Rachael


Software Developer | 14 Oct 17

 

Hello, FemBytes readers! In chatting with more women in the industry, I’ve started getting asked when I’m going to answer my own questions for the blog. As I wrap up this first round of FemBytes interviews, it seems like a great opportunity to put myself in the hot seat for a change.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for what’s coming up next for the project! Be sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest updates.

 

Very few things in my life have played out the way I expected them to, especially my career, and I’ve discovered over the course of this project that that is so normal.

What do you do?

I’m a software developer and product owner. I oversee a team that is focused on user experience and front-end initiatives, and I consult on other projects as a subject matter expert on UX. My team is responsible for designing and developing web-based user interfaces for operator-facing tools.

What led you to your current role?

My undergraduate degree is in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I graduated and planned on studying Urban Planning; I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with either degree, and after a semester as an Urban Planning graduate student I realized it wasn’t really the place for me.

When I took a step back to consider what I might want to pivot to, I thought about the fact that I’ve been designing and developing for the web since I was 13 or 14, back when it was standard practice to write your HTML tags in all caps and set colors using the COLOR attribute. My first foray into HTML and CSS was as an administrator for a fan message board; I would mess with our board layout and those terrible “Dynamic Drive” scripts that used to exist back in 2000 or so that would add falling snowflakes to your webpage. From there, I learned proper HTML/CSS and JavaScript and started doing WordPress theme and plugin development for freelance clients over the years.

I decided I wanted to pursue something in that area, and ended up entering a graduate program in Information. I took courses in human-computer interaction and a bit of programming, but really my dev background is entirely self-taught.

My first job out of grad school was with a project management group at Boeing up in Seattle, where I worked on a metrics dashboard using primarily some proprietary Microsoft tools. While I was in Seattle, I participated in something called Startup Weekend, which is an event where you show up, form a team around someone’s pitch, and you have 48 hours to prepare a demo for the competition. My team ended up winning, which was awesome, and it really made me realize how much I wanted to be doing more fast-paced and dev-oriented work. After that I moved over to Disney Interactive to work on their content management and publishing system for many of their dot-com properties. I found my way over to my current group via a referral from a coworker, and I’ve been here for three years now.

What did you want to be growing up?

I think I probably wanted to be a pilot first - I was born on an Air Force base, and I remember being fascinated by the airplanes that flew over the playground. After that, I think for the bulk of my childhood I wanted to be a veterinarian or marine biologist. In high school I wanted to be a forensic scientist, because of CSI, naturally. I actually did a job shadow with a detective at a police department, which was cool, but also nothing like CSI.

Did you feel encouraged or discouraged about going into technology?

I didn’t really ever consider it an option, for some reason. I was always focused on the sciences, which I felt like I was good at but didn’t really love. Going into college I assumed I would be a doctor. Then my Microbiology and Animal Physiology classes happened and I was less convinced.

What is your first memory of being intrigued by technology?

Like everyone in my generation, I remember being obsessed with playing Oregon Trail in my school’s computer lab. Before that, though, I know I used to tinker around on our Windows 3.1 machine we had in the early 90s. Even before that, I remember the old DOS system that sat in our living room. The only computer class I had in school was a typing class.

At some point I became pretty much inseparable from the computer; I remember sneaking into the “computer room,” because that was a thing everyone had then, way too late at night or early in the morning and cringing as it did its little dial-up tone thing hoping it wouldn’t wake anyone up and get me in trouble. As I said, I primarily messed with very rudimentary graphic design and coding back then.

Do you have any hobbies that are unrelated to your field?

Photography, writing, drawing, fitness, coffee consumption - I have a lot of hobbies that have nothing to do with software. It’s interesting, because a trend I’ve found is that women tend to be much less likely to be that species of software dev that eats, sleeps and breathes tech. For whatever reason, the male brain seems to be much more drawn to that space where you hyper focus on one thing at a time, and my anecdotal evidence tells me that tends to make women feel a little “less than” in the tech world. Just because your male colleagues go home and work on their side hustle apps in their free time doesn’t mean you can’t go home and make pinecone animals or sock puppets and be just as valid in the space.

What do you want to learn next?

I would love to learn more about certain industry tools like Maya and Unity. Coming from the web universe, I feel like there’s a whole world of desktop power user tools that are so powerful for storytelling. I’m also about to delve into a project making a Raspberry Pi vintage game console, which is unlike anything I’ve done before.

Unrelated to tech, I have a laundry list of things I want to learn - conversational French and how to do latte art, to name the first two that come to mind.

What motivates you?

Solving problems by simplifying things. I’m a compulsive organizer and am incapable of coexisting with disorder, whether that’s a messy desk or a messy codebase. I think you can tackle some really difficult and complex problems by taking them apart and figuring out how to put the pieces back together in a way that maybe wasn’t clear when you were looking at it initially. Puzzle solving will always be the driving force behind how I work.

What advice do you have?

Follow your curiosity. Very few things in my life have played out the way I expected them to, especially my career, and I’ve discovered over the course of this project that that is so normal. If you’re in a field that maybe doesn’t feel exactly right, start dabbling in a different one. I recently had a conversation over lunch with some of my coworkers about whether your undergrad major really dictates what you end up doing with your life. At the table of software engineers we had an electrical engineer, an English lit major, a film studies major and me. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years studying botany and helping with research on vines in the Smoky Mountains, and I’m not sure what exactly I thought I was going to do with my life at that point. So no, I don’t think what you study in college necessarily determines where you’ll end up. Have fun and take opportunities as they come, even if it means hanging out in stinging nettle in the middle of a forest for hours and at one point realizing you’re standing on a beehive.