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Profile: Jennifer Wadella, JavaScript developer & international speaker

Diversity talk: People who act as gatekeepers in the tech community are part of the problem

Gabriela Motroc
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 Jennifer Wadella, JavaScript developer & international speaker.

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 Jennifer Wadella, JavaScript developer & international speaker.

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 Jennifer Wadella, JavaScript developer & international speaker

Often described as a force of nature, Jennifer Wadella is a JavaScript developer, international speaker, foodie, fitness geek, and community organizer most well known for her work creating innovative and highly sought-after programs for women in technology.

Jennifer has been writing code since before she realized it was a credible career path. She currently works as a lead front-end developer at legal tech startup and loves building javascript applications and speaking at technical conferences. Jennifer is the founder of Kansas City Women in Technology(KCWiT), an organization aimed at growing the number of women in technology careers in Kansas City. She’s created a number of programs for KCWiT to help women and girls learn to code including CoderDojoKC, Coding & Cupcakes and Coding & Cocktails. She is a Silicon Prairie Champion Award Nominee, Rising Trendsetter STEMMy award-winner, and is apparently Missouri’s Coolest Woman according to Pure Wow.

What got you interested in technology?

Like many women my age, my interest didn’t start in tech, it started in creativity. Technology was simply a means to an end – figuring out how to manipulate computer games, and then code, to express what I wanted. I wasn’t coding for the sake of coding, I was writing code to build a website for my Halo 2 team, or to update my Xanga page.

By the time I reached college(university), I knew I wanted to study graphic design and thought I wanted to be a creative director. When I graduated, the US economy had tanked and I couldn’t find a job, but I was able to book freelancing work to design and build websites, so I really had to teach myself to code to be able to deliver for my clients. I think the biggest obstacles I faced were ones I set up for myself based on society’s coaching – that because I was a woman I wasn’t supposed to be good at math (when in reality I loved logic puzzles and really excelled at them) and when I struggled I should just give up because it meant I wasn’t smart enough.

My parents have always been supportive of me but definitely didn’t have the knowledge base to realize all the different technology opportunities that were available and expose me to them. They knew I was good with computers but didn’t know a career to point me to.

I think when I was younger, my role models were characters from movies, I always tended to identify with the female leads in male-dominated casts: Becky (Icebox) from Little Giants and Julie “The Cat” Gaffney from D2: The Mighty Ducks. Today I don’t necessarily have a role model, but I get inspired by all the women helping each other in this male-dominated tech space.

People, regardless of gender, can be insecure and jealous and look for reasons to blame others for their lack of other success, which can lead to destructive and malicious behavior. I think I’ve encountered that more – with individuals trying to tear me down after being successful vs. trying to prevent me from advancing in the first place.

A day in Jennifer’s life

Currently, I work at a small legal tech startup, writing Angular 2, a JavaScript framework. I’ve had a variety of different developer jobs, but I think I prefer ones where I can just sit down and focus on writing code instead of making product/business decisions or working on design and UI in addition to writing functional code.

I also run a nonprofit called Kansas City Women in Technology where I manage 40+ people, so it’s nice to be able to write code during the day, and then devote my emotional energy to running a team in my after hours because it’s a very different skillset. I also speak internationally, so there are some weeks when I’m splitting my time between working and speaking at technical conferences.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m most proud of building Kansas City Women in Technology, my non-profit. We’ve built several different programs, coding workshops, networking events, and mentoring opportunities to support the women in our community and it’s amazing to see how many women have started their path into a tech career and have the confidence to pursue it because of our work.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

Society for one. We’ve created these gender-focused constructs of what’s “appropriate” for women and men to like and excel at, and it’s incredibly harmful. Many women feel they don’t “belong” in tech, and don’t even attempt to see if they like it.

One of the programs we run, Coding & Cupcakes, is aimed at getting girls to explore technology and coding, but we’re actually marketing to the parents who think “coding isn’t for girls”. I actually give a talk on diversity in tech, slides can be found here.

I’m not sure what the current estimated date for gender parity in the tech industry is right now, but the work my organization focuses more on the impact we can make today, knowing that will move the needle slowly forward for the future.

Challenges

In addition to societal problems I mentioned previously that make women feel they shouldn’t be in tech, there is blatant sexism and people who act as gatekeepers in the tech community. The Google Manifestbro showed us there are people who believe that women, or even POC shouldn’t be in tech.

There are numerous women in my network who get comments that they only got their job because of diversity efforts + them being a woman, or only get booked as a speaker for the same reason. People are blaming women’s “success” on diversity efforts rather than acknowledging these women may actually be good at what they do and deserve a seat at the table.

Tips & tricks

I’m a software engineer, so most of my advice is geared towards writing code. Coding is like any other skill, it takes hard work and practice.

I see a lot of women attempt coding and give up almost immediately because it’s hard and they feel like they’re not “good” at it. I tell them if you’re learning to dance hip-hop (or anything really) for the first time, you won’t be good at it either. It takes time, effort, and energy. Just don’t give up.

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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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