Profile: Jessica Bell, developer at The Washington Post

3 strategies to try out if you want to support women in tech

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 Jessica Bell, developer at The Washington Post.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

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 Jessica Bell, developer at The Washington Post.

asap

asap

Jessica Bell, developer at The Washington Post

Jessica Bell works as a developer for The Washington Post, primarily on front end and JavaScript projects. She holds a degree in International Relations from San Fransisco State. Jessica sits on the leadership teams for DC Tech Meetup and DCFemTech and is an active member of Women Who Code DC. She teaches at General Assembly throughout the year classes helping people learn the basics of code and web development. Her current project is DC Tech Stories, a podcast about local tech workers.

Read more about her projects here.

What got you interested in technology?

I became interested in technology quite late it feels like. I was working for the American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the time and moved into a communications role that included a lot of digital work. We had a big website redesign project and when that was over, I took over the management of the site. I had to learn quickly and I found I really liked the website work I was doing.  

I started taking online classes, building little sites, and then took a boot camp with General Assembly for Front End Web Development. Soon after that, I decided I wanted to try do to web development full time and moved into a 100% coding job.

I have a degree in International Relations and my first job was in that field. I never knew I was going to end up in tech, and to be perfectly frank — I didn’t even really like tech much. I had a pretty low level of tech literacy when I started so there was a lot of work to get myself armed with the correct language to even start learning.

For example, how specifically does the internet work? How does code get passed back and forth, where does it run, how does one write, store, and serve code. I took a computer science 101 course online and that REALLY helped me get some of the big picture stuff.  Then comes code. Learning to code includes the specific syntax of the language you are writing, but also the ways one solves problems using logic a computer can actually compute (which is harder than it seems)!! Then comes building a program. Ok so you can write a couple of functions — now make a whole program  — that is a big jump!  

Then comes working in tech. How does one work in a collaborative team on what feels like a very solitary problem? What is source control? Performance, developer operations, etc — the list grows! Eventually, you realize that you will be learning the rest of your tech career and you kinda stop stressing out about knowing everything since that is impossible. My biggest challenge has been being OK with my learning pace and not knowing everything — it makes me feel like I am years behind everyone, when in reality, everyone knows their little corner of tech and together we make some awesome programs!

People think that computer scientists and programmers are shy and stand off-ish but I have always found amazing mentors, helpers, and supporters every step of my journey.

I had a TON of support during my journey. I have a few very close friends who are programmers who urged me to keep learning when I first started. They helped me get over the false notion that I was not smart enough to learn to program, or it was too late to get into tech and celebrated with me when I made it to some milestone — it really helped me to keep going.  

Shortly after I started learning to program I started dating my partner Seth, who is a programmer and studied computer science. I remember coming to his house for dinner and while he was cooking we would talk through issues I was having in my learning — I specifically remember when he took out a piece of paper to draw how loops within loops executed in a program and it just clicked! People think that computer scientists and programmers are shy and stand off-ish but I have always found amazing mentors, helpers, and supporters every step of my journey.

I have had people not take me seriously, undermine my opinions, and not give me good projects because perhaps they thought I was too junior, or perhaps because of unconscious bias. It is a lot of work to train up junior developers. Some companies and managers hire people that are junior since they are cheaper, and then do not give them any real training or mentorship so they get stuck on a learning plateau and don’t progress in their skills. I have left those places very quickly. It happens, the trick is to find those in your camp and stick with those people — and if you are in a situation where there is no one fighting for you then get out of that situation — there are companies who value diverse tech talent, both in background and identity, don’t settle for one that doesn’t.

A day in Jessica’s life

I currently work for The Washington Post as a web developer.  My work is primarily done in JavaScript but The Post Engineering team is quite large and has many projects so that is not super representative of the whole team! My day usually starts with coffee on my walk to work, answering emails in the morning, looking at any new Jira tickets, a few hours of coding, lunch on the roof deck or park near the office, another round of emails and tickets, then ending the day with coding, cleaning up, and pushing my code to a safe location (version control and shared repositories). I really like my work — it is so relevant right now, is intellectually stimulating, and my team is very easy to work with.  Being at The Post is super exciting right now!

There have been many moments of joy and pride in my career actually.  I had a hard start getting in, but now looking back on what I have done, I am quite happy with my ability to change, adapt, and find solutions. Learning to code is hard — and I am proud that I was brave enough to take the chance, have enough grit to stick to it, and am mindful enough of my ever evolving role as a developer, community organizer, and teacher.

If you told me five years ago what I would be doing now I would have called you a liar!!

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

It is a complicated, nuanced, ever changing issue that can’t really be answered in one interview, and there is no silver bullet that is going to solve the issue.  It’s awesome to support young girls getting interested in programming when they are young, and that should continue, but there are plenty of women currently IN tech who are not getting mentorship, training, and opportunities to advance.  

Becoming a programmer is hard for all genders. Additionally for women or other under represented people in tech, unconscious bias in hiring and advancement, ‘bro’ culture focused workplaces, and events/conferences with ‘booth girls’, constant all male panels, and the ever present boys club, it gets tiring. No one wants to work in a frat house.

Diversity of thought, background, and identity in all fields would help us as a society be more creative in the way we solve issues and problems; have more empathy and understanding for lives and communities outside of our own; and will bring about a wider range of projects being worked on. If you always use the same kind of data input you will usually get the same few results — vary your input and you will find connections and patterns you never even thought to look for.

Obstacles

Tech is hard for anyone — it’s constantly changing, can be maddeningly challenging and at the same time numbingly boring. It takes grit to learn and keep learning through all the bug fixes, bad code, poor project managers etc. Add on top of that being the only woman on a team or in the conference, it’s even more isolating.  

It should not be the woman on the team constantly reminding people that ‘hey! they are women here too’. It can grind you down, not having access to the boys club where people make connections and relationships which lead to better projects, promotion, etc.

Tips & tricks

If a company wants more women:

  1. hire more women,
  2. make sure your workplace is inclusive to all backgrounds,
  3. listen to the women that already exist in your workforce.

If an individual wants to help:

  1. try following more female programmers on social media — re-tweet them, praise them publicly
  2. call out bad behavior — you don’t have to be rude, just say ‘hey dude that’s not cool’ , or ‘wow this panel has no women, there should be some on here
  3. praise women on your team in front of higher ups, give them credit for projects, if you are in a managerial role — give them challenging projects and back them up with mentorship. Awareness that there is a problem coupled with people honestly caring and taking action on that.

 

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is an online editor for JAXenter.com. Before working at S&S Media she studied International Communication Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Comments
comments powered by Disqus