Profile: Quynh To Tuan, Full stack developer for Tillhub

“More women in tech will diminish society’s clear distinction between male vs. female jobs”

Dominik Mohilo

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two 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 Quynh To Tuan, full stack developer for Tillhub.

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?

Two 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 Quynh To Tuan, full stack developer for Tillhub.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Quynh To Tuan

What first got you interested in tech?

Like most jobs nowadays my previous position in digital advertising had an online – and thus somewhat of a “tech” – component. The job never required me to be tech-savvy at all, but I needed to be able to explain to clients basic questions like: “What is a cookie?”, “What is an API?”, or “What is a server?”. So I learned standard answers to those questions from my also not-tech-savvy colleagues, but it seemed like everybody only knew half of the story.

But I never seemed to be able to acquire the deeper knowledge required to answer the tech-related questions I had to satisfaction. So for example, we all knew that a cookie somehow collects data about the web page user, but I wanted to know how it REALLY works. How does it get on my computer and how does information just magically pop up there? I needed answers. And reading up more and more about these things online only helped only to a degree, because every article would have other words I did not understand and needed to look up. It was a classic rabbit hole.

So I decided to learn from the ground up and started coding. First I tried to learn how to code in my free time – on weekends or after work. But as you can imagine, the little time I could allocate towards learning by myself was not sufficient to get up to speed in any meaningful way. So I decided to take a big step forward, quit my current job, take all my savings and do a coding bootcamp. This big decision did require a lot of research and talking to others who have taken the same route before me. What encouraged me was their excitement and belief in what they were doing in their new lives as developers.

A strong support system

Both of my parents were very supportive. Nevertheless and understandably, my mom was very afraid that her daughter would quit her secure job and start something completely new from scratch. I think my Dad was also worried, but neither of them ever expressed any doubt that I would not be able to do it. My role models were numerous, as I was lucky enough to share a co-living space with many other tech-affine roommates. From them I learned CSS, how to debug my code and be patient and curious rather than frustrated.

Did someone ever try to stop you in your professional life?

Never has anybody said anything discouraging about my learning on the side. I communicated my desire to change career paths openly and once the cat was out of the bag, my colleagues were understanding and actually curious about my progress.

A day in Quynh To Tuan’s life

In my current company, Tillhub, I work as a full stack developer. A normal day would start off with the leftover task from the day before. I like leaving tasks open to 90% at the end of the day and finishing the last 10% the next morning. It gives me something to look forward to and is such a pleasant start to the day.

Every two weeks we allocate the tasks to be done within the fortnight, so I can then manage my time accordingly. Usually, my tasks have different priorities, but if there are none, I am free to pick whatever I want to work on first. I am also free to choose whatever technology I think is best suited to get the job done.

At lunch our team usually splits up into two parts, those who go out to eat and those who brought food to eat in the company kitchen. We always have a nice time during lunch and I look forward to it. Thankfully, we have two amazing coffee machines and always enough fruit and snacks on hand, which makes the afternoon slump more than bearable.

All the developers in our team are very helpful and friendly. Whenever you’re stuck, there is always someone you can ask. Before I started working as a developer, I always thought that a typical developer life would include pair programming. In my team we rarely do that, but not because it is discouraged, but nobody really feels the need. Personally, I have the feeling that I can think and code faster and better when I do it on my own.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am proud that I found enough courage to go cold turkey, quit my job and invest all my savings into a coding bootcamp. It was a leap of faith, but it has more than paid off. I’ve laid the foundation for a happy career path and this is the best gift I could’ve given myself.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

That’s an interesting question. My dad and my brother are actually IT guys and although I had those potential role models in my life, it never occurred to me that it could be something for me too. Why?

I think the reason is the status quo. IT jobs are male-dominated, that’s why its image in society is also male-dominated. Consequently, young girls (and their fathers and brothers) do not naturally picture them in these kinds of jobs. I have not had any experience where women were actively discouraged from pursuing tech related jobs, but we need to see a higher ratio of women and thus role models first. It is a bit like the chicken and egg problem, which was there first?

Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?

To start with, there is not an abundance of (famous) female role models yet, which prevents women from wanting a tech related job themselves.

Furthermore, it can be discouraging for women to enter a male-dominated area when she comes in for a job interview with a company and the office is male only.

And lastly, society’s bias that a tech-related job is also a male job will lead to a disadvantage for female applicants. In practice, she would get less invitations for interviews, for example.

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

Ugh, that is a tough one to answer. Let me think about this.

Jobs in programming tend to be higher paid jobs, so this would be one more realm for women where they can be more financially independent. It is not unlikely that with a well paying job confidence and pride would rise, thus generating role models for even more female programmers to come and taking a bigger part of the pie.

A bigger (absolutely speaking) and more diversified pool of candidates for tech jobs means that a relatively better suited individual for the open position is more likely to be found. This will increase the productivity generated from this job.

And lastly, more women in tech will diminish society’s clear distinction between male vs. female jobs. Then, young girls would automatically be more open-minded about their future with fewer inhibitions, more diversified dreams, and potentially a more suitable job and happy work life.

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

Hard to say, but I’d say less than one generation. The widespread use of the internet facilitates the featuring of female role models as well as the access to affordable ways of learning how to code.

What advice would you give to women who want a career in tech?

It depends on the individual, but from my personal experience I’d recommend doing a coding bootcamp. It not only gave me knowledge and skills, but also the necessary push and confidence to apply for a job afterwards. If I had tried to teach myself completely on my own at home, I don’t know if I’d be writing those lines right now.

And if you do decide to do it all by yourself, it is even more important to surround yourself with like minded people, either fellow learners or established programmers, who can help you overcome frustrating hurdles. Go to tech meetups, join Facebook groups, and try to connect with others from the community as much as possible.

Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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