Profile: Chelsea Hohmann, Engineering Manager at Stoplight

Women in Tech: “Find a way to quiet the self-doubts early”

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 Chelsea Hohmann, Engineering Manager at Stoplight.

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 Chelsea Hohmann, Engineering Manager at Stoplight.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Chelsea Hohmann, Engineering Manager at Stoplight

Chelsea Hohmann has been a part of the Stoplight family for three and a half years, serving as our engineering team lead and manager based in Austin, Texas. Before joining Stoplight, Chelsea was a full-stack engineer at Applause and National Instruments. Chelsea is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s in business administration, management information systems, and supply chain management.

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

My dad was a high school teacher at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy magnet school in Austin. He taught physics, robotics, and a class he invented called SciTech where students had to create a mechanical device that could successfully complete an engineering challenge. So, I was exposed to technology from an early age. I remember building and playing with Lego Mindstorms with my dad, and programming it to do the tango when I was really young.

Fast forward to college where I chose to major in MIS in the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin. The MIS major was more geared towards skills needed to be a Business Analyst so partway through I realized that it wasn’t as technical as I would’ve liked. The Database and Web Application Development classes really solidified my interest in more of the technical side of the major, so I decided to also get a minor in Computer Science as well.

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

After graduating from UT Austin I went to work for an engineering company called National Instruments in their IT department building internal web applications to support their R&D department. After a few years in that role, I realized I wanted to work more on a company’s main product rather than internal IT applications so I joined a testing and digital quality company called Applause working on their Automated Testing SDK and dashboard.

After proving to myself that I could, in fact, be successful in a true Product Engineering role, I joined Stoplight, a leading API design company, and I recently transitioned into an Engineering Manager role. The main obstacles I’ve had to overcome are all self-inflicted. I have major imposter syndrome (which a lot of women often struggle with in STEM as well), and I have always struggled to accept that I am qualified for the position I want and/or have. I always felt like since I didn’t have a Computer Science degree, I was constantly playing catch up on my technical abilities. The first jump from working on internal IT applications to actual product development was the scariest, and every change in career since then has gotten easier, but there’s still that little voice of doubt that I have to work to keep quiet. It’s important to remind myself, and the next generation of young women in tech that even though that little voice will always be there, you have to push through it and recognize that YOU are the most qualified person for this role.

I have a young daughter now, and I work hard to be a role model for her by showing her she can be anything she wants to be in this world!

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

My family has always been supportive. Even if they don’t quite understand exactly what I do, they were always there to push me to take chances to achieve my goals. My husband especially has been a huge help in quieting that self-doubt that pops up during big career shifts.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing people throughout my career so far, so I don’t have a single role model, I have several. I especially appreciate the managers who have helped me grow in my career: John Hansen, Davy Lodrige, Brian Rock, as well as Jason Harmon, and Raleigh Schickel at Stoplight. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help and guidance along the way and I continue to learn from all of them even if I don’t work with them anymore. I have a young daughter now, and I work hard to be a role model for her by showing her she can be anything she wants to be in this world!

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

As I mentioned in the previous question about role models, I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing managers and mentors throughout my career. So there thankfully hasn’t been a person that has tried to stop me from learning and advancing in my professional life. However, if I hadn’t made the jump from internal IT application development to product development, I think that would’ve stopped me from learning and advancing in my professional life.

A day in Chelsea’s life

I’m currently working at Stoplight as an engineering manager. Stoplight provides products to aid in API design first practices. We have a form-based editor that helps you create OpenApi Specifications that describe your APIs. Stoplight also offers solutions for mocking, linting, and documenting your APIs using your OpenAPI Specifications. As an engineering manager at Stoplight my responsibilities include writing and delivering code about 50% of my time. The other 50% of my time is focused on refining my team’s processes to help deliver features predictably, helping my team grow in their careers through one-on-ones, and coordinating with our Product Manager to make sure we’re delivering the right things for our customers.

My typical workday is a combination of heads down coding time, interviewing candidates, agile ceremony meetings with my team, one-on-ones with my team, and cross-org coordination meetings.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of having the courage to make the jump to product development. In my eyes, that was a big risk that I wasn’t sure I was ready to take. But taking that leap of faith was the best thing I ever did for my career. It set the tone for the rest of my career, because it gave me more confidence to make all the other changes in my career I’ve made to get where I am today. I would’ve never thought I could be an engineering manager for a rapidly growing startup, but here I am!

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

I don’t think there are as many women in tech as we would all like because there isn’t enough exposure to STEM for young women. I was lucky enough to have a STEM teacher for a dad, so I got that exposure at an early age and I think that made all the difference. If I didn’t have a dad in STEM, I’m not sure where I would’ve gotten that exposure that sparked my interest in the field. I think I’m also not unique in being a woman battling her imposter syndrome. Having those self-doubts can be a real deterrent in making the switch into a tech-related career.

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

I think one of the biggest challenges women in tech face is having to get the right mix of strength and compassion. If you’re too strong, people are quick to judge you as being heartless. If you’re not strong enough, people won’t respect you or your opinions and will tend to walk all over you. So it’s a constant battle to ensure you strike the right balance. I also feel that you have to be careful about showing too much emotion. When you show emotion, people tend to write you off as just an “emotional woman” and don’t take you seriously.

The ‘current debate’ should be an ‘always debate,’ because DEI work never stops.

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

Quite honestly, if we had more women in STEM, the world would benefit in numerous ways. Studies have shown that including diverse voices and backgrounds in the development phase of today’s technology makes companies more profitable, more innovative, and more well-liked by their consumers. More women in STEM means a smarter world, a kinder world, and a world better equipped to handle the STEM needs that will arise in a rapidly evolving technology environment.

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

The conversation around diversity is an ever-going one, and that discussion will never be finished because there is always more we can do and should do to make STEM not just more diverse, but also more equitable and inclusive across the board.

While we’ve seen an increase in women joining the STEM fields these past few years and some of those results started to come to fruition, we still have a long way to go before there is true equity in STEM. The ‘current debate’ should be an ‘always debate,’ because DEI work never stops.

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

My biggest piece of advice to women who want a tech career is to find a way to quiet the self-doubts early. Whether that be surrounding yourself with people who will be your cheerleader or regularly evaluating the growth you’ve had to remind yourself you’re good at what you do, it’s important to find what works for you early so you’re confident to take on growth opportunities you may otherwise convince yourself you aren’t ready for. Some self-doubt is healthy as it keeps you striving to be better. But the goal is to never let it keep you from growing in your career.

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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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