the opportunity to study abroad for 6 months in Sydney where I decided to try and take a Computer Science 101 class where I learnt a bit of Processing. It was the first time I ever wrote code. I really liked it but had to start looking for a job related to my degree.

I worked as a digital producer for a couple of years where I was managing teams of designers, copywriters and developers, and I think seeing what my developers were building got me excited and curious again; I wanted to be able to build what they were building but had no idea how.

I made my decision, quit my job, and did the course to become a full-stack web developer.

I couldn’t afford to go back to university to study a computer science degree so I started looking into General Assembly (a coding bootcamp) and their 12-week Web Development immersive course. It was a bit of a risk because taking the course meant I would not earn any money for at least 3 months but I asked myself, “What is the worst thing that can happen?”

The answer seemed to be that, either I wouldn’t like programming, or maybe I just wouldn’t be good at it and I’d have to go back to finding a job as a project manager. As a worst-case scenario, that didn’t seem too bad at all so I made my decision, quit my job, and did the course to become a full-stack web developer.

When I told my parents I wanted to quit my job to try and become a developer by doing a course in a bootcamp, they were a bit worried I wouldn’t find a job in the end, which is fair enough, but I think they trusted that I knew what I was doing and I would figure things out even if it didn’t work out.

I didn’t really know anyone in the industry at the time so I didn’t have a clear role model, but as soon as I started the course, I met a few other women in tech, started following others on Twitter and saw they were contributing to great things in the industry and that definitely motivated me to push myself even more.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Maybe not directly but I remember comments such as “Oh, but you know, it’s really hard” when I was telling people I wanted to try and take a CS course as an exchange student. I know that type of comment would not have been said to me if I had been a man.

Otherwise, comments like “You don’t have the face of someone who’s into robotics” while I was presenting one of my personal projects involving motion control to make a little robot move, etc… or even “women are not as good at technology because they don’t like it as much”, while working with one client… It can be a bit disheartening to have to prove yourself, your skills or your passion for technology but you can’t let that stop you.

A day in Charlie’s life

I am currently a software developer at ThoughtWorks. I work with a variety of clients from different industries to help them build better software. As we are a consultancy, I don’t only get to code, my role is also to advise clients on the best practices and help them identify the features that are the most valuable to their customers.

I get to use different technology stacks depending on the projects, so I am not focused on a particular language or framework but more on what is best suited to solve a particular problem.

We work using Agile methodologies so we start every day with a stand-up meeting and we have regular showcases, retrospective sessions, sprint planning sessions, etc… We usually work in our client’s office to be closer to them and to understand better how they work.

A few times a week, I try to go back to the ThoughtWorks office to use our maker space and work on personal projects.

I am still at the early stage of my career but I am proud of often pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I sometimes speak at local meet-ups but last year I started speaking at conferences internationally and as much as it terrifies me to be on stage, I am proud to have gotten there and try to inspire other women to do the same.

Even if women decide to work as developers because they are passionate, qualified, motivated, etc… they are sometimes treated like “diversity hires” and have to work a lot harder to convince people they have the skills, which can be exhausting and results in women leaving the field.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

In my opinion, the issue of women not working in the technology industry starts way before women enter the workforce. As a child, I never saw programming as a potential career. If you looked at all movies and series, all developers or hackers were male so, unintentionally, this is probably the way I was seeing society. I saw some jobs as particularly “women” and “men” jobs. I obviously now have realized that this is not true but I think I realized it once I started working as a developer. A lot of people still think technology is a men’s field and that women are not smart enough to be engineers.

Which then leads to the second reason why I think women don’t stay in technology. Even if things are getting better, discrimination is still present in our industry. Even if women decide to work as developers because they are passionate, qualified, motivated, etc… they are sometimes treated like “diversity hires” and have to work a lot harder to convince people they have the skills, which can be exhausting and results in women leaving the field.

I think the world would be different if more women worked in STEM, but not only women, also people of colour, people from the LGBTIQ+ community and any underrepresented group. If developers are building products for a large audience, then the teams building these products should be representative of this audience.

Technology is a very exciting, dynamic and booming industry where so many new ideas can be created to make people’s lives better. However, if these new products or services are only built by a group of similar people, they will not fit the needs of a diverse world, creating a bigger inequality gap between communities.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

I think we’ve already started seeing results with companies trying to have more diverse teams, conferences showing diverse line-ups, workshops and events to expose young girls and underprivileged kids to programming, etc…

There is still a long way to go but it’s definitely better than nothing. Hopefully, by the time the next generation of children pick the career they want to have, more of them will choose one in STEM.

Challenges

I’ve been very lucky to work in environments that were very diverse so I haven’t faced the challenges that many other women are facing. However, the lack of diversity and role models can be an obstacle. If you don’t know any women around you who are team leads, CEOs or CTOs, you might unconsciously think that you’ll never get there neither.

Tips & tricks

I would advise anybody who wants to have a career in technology to give it a go, no matter how hard or scary it seems to be. It is a very exciting and innovative industry with a lot of opportunities to create products that can have a great impact on people’s lives.

Also, learning to code gives you some kind of empowerment; you have the skills to bring any idea you have to life!

Finally, the developer community is amazing. So many people are willing to help each other learn more, collaborate on open-source projects, share knowledge, etc… No matter your interests, you’ll be able to find a group of like-minded people willing to mentor you, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

 

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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