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Profile: Kendra Havens, Program Manager for .NET and Visual Studio team

Women in Tech: “You have to be your own cheerleader”

Jean Kiltz

Four years ago, 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 Kendra Havens, Program Manager for .NET and Visual Studio team.

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?

Four years ago, 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 Kendra Havens, Program Manager for .NET and Visual Studio team.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Kendra Havens, Program Manager for .NET and Visual Studio team

I am passionate about using technology to empower people and solve the world’s problems! Be it technological, business, or people puzzles, I love a good challenge. Currently, I’m a Program Manager on the .NET and Visual Studio team. I focus on .NET Tooling and the testing experience in Visual Studio. You may recognize me from videos on Visual Studio, .NET Core, C#, and Testing tools.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

I first got interested in technology in college. I actually majored in French, and I was in awe of a lot of translation software and NLP (natural language programming). When I was a sophomore studying abroad in France I also started picking up Python. I loved it and got a minor in Computer Science. I started working for my university as a programmer maintaining some websites, an inventory system, and a computer lab login system while finishing my degree.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I was very lucky that Microsoft came to recruit at the University of Oklahoma’s career fair. They didn’t come every year and I happened to meet the recruiter and learn about the Microsoft Explorer Intern program. This program was specifically for beginning computer science students and my languages background landed me on the compiler team that summer. I felt I might be at a disadvantage not having majored in computer science, but I quickly learned that being able to adapt and learn on the job mattered a lot more. I was also lucky that I had experience in public speaking, teaching, and making videos.

These skills had started out as hobbies when I was very young. I was in Theater Club, I filmed and edited funny home videos with my brothers, and I consistently tutored other students in school and even taught English to French high schoolers when studying abroad. These skills are very helpful as a Program Manager and made me lean towards that role.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

Absolutely. I would not be where I am today without my family and friends. My parents were key in encouraging me to go to college. College is incredibly expensive in the U.S., and I was doubtful it would pan out at first. I’m incredibly thankful that it did. I’d say I have a dozen role models! My parents are wonderful people who I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning from. I’ve also found friendships at work that I absolutely relied upon when I was early in my career. Many people I look up to both professionally and personally are on the .NET team!

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

Yes. I don’t always fit into people’s ideas of what someone in tech looks like. That comes with some people making incorrect assumptions and acting on those, but that’s okay. There are plenty more people cheering me on.

I’m so thrilled with the impact those have had educating hundreds of thousands of people new to .NET and C#.

A day in Kendra’s life

My current job as a Program Manager is a lot of constant change. Some weeks I’m focused on customer interviews, diving into telemetry queries, and prioritizing the backlog by reading and absorbing feedback. Some days I am very heads-down prepping for conference demos or videos.

Recently, with the Visual Studio 2022 Launch and .NET Conf it’s been a lot more conference prep. Creating marketing materials, updating docs, and polishing blog posts. It’s fun to change from week-to-week, but it also keeps me on my toes.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m proud of my contributions to the product as well as the community. Contributing to the Roslyn compiler, designing the Visual Studio Test Explorer refresh with my team, and the .NET/C# 101 videos on YouTube are big highlights. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to do both very externally visible work and deeply internal product work. The 101 videos with Scott Hanselman get more views and comments just about every day. I’m so thrilled with the impact those have had educating hundreds of thousands of people new to .NET and C#.

The improvements we’ve been able to make to the Test Explorer over the past several years was a massive amount of customer interviews and design work. I’m also thankful I’ve been able to mentor and interview dozens of people who are early in career. I relied on mentors when I was in their shoes, and it feels good to pass it on and provide mentorship now.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

There is a lot of good reading on this from how tech culture changed in the 90s to be more exclusive to how cultural systems (often unintentionally) push women and minorities out of STEM at the beginning of their schooling. It’s definitely a multi-faceted problem that varies by region and culture. I’m optimistic at least, that we are slowly debugging the roadblocks. I know some of the resistance I met in the past shouldn’t be an issue for the next generation or even students just a few years behind me.

I love how YouTube and open-source documentation can democratize educational content. Anyone who wishes can learn skills that can change their life. I would encourage anyone who thinks of themselves as an ally to take regular actions that improve diversity in tech. Even if it’s just sitting down to help debug an issue or build someone’s confidence by talking through a problem with them or listening. It all helps. Microsoft actually requires all Principal-level employees to write about what actions they are taking to improve diversity and inclusion in their performance review. I hope more people will keep asking themselves that question.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

One challenge is not letting negative comments take away your energy. I’m a sunny, cheerful person. Since I create a lot of content online, I had to decide that when I read negative comments, if they don’t feed my energy or help me grow, I yeet them out of my mind. Particularly on YouTube or Twitter, people feel completely at ease to post whatever they want anonymously. Comments on my body, my qualifications, and criticizing my voice were often posted. The kinds of comments you’d never get from co-workers in real life. You must either not read them at all or decide to laugh at them. If sunflowers can feed off toxic radiation, why can’t I? 😊 When I read something ugly, I tend to smile at the thought of someone being so ridiculous as to post mean comments on the internet.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Yes, I think there would be a lot of differences. One that comes to mind is valuing soft-spoken opinions and giving each team member equal opportunity to contribute in discussions. One of the things I love about my current team is the fact that meetings don’t devolve into the loudest person in the room getting their say. We constantly boost and come back to the other people’s perspectives. Some research indicates that intellectual discussions are easier to have in this setting and it holds true in my experience. If you can speak softly and still be heard it’s a good indicator your team has a healthy ability to listen instead of talk over one another.

When I read something ugly, I tend to smile at the thought of someone being so ridiculous as to post mean comments on the internet.

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

I see results little by little every day. I’m sure there will be better statistical analysis in a few years, but at least today, I can say I work with more women and non-binary people than I ever have before. We still have a long way to go, but I’m very glad the discussion is on more people’s radar.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

I think being able to promote yourself was a difficult skill I had to learn. No one is going to notice and reward the work you do if you don’t remind them what you’ve done. You have to be your own cheerleader. If you can’t do that, surround yourself with mentors and friends who can be your cheerleaders. Another tip along these lines, write down what you’ve accomplished every week. It’s a great help when you are making a case for your next promotion. It’s easy to be critical of your own performance because you want to focus on improving, but don’t let that get in the way of promoting yourself.

More Women in Tech:

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Jean Kiltz works as an editor at S&S Media since March 2020. He studied History at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

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