Every few months or so, a new article, study, or Facebook status will appear that discusses the growing number of women and minorities pursuing careers in technology. Still, social barriers continue to make it difficult for these parties to be successful in their fields.
That’s why I wanted to have the chance to pick Julia White’s brain on her own experience as a female website developer. As one third of jWeb’s web development team, she handles most of our e-commerce applications and has grown to love the Symfony 2 framework.
[one_half]With her trademark cup of coffee in hand, White visited my office to discuss her job. She didn’t seem thrilled at the prospect—Julia’s a very private person by nature—but she was polite enough to humor me in my request. Here’s what we discussed:
So let’s start at the beginning: When did you first want a job in technology?
Ever since I was a kid. When I was twelve or thirteen, my parents got me a book on HTML. I’d always been interested in how things work, but also liked art and design. They thought designing web pages would be a natural fit for me.[/one_half][one_half_last]
Wow. You don’t hear about parents doing that sort of thing very often. Are your parents also in technical fields?
Yes. My dad’s an engineer and my mom is a science teacher. We’re a very inquisitive family and any tech pursuit was encouraged when we were growing up. My little brother and my dad built a server together; now he does a little coding, but mostly works in hardware.
Did you go to school for web development?
No, I didn’t pursue tech at all. I went to college solely for print art, but ended up hating it about a year and a half into college. Then I switched to restoration data input and analysis and eventually got into building inspection and residential maintenance.
(Laughs) Yeah, I went to Forest Park Community College for building inspection and later got an IICRC certification in water, fire, and smoke restoration. Most of it was self-taught, though. There was a book and then a test on international residential building codes.
So how did you finally find your way into coding?
My first real coding project was when I was working for a disaster response company. They wanted to create a service to track the progress of restoration jobs for clients and decided a system where homeowners could see the progress would be best. I was put in charge of the project. I’d created Windows Gadgets for employees so I already had a reputation for tech. The whole experience was problem after problem to solve.
Is that what you like about coding? Solving problems?
My favorite thing about web development is learning something new every hour and being challenged every day. Technology is constantly evolving. With every new release you have to figure out which functions still work and which versions you should be using. You’re not working with something static; you’re working with something dynamic.
How did you first hear about jWeb Media?
A few years before I got the job, I met with Jim and we talked about a mobile app I’d been developing. That lead to an ongoing correspondence about where I was in my career.
Why did you end up pursuing a job here?
I liked how tech-heavy the company was. I’d always been interested in coding as a recreational pursuit, so the opportunity to do it a relaxed, professional environment appealed to me. When jWeb finally had a job opening, I demoed my mobile app to Jim and the development team during my interview and they saw potential in it, even though it was pretty rough.
What’s it like working with two other men on a day-to-day basis?
It’s funny; I actually worked with almost all women at my last job. The biggest difference is the fights used to be a lot quieter. Really, though: when I first started working here, I read a lot of subreddits for women in tech. Mostly they talked about how they weren’t given administration access. That’s almost universal. I’m lucky because I never experienced that here. To my knowledge I’ve always had that access. I came in with not enough experience to jump into an administrative job, but once I got it, there wasn’t any kind of fight to move up.
Have you ever had any issues?
(Takes a moment to think). I was once told by a colleague that there was a women’s coding conference I might be interested in. It sounded great, but then he started talking about a men’s coding conference that had taken place earlier in the year. I had to tell him there was no way there was a men-only conference. Everyone just happened to be male.
What advice would you give to women wanting to enter the technology field?
Try to be comfortable with being wrong. Don’t take it personally. Men’s confidence isn’t diminished when they’re wrong. Neither should yours. At the same time, learn as much as you can and be confident in what you do know.