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Profile: Jen Looper, Senior Developer Advocate at Progress & founder of Vue Vixens

How to succeed in tech: “Go ahead and do it. This is a great option for women”

Ann-Cathrin Klose
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we 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 Jen Looper, Senior Developer Advocate at Progress & founder of Vue Vixens.

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 Jen Looper, Senior Developer Advocate at Progress and founder of Vue Vixens.

Jen Looper, Senior Developer Advocate at Progress & founder of Vue Vixens

Jen Looper is a senior developer advocate at Progress and has more than 15 years of experience as a web and mobile developer. Her focus lies on building mobile cross-platform applications. She is a multilingual multiculturalist with a passion for hardware hacking, mobile apps, machine learning and discovering new things on a daily basis.

What got you interested in technology?

Unlike a lot of folks in the profession who grew up with computers and majored in the field, I actually have a Humanities background, with a Ph.D. in French. My specialty was Medieval French literature, and more particularly the 13th-century Arthurian prose romance. It was quite a shift to leave the field and join my first startup, but even when I was in graduate school in the mid 90’s I was experimenting with computers in the context of managing my academic workload.

I left academia due to a very soft job market and joined tech when the dot-com-boom was coming to an end in the U.S. I got a bit lucky and joined a local startup after taking online courses. These were the days when you could get a job if you knew just a bit of HTML and CSS. I think the entry barrier is a lot higher today!

Given my background as outlined above, I have a latent passion for second-language acquisition, and working in tech actually has allowed me to reuse some of my skills as a linguist and language teacher, but this time it’s not French, it’s JavaScript! In terms of obstacles, I had to retrain from scratch, similar to how current boot-camp graduates enter the field in the U.S. I was lucky to have a very supportive husband who is a Professor at MIT who was very encouraging.

Great female colleagues instead of role models

I wouldn’t say I had role models back then, but I definitely had some great female colleagues. The woman who handled sales and set up client websites in my first startup gave me my first recommendation so that I could move to a different company when it was time. I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by great women colleagues. In my tenure at a large, enterprise insurance company, I had fantastic Eastern European women colleagues who were great mentors.

A day in Jen’s life

After about 15 years as a developer, I’m happy to now be a Developer Advocate, which allows me to continue to develop but not be working on a product. Instead, I advocate for the company’s product, creating demos and giving talks all over the world. It’s a really privileged position to be in after many years in the trenches.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

This is a tricky question. Definitely, when I was growing up, girls in my community weren’t encouraged to become engineers. I always considered myself to be part of the ‘arts/humanities’ crowd. But nowadays, the pipeline is much stronger; people are much more encouraging of young women getting into the field. I myself have encouraged my daughters to learn how to code.

Allowing flextime, having proper benefits, reasonable working hours, and being family-friendly: It’s not that men are not also interested in these benefits, but if you don’t have them, women are sure to drop out.

There’s no physical or mental barrier for women to succeed and thrive in the field, and the pipeline is pretty strong, so this brings me to conclude that the atmosphere at many companies is not often conducive to keeping female programmers in the ranks. Due to conscious and unconscious bias, many women might be burning out and dropping out.

It’s of supreme importance to ensure a company’s interest in building and maintaining a diverse workforce. This means allowing flextime, having proper benefits, reasonable working hours, and being family friendly. It’s not that men are not also interested in these benefits, but if you don’t have them, women are sure to drop out. Pay equity is another extremely pernicious morale-killer for women; everyone must be paid equally for equal work. I hear stories over and over again about how discouraging it is to learn of a pay gap.

The more the workforce diversifies, the better the work environment will be for everyone.

I do think that if more women were in executive positions, their companies would have a somewhat different feel. I am inspired by the CEO of Care.com, here in Boston, Sheila Marcelo, who is my age and founded the company with two little children in tow. She is a terrific example of someone who has a great impact on her community socially, while also successfully bringing Care.com to IPO, one of the few recent Boston IPOs.

Meet Vue Vixens

Vue Vixens is a group for ‘foxy people who identify as women’ to learn how to build web and mobile apps with Vue.js. I was inspired to create it by participating in ng-Girls, a similar group within the Angular community. We are currently gathering local leaders from all over the world who are excited to build chapters to learn Vue.js together.

We are currently finalizing our workshop content and are building ‘mini skulk’ content (a skulk is a group of foxes) for breakfasts and lunch’n’learn events. I am also working to become a nonprofit organization so that we can launch our scholarship fund to help underrepresented people come to conferences. This was inspired by our work with the Vue.js conference – we handled the distribution of diversity tickets to the conference, selecting 5 winners from 55 entries – and it struck me that if I had the budget to help these folks come to the conference, the program would be that much stronger. So we are doing a lot of work and the program is getting pretty popular, very quickly! If you’re interested, take a look at vuevixens.org, join our Slack channel and subscribe to our newsletter!

Why Vue.js?

I came to Vue.js by means of NativeScript, the product I generally evangelize at Progress. NativeScript is a runtime with which you can build mobile apps using Angular or no framework at all, and a community member started building a Vue.js integration for NativeScript that I found really compelling. It was my pleasure to support him and launch the project formally at Vue.Amsterdam Conference. For me, Vue feels like Angular.js, which I enjoyed working with a few years ago. Indeed, the creator of Vue.js talks about how Angular.js inspired him.

I have encountered some push-back after launching Vue Vixens. Some folks consider it an exclusive community and are offended. Of course, we are happy to work with people who identify as men if they’d like to help us build the community, even if we do offer the workshops to women and those who identify. But these voices are a real minority. Overall, I have personally felt welcome in tech and the initiative has been very enthusiastically received by most people.

Tips & tricks

Go ahead and do it. This is a great option for women. If you enjoy learning new things, building websites and mobile apps, or working in the backend it’s a fantastic career path.

To get started, make sure to build up a good portfolio and nail the technical interview. There’s a great book (also by a woman!) called Cracking the Coding Interview that I highly recommend. Good luck!

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Ann-Cathrin Klose

Ann-Cathrin Klose

All Posts by Ann-Cathrin Klose

Ann-Cathrin Klose is an editor and has been working for S&S Media since 2015. Before joining the team she studied General Linguistics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

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