Thursday, May 26, 2011

What I love about being a software developer

A developer I met on twitter told me to check out this article a while ago on the benefits of being a female software engineer. I enjoyed it, but had a few varying opinions so I thought I’d first give my personal list of the things I love about being a developer, and then also some positives about being a woman in the field.

Things I Love About Being a Developer

Feeling like I have the power to build anything

We’re so bombarded with new technology all the time that I think we sometimes take for granted the magic of it. As a programmer, almost ironically, I feel like I get to live in constant awe of this magic. I’ve always been a creative person. I started writing songs and poetry in grade 2 and still do, got pretty good at drawing in middle/HS, and even thought for a while that I might try taking up woodworking in post secondary. The spirit of creation is the midnight oil that keeps programmers glued to their monitors into the wee hours. Having the ability to create programs you can use as tools just blows my mind. If you think it looks boring sitting behind a computer, just remember that’s exactly where you’d be if you were editing that music video in Final Cut Pro, or writing your famous blog that’ll be made into a TV series, or putting together parts for a song with GarageBand, but you wouldn’t be able to do any of those things on that computer without programmers! MAGIC!! :O

Seeing my creations work/do something I wanted to accomplish

Building a program is fun, but using it after or seeing people use and appreciate it is even more rewarding. If you’ve created a piece of software that works well and looks nice, just seeing the fruits of your labor on your own screen is enough to make you do a happy dance, if that is you’re nerdy/cool enough to do something like that *brushes shoulder off*

Making an algorithm that’s just that much better than the other guy’s

Now if you’re not competitive you can still enjoy programing for a lot of other reasons, and just because you don’t have the fastest most elegant solution for something does not mean you won’t be a successful programmer (not at all!), but for myself, I can get competitive sometimes . Especially when it comes to challenging projects or assignments. I’m not proud of this one but I know I’m not the only one who enjoys this. When the guys are talking about their solutions for an assignment like “Oh yeah I used a priority queue, and my algorithm does this. Runs faster than most of the other programs apparently. What’d you use?” I love when I can respond with something like. “Oh yeah that’s cool. I used one too but my recursive function cuts off early and uses a shortcut if the player isn’t being blocked, to score faster, which happens most of the time if it’s running against random players, so it ended up working in like half the time after I did that ” If you’re a good sport a little friendly competition can be fun I don’t want to make programing look harder than it is right now though, so for anyone reading this who isn’t sure if they’d be good at programing just try it and if you don’t like a language try another one. Some of the terminology used to describe it can make it look difficult but, it’s way easier than it seems, and not everyone who is good at programing likes the more challenging problems, but they’re still every bit as good of a programmer, and they end up being every bit as successful. So many opportunities are there for you if you have this special skill so I want to encourage everyone to try it. Especially more GIRLS! Still, if you’re bright and enjoy a challenge there are career paths you can take and courses you can take that can give you a lot of that Feeling kick-ass for solving a difficult problem is just a job perk worth mentioning. If you enjoy solving puzzle games and things like that, or you enjoy math or physics, you might want to check out programing, you’ll probably fall in love with it.

Salary

Computer science students, make on average anywhere from 16 to 18 bucks an hour for their first summer jobs during school, and then it can get up to 23 an hour by the time you graduate. Now this varies greatly depending on a lot of things and these are only my estimates based on what I’ve gathered from friends and acquaintances, so if you’re a student reading this, and it’s not your story, don’t worry! Even if you graduate with no work experience you still have a very marketable skill, and probably a great career ahead of you. I just had my first computer science job at the start of this school year (4th year) and now continuing into the summer my salary has gone up. I started late, I never really went after an IT job until last summer when I was coming out of third year, and I started late for the summer so I ended up giving up and waitressing, but I’m making more now than I was waitressing, I have a steady job 5 days a week, and I pinch myself because although I did enjoy my service job, getting paid more than I was hustling tables to do what I love already in my first job is a dream come true. If you give up on finding a summer job, just don’t give up on the career. It can feel daunting if people around you have jobs in the field and you’re late for the party(how I felt with my guy friends who almost all had IT jobs since 1st or 2nd year), but even working for free for a startup can be one of the most enriching experiences, and can be worth much more to you in the end than getting paid anything if you want to even try that. It’s not all about the money, but the money is there to be made. Again LADIES! There need to more ladies in my field getting in on this!

Being an expert/ respect

I have limited experience in the field, but from what I can tell there is a lot of respect in the work force amongst developers for each-other, especially if they all bring something different to the table, it’s all “Oh well you’re the expert on the databases”, or “Well I don’t know as much about that area of the product but this is what I think, what do you think?” and “Let me know how you feel about my ideas! ” or “Let me know if you have suggestions for how else we can go about this! ” Everyone values each-others input and there’s a real feeling of comradeship, teamwork, and respect. It’s great to feel like you really have something to contribute if you have special knowledge, and it’s great to be respected for what you can bring to a project at work, or for an expertise, which you’ll almost certainly end up developing over time in development, especially if there’s a certain language or type of project that really gets you passionate at the start.

Can always grow/ go new places/ go anywhere

There are so many options in a developer’s career. As an indecisive person it can make my head spin sometimes when I try to think exactly what direction I want my career to take, but as someone with a lot of interests it also makes me glad to know I can always explore new dimensions of the industry. From government jobs, to startups, to contract work, to open source, to future managerial possibilities, to starting your own business, or going to grad school. There are just a whole world of possibilities for career options in computer science/ computer engineering, and you can always learn more if you’re ever bored with where you are. There’s always more to learn and new exciting technology to explore

Entrepreneurial spirit of the industry

Since my second year at Carleton when I was exposed to a few startup companies in Ottawa I’ve thought that starting my own company was something I wanted to do eventually. I’ve seen other Carleton graduates succeed at it and after working on a 48 hour coding competition to make a game for Windows phone 7 (the Great Canadian Appathon), I know that when I’m working with friends on something we designed and came together to create, I can work tirelessly for days and it doesn’t ever feel like work. I know I’m not alone in catching the startup bug either. It’s something that comes from being a part of an industry where the product is completely digital (so no building materials or shipping or packaging costs to worry about), the industry can change so quickly that being a small and agile company has major advantages, you can be personally involved in all aspects of the creation of your product from start to finish (entrepreneurs like to have control), and the impact your service could have on society seems only limited by your imagination. I say seems because a lot of developers feel like once they build an amazing product people will just come use it, and aren’t used to the marketing/customer service side of the industry. As someone who has always been fascinated with human behavior and motivation, with a minor in psychology, who’s a big people person, I’m also passionate about how people are going to use and react to software so I love all sides of the process of getting an idea from someone’s head, on to people’s computers, and into their lives.

Things I Love About/ Advantages of Being A Woman in The Industry

You are well liked because you bring an energy that’s missing

Before I came to University to study computer science in a program with a girl guy ratio of 1 to 9 (not even: women make up 7% of my program a percentage that’s gone down since the 80′s when the percentage was closer to around 45%) I was in an arts HS with a girl guy ratio of 7 to 1, and I notice now that the guys in our school were very well liked, whereas in computer science the girls are more well liked, and I’m not just talking about crushes here, there’s just an energy that’s missing when a population is heavily dominated by one sex, the dynamic is out of balance, and people are drawn to the energy that’s missing. In HS I couldn’t wait to get to university because I wanted to have tons of guy friends, I wanted buddies to joke around with, I’d had enough of talking with girlfriends about feelings, of shopping and sleepovers, after a couple of years of comp sci, I got sick of having so many guy friends (not that I got sick of the friends I had ) and started trying to make more girlfriends outside my program to balance my life. That’s just how it is. Whether by nature or nurture, male and female friendships have a different quality to them and we need both in our life. I’m very grateful for all the wonderful friendships I’ve made in my program and in my industry

Men compete more agressively with other men they work with

If you’re a woman this means less butting heads or trying to show each-other up on teams who’s members should be co-operating, and smooth sailing in general. Generally once people get older I think they’re more mature and secure so everyone is more supportive and less competitive with each-other in general, but they’ll still compete more with each-other which makes co-operation easier for women in the field. This isn’t because they don’t think you can hold your own. They’re not going easy on you. It’s evolutionary for men and women to compete more with members of the same sex.

I love that I have an unexpected occupation

I get some surprised looks when I tell people I’m a software developer and I know what you’re saying, “Lana maybe they’d be surprised if you were a guy too!”, and yes maybe they would have, it doesn’t always have to do with gender, but it may have something to do with it considering the very low number of women in the industry. When someone says “Wow!…wow good for you!” I’d never be upset by it. They didn’t expect me to be a programmer because people use mental heuristics to try and guess my profession, mental shortcuts, which usually work well. I’m a woman and so chances are you’d be better off not guessing that I’m a programmer if you want to have the best chances of winning the guessing game, but to see someone ask me if I work at the mall, while I put my makeup on on the buss and then get to see their face as they question their assumption, is just a lot of fun for me, especially as a feminist. Never make assumptions about people Not even yourself

Compliments/ not hard to find a date

A guy friend of mine, in computer science, gave me this one: “Computer Science: the odds are good but the goods are odd” While this is pretty funny, to be blunt, you’d find just as odd goods in any of the other more gender balanced sciences, like chemistry or bio, but in comp sci you don’t have other women to compete with. Seriously though the guys in my program are some of my favorite people in the world, there are a lot more cool down to earth computer nerds out there than you’d think, and if you’re intimidated by the gender ratio, just remember, a lot of them are more afraid of you than you are of them, so extend an olive branch to one or two and you’ll have at worst a guy who stalks you but also makes you feel good about that freshman 15 you put on, or a douche who you quickly get over because all the guys around you are asking you why you’re dating his douche ass, or at best a lifelong friend, or a lifelong partner, maybe even a business partner if you’ve caught the startup bug. Either way most of the guys in my program are wonderful intelligent fun and creative people, so this is just a bonus worth mentioning.

Being able to act like a total dork and get praised for it

I’ve always been nerd at heart. You wouldn’t know it if you passed me on the street or saw me out with my girls but if you could see how I am on the inside I’d probably look like a skinny teenage boy with braces and really thick glasses, and it shows when I’m with my guy friends in computer science. I’m a music nerd, I’m a comic book nerd, I’m a psychology nerd, I’m a Youtube nerd, I’m a video-game nerd, I’m a book nerd, and a very proud computer science nerd, and I let out quite a snort sometimes when I laugh, and I snort a lot around the guys in my program. I feel like we’re all one big nerdy family. I love it! I've never laughed harder or spoke more freely, candidly, or passionately with any other group of people. These guys are my soul-mates :P Why is this under the advantages of being a woman in computer science? Why not stick it with things I love in general? Because I think it’s really good for me, as a woman, to be around guys who couldn't care less if I was wearing any makeup, around guys who wouldn't notice the difference if you died your hair red, blonde, lost 20 pounds, or gained 20, guys who don’t care about social graces or which other crowd you’re friends with, around guys who make you feel like you can be yourself, even if that means you feel like swearing like a sailor, not doing your hair that day, and snorting really REALLY loud when you laugh just cuz you feel like acting a little crazy, because I think us girls need to learn to love ourselves more unconditionally, and worry less about our image/appearance and more about what we can do with our lives, and what we can experience. These guys want to hear if I’m working on a software project or learning to play ukulele, because that’s cool and fun, they don’t care if I buy new clothes or get new makeup, or start wearing my hair differently, they’ll just compliment you whether you have makeup on or not. They’re chicken soup for the female soul. :)

My ambitions are not just for myself. I want to succeed for other women/girls

I think I’m naturally a very ambitious person, not in a power hungry or status hungry sort of way, just in that everything I’ve wanted to do in my life I’ve wanted to be the best at it, I’ve wanted to do something great with it, even if no one but my family is going to see it, I want it to have an impact. I want whatever I do to create something awesome that makes a difference and moves people. I also have a deeply rooted sense of fairness and justice and if I see something that runs up against that, it upsets me a great deal. I won’t ever become upset to the point where I let it invade my life in a negative way, and I’m a very balanced and grounded person, but as Martin Luther King said “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” I think that there are a lot of leftover outdated attitudes in our society from the women’s movement and before it, that go unnoticed and effect women and men for the worse. When men and women are offered a salary, men will reject it and ask for more 8 times more often than women. In fields like nursing that are dominated by women people are underpaid, and men avoid them, in fields like computer science and engineering we’re paid more and women avoid them, and I know that these things won’t just naturally balance out without effort, because when you act unconsciously in life as an individual, imbalances don’t just go away, they’re self perpetuating, and it’s the same thing with society as a whole.

Salary is a big deal. How much we think we can/should make is about how much we think we’re worth to the world, and it’s a sensitive topic, which is why people don’t like to talk about it, but I’m someone who craves real conversations with strangers, I want to talk about things like this because it matters so much, which is why I’m writing so much in this post .

If you’re a woman and you make a conscious effort to keep yourself aware that the guy next to you is asking for a higher salary 8 times as often, and that you’re worth just as much, and you make a conscious effort to do the same thing, which is not easy at all for most women, then the difference in money you’ll have made over your lifetime by the time you retire is in the millions, but even better than that if you can think about the difference it would make if you end up being the first woman to start a tech company that makes such a significant impact on the industry that your face is on the cover of Time and all the IT and business magazines and that gives little girls something to stick on their walls instead of the fashion models on all the covers of all the magazines they’re used to seeing women on, that’s not just an ambitious goal that’s revolutionary, that’s an Obama moment just waiting to happen that some woman is going to get to have. Don’t you want to be the woman to make that moment possible? You can be. If you pursue a career in computer science or engineering haha obvious plug right there, but that’s why I’m so passionate about my industry, all the opportunity and all the frontiers out there just waiting for whoever is brave enough to take them.

Hope that you enjoyed the reasons I love software development, and I also hope that you’re a young girl and this got you to thinking about where you want your post secondary education to take you, and maybe that you’ll pick computer science or engineering as a career :)

If I’ve left an advantage out or if you disagree with anything I’ve said let me know I always love a good discussion about these things

Shalom!

2 comments:

Deborah787 said...

Thank you Lana! This is the most inspiring article and only article I have read about women and software engineering. I am more of the creative type, went to art school but never finished, now I am enrolling in a community college in Santa Monica to start fresh and aiming for a Computer science AA so I can transfer to UCLA and do a BS in Computer engineering. My challenge used to be math, but now I am so motivated and determined I know that If I study hard and make math my best friend I can do this. And I am so glad you have done it and can show us revolutionary women can change the world with technology! Your awesome!
Deborah Delgado

Paul Talbot said...

Thanks Lana for this post!

My names Paul and am thinking about going into software engineering. Your blog is extremely helpful, especially because I really resonate with you on having a creative spirit.. Poetry, art, literature, music, etc.

one thing I'm apprehensive about with being a programmer is not being able to be creative in my work. It seems you have found your creativity in it.

Should I be apprehensive about this?

Thanks again for your very informative and helpful post!