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Profile: Bailey Hayes, Principal Software Engineer at SingleStore

Women in Tech: “Finding a solution is the best feeling in the world”

Sarah Schlothauer

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 Bailey Hayes, Principal Software Engineer at SingleStore.

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 Bailey Hayes, Principal Software Engineer at SingleStore.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Bailey Hayes, Principal Software Engineer at SingleStore

Bailey Hayes is a Principal Software Engineer at SingleStore. She believes the future is in distributed systems and WebAssembly (Wasm). Her daily activities include wrangling microservices, finding new tools for better devx, and discovering the best food for any given location. She is a lifetime North Carolina native and lives with her partner and two high-energy dogs in Cary, N.C.

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

I first became interested in technology through my love of video games. I enjoyed drawing and wanted to learn how to animate my art, and then later, how to make my own games. I started out learning ActionScript so that I could create Flash games. If you aren’t familiar with Flash, it’s a web technology that has been replaced by newer web standards but was popular in the 2000’s. Learning how to tinker with a website, create scripted animations, and figure out how everything around me works only grew my passion for technology.

Let’s talk about your background. How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I went to NC State for computer and electrical engineering thinking that I wanted to make robots, but after a few semesters, I realized that designing systems and writing software is what I truly enjoyed. The Computer Science department introduced a new game design concentration before I entered my sophomore year, so I jumped at the opportunity. One of the first classes I enrolled in was an Intro to Game Design course with Dr. Michael Young, and I absolutely loved it. I eventually became the teaching assistant for that class and later his research assistant.

I had quite a few health-related issues while I was an undergrad, including a pretty bad bike accident that took me out for several weeks, trouble with diabetes, and then I tore my ACL. While taking pain medication for my ACL reconstruction, I had to complete a multi-month project for my game engine class. We created an initial project then had to implement significant weekly updates, and I still to this day don’t know how I got my final project to compile. In hindsight, that was probably the best early experience of what it’s like to work on legacy software engineering projects. “What is this code even doing, and who wrote this?” And then the feeling we all experience at some point in our software engineering careers when we realize, “Yep that was me who wrote that.” I hadn’t (yet) learned the technical virtues of version control, unit tests, comments and documentation, but those are your best tools to combat this situation. They should be used for any kind of project at any scale, including school projects, but especially if what you’re working on will stretch into multiple weeks or months.

Beyond learning how to overcome technical obstacles, the most important lesson that I learned is that your health is everything. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. As hard as it is to take a step back in the moment, the quality of your work will improve if you rest before diving back in.

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

My parents were very supportive of my ambitions, and I wouldn’t be on my current career path if they hadn’t invested in my interests. I was incredibly fortunate to have had access to an Adobe Creative Suite license as well as high-speed internet before most of the kids in my school. While that doesn’t seem like a huge advantage by today’s standards, I grew up when the difference between dial-up and high-speed internet download rates could be hours or even days. My family and friends were not tech-savvy, but I was able to explore the world of technology by downloading tutorials and learning on my own.

During undergrad, I was also lucky to have found a mentor in Dr. Young. He hired me to work in his lab where I was exposed to game development research and new ideas. So much of what I learned was from working with his graduate students. Every day, a piece of the software puzzle changes to meet new demands, and I learned how exciting it is to look to the future of technology. Research experiences are something that I encourage every undergraduate to seek out.

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

Dr. Young was the first person who truly encouraged me to pursue my passion for technology, but he certainly wasn’t the last. I feel like I’ve always had technical leads who pushed me to grow and positioned me for opportunities to advance. It is true that I have only had managers and technical leads that are men, but they have always treated me as an equal member of the team. I do look forward to a future where leadership roles are more diverse.

As hard as it is to take a step back in the moment, the quality of your work will improve if you rest before diving back in.

A day in Bailey’s life

I am a principal software engineer at SingleStore on the Launch Pad team. We focus on innovation and emerging technologies, and one of our projects that I am most excited about is running WebAssembly in our database engine. It is technology like this that I believe will change the landscape of the software industry.

My typical workday may involve coding, code review, writing an article about my current research, working with customers and partners to build a unique solution for their problem, or building a proof of concept that I think could be the blueprint for a greater engineering effort.

What are you most proud of in your career?

In 2013, I worked on a team responsible for the data visualization library used in many applications across the company. My director at the time took a big risk going into production with several new web technologies like asm.js (later WebAssembly) and WebGL to replace our Flash-based web stack. The technologies were new and unproven but had a lot of potential. There were several moving parts like the APIs the browsers provided, and one API that I relied on for drawing our data visualizations to the screen was called WebGL. I had hoped and guessed incorrectly that all of the browsers would have full WebGL support before we released.

A little less than two months before our product ship date, we made the decision that we needed to transition from WebGL to something more stable and we need to do this ASAP. I built most of the WebGL renderer solo by crafting it around our existing OpenGL-based framework that was created by another teammate working primarily on iOS and Android. I didn’t think I could replace our current web renderer with a different rendering technology on my own and still meet the deadline. I asked for more resources, and three developers with no prior experience were added to the project.

It was my first time acting as a technical lead on a project, so I was a little unsure of how well I could onboard new devs and distribute the work. Thinking back on my time studying the “Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks, I knew this wasn’t a problem that could be solved by adding more developers alone. It would require finesse, ingenuity, and a dash of luck which is why this is one of my proudest achievements. One of the keys to this project’s success came from the architecture that made it simple to divide up the work into separate areas and execute at speed. At this point in my career, I had designed several projects but those projects never had more than one or two maintainers at a time. With this project, I was able to watch what I created be tested in real-time.

We finished the project on time and only two defects were ever reported as the result of the change in renderers. The coolest part is that this wasn’t a port from similar technologies like OpenGLES2 to DirectX. We went from something meant for 3D with shaders and textures to something that is 2D and used tricks like gradients to make the rendering look like our existing data visualizations on other platforms that all used 3D graphics. When we swapped renderers, many of our daily users never realized there was a change!

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

My family encouraged me to be an artist and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t even that great at art. My grandmother and some of my aunts are artists, so I think my interest was largely from the exposure. Speaking of exposure, engineering is something that never crossed my radar until an embarrassingly late time in my life. I thought an engineer was someone who drove trains, and it wasn’t until my junior year in highschool that I learned the difference. I had been programming in Flash to make video games for fun and animated a physics demonstration we had gone over in my class. I showed my physics teacher and at that point, he encouraged me to join the robotics club (which I didn’t know existed) and asked what type of engineer I wanted to be. Luckily I didn’t say “I don’t want to drive trains,” but my confusion prompted him to talk about potential majors I might be interested in. That one conversation changed my life and pointed me towards a career that I love.

Women aren’t as exposed to engineering and technology as a potential career path. That may be in part because young women don’t see themselves working in those roles, and their community of friends, family, and teachers might not consider it as a possibility. My family never tried to steer me away from male-dominated industries, but there were also no engineers or technologists around to expose me to STEM opportunities. STEM programs are now part of the curriculum at many schools, so I believe the added exposure will make a huge difference.

One thing that can help keep women in tech is making sure that they have a support system with a mentor – or, as I call it, a partner-in-crime.

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

In undergrad, it was difficult making friends in my engineering classes. On most days, I was the only woman in the classroom, and I often felt pressure to prove my competency. Nowadays I think that’s mostly self-inflicted pressure, but when I was starting out in my career and in class, I was constantly worried about someone thinking I had made it this far just because I had been given a leg up by being a woman.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

Software rules our lives today. If software is designed by one type of person, then it may leave out or even harm other social groups. Diversity in thought and design is so critical in software development. If you and your team aren’t thinking about your user, it’s pretty easy to create something with blindspots that simply won’t work for some use cases. More women in STEM will help, but we can’t stop there and need to push for the inclusion of many diverse backgrounds.

There is a compounding effect as more women enter STEM. More women will consider entering, fewer women will leave STEM careers, and increasing the diversity of teams will make it easier to add more people from diverse backgrounds.

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

I have been volunteering for STEM programs for middle school and high schoolers for about 10 years, and I am seeing more interest by young women and girls in programming. We’ve been talking about STEM and increasing diversity for a while, and I think we’ve finally unblocked the pipeline. From the career side of things, I interview candidates as a part of my role as a principal software engineer, and I am now seeing more women apply for roles. Our talent acquisition team is putting in work to find diverse candidates, which is great, but it also feels like there is better representation in candidates on the job market, which is even better.

I want to see that trend continue, but there’s another problem to tackle that isn’t talked about as much. Women leave STEM careers at a higher rate than men. One thing that can help keep women in tech is making sure that they have a support system with a mentor – or, as I call it, a partner-in-crime. That is someone to bounce ideas off, share news about the industry and hack together crazy ideas. I’ve been lucky to have found a partner-in-crime in most of my previous roles, and these partners were one of the major reasons why going into work remained fun, challenging, and a constant opportunity to grow and learn.

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

Be prepared to be resilient and incredibly stubborn. When learning to program or debug a hard problem, it’s incredibly frustrating. There’s a constant ebb and flow from frustration to nirvana. Even with over a decade of experience, I sometimes have fits of imposter syndrome when I wonder if I even know how to develop at all. Finding a solution, however, is the best feeling in the world and it’s always enough to fuel me on through to the next problem.

More Women in Tech:

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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