A Computer Should Do This | WTR 38

A Computer Should Do This | WTR 38

Jen is an engineer at Esri portland R&D office. She lived out of a youth hostel when she came across a startup that got her on her path!

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ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE: So Angela, today we speak with my friend Jen who is a developer at Esri. She works on a wide variety of awesome technology. So we get into talking a little about that and about her career and how she kind of took a leap and headed out to San Francisco and lived out of a youth hostel and all the crazy other things that she got into, and now how she’s influencing the community of Women in Portland.
ANGELA: And before we get into the interview, you can go to Patron.com/today to support Women’s Tech Radio. It is a monthly donation that automatically comes out. It could be $3, it could be $5, whatever you can afford. Whatever you think that this content is worth, really. It’s up to you. We are community funded, this show is, and if you find value in the show you can go over there to Patreon.com/today to support Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: And our first question today was to ask Jen what she’s up to at Esri.
JEN: Hey guys. I am an engineer at Portland R&D office and what I’ve been doing lately is working on an iOS SDK for our location enabled software. And occasionally I do things like Ruby and everyone once in a while in go, but right now I”m doing a lot of iOS stuff.
PAIGE: So, do you enjoy it? Are you in Swift? Are you still in Objective C?
JEN: Yeah, we’re still in Objective C because we’re doing the next iteration of an existing SDA, but hopefully eventually we will move to Swift. I haven’t actually gotten the chance to work in Swift yet, so that will be cool.
PAIGE: I definitely recommend playing around with the playground that they published. It’s very fun.
JEN: Yeah.
PAIGE: It definitely, I think they did a good job of answering a lot of those got yous that we have from Objective C, which was neat. So you work in kind of a wide range of technology there. You’ve got some mobile, some web, some really close to the middle stuff with Go. What’s your favorite?
JEN: I guess, I would say probably Rube, because, I don’t know, it’s just so, I think it’s so expressive compared to language, well I guess Objective C, you know, is going to kind of be around forever, but it is a bit clunky to write in and that is occasionally kind of frustrating. But, I don’t know, I guess I would say that in my career I’ve used Ruby the longest so that’s probably my favorite.
PAIGE: If you, when you say expressive for people who aren’t super familiar, either with Ruby or with programing, what do you mean by that?
JEN: Um, I guess I mean that you can kind of massage the language to sort of — they’re say like what you want to say in a variety of different fashions. Like how in a sentence you can say the boy jumped over a log, or over the log jumped a boy. Or, you know, in a bunch of different varieties. And you have some flexibility. And also, I think that Ruby is just, I enjoy it’s thorsness and its-
PAIGE: Readability?
JEN: Yeah. It’s readability. And you don’t have to write a ton of code to say something that you’re going to have to say all the time.
PAIGE: Can I just ask why other modern languages don’t have the each function? Like that just boggles my mind.
JEN: Yeah. It’s so nice, isn’t it?
PAIGE: It is very nice. Yes. And so that was a super inside developer joke.
ANGELA: I know.
PAIGE: That Angela is totally not clued on.
ANGELA: Shoulder shrug.
PAIGE: That’s okay. Very cool. So you do a lot of development in our day-to-day. What does your tool stack look like? What kind of tools are you using on a daily basis? Obviously, probably Xcode.
JEN: Yes, definitely Xcode. I use TeamX a lot in terminal.
PAIGE: I love it.
JEN: Yeah. I would say those are my two main things.
PAIGE: So I meat a lot of young ladies, or women, who are getting into technology because I teach an intro to Javascript course. And one of the things that people are the most scared about is the terminal.
JEN: Hmm.
PAIGE: What do you think I could say to people to get them through that? Because I am a TeamX vimmer. Like I spend the entire day in the terminal.
JEN: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s a — that’s an interesting question. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that because it’s just like where I live all the time, you know?
PAIGE: Yeah.
JEN: LIke what would it be like to breath underwater?
PAIGE: Well, as a fish, I would like to tell you, it’s like breathing.
JEN: Yeah, just tell them that. It’s like breathing. And don’t elaborate at all. Just be like, it’s like breathing.
PAIGE: So, is terminal, or really any of this, is this something you taught yourself? Do you have a degree? I actually don’t know any of your story on this.
JEN: Actually, I don’t have a degree. When I was growing up in New Jersey I went to Rutgers University in New Jersey and I studied there, more or less I guess you could call it studying, for a year. And then it was the height, well not the height, the beginningish of the first dot com boom in 1998. And I was like, I want to go out and be a part of that. So I moved to San Francisco and I lived in a youth hostel for six months. But then I eventually got a job at a startup and I just kind of was in the right place at the right time and they’re like hey you’re smart and plucky. Why don’t you be a developer? And I was like, all right.
PAIGE: Plucky is an amazingly good way to describe you, actually.
ANGELA: It is. I love that word.
PAIGE: Yeah, that’s great. So you just kind of dove in at the startup level, what was that like? Like, especially, you know, as we’ve talked about on the show before, like we’re kind of in a minority in tech. And I know definitely at that point in history-
PAIGE: How did that all go for you?
JEN: Yeah. Oh, it was amazing. It was like — it was such a heady time and people are just crazy about technology. I worked like 80 hour weeks and slept under my desk. And I just wanted to learn everything that there was to learn about software development. And it was just so fun. I was definitely in a huge minority as a woman, but I don’t know. I guess I was very naive about that, being 19 years old. But it was a lot of fun.
PAIGE: What were you doing at first? In ‘98, I don’t even know what language that would have been.
JEN: Yeah. I first started out being a front-end developer and I was doing like — I worked at this emarketing company and so we got these HTML templates from these corporations that we were doing newsletters for. And so we had to convert the HTML into XML and use our proprietary tags in there for the different offers and links that people click on to track them. And so I found that very boring. So I decided to learn how to program so I could automate my job away.
PAIGE: That is exactly how I got into real programing. I was like this is boring. A computer should do this.
JEN: Exactly. Yeah. And so the first language that I learned was Perl, because it was good at text manipulation. I think somebody just said you should use Perl and I was like all right I’ll learn that. And that was kind of how it all started.
PAIGE: Perl is exactly the reason that I took a 10 year hiatus from learning programing.
JEN: Oh really?
PAIGE: Yeah. I was in high school and I had gotten super into HTML and CSS and and building web pages. And this was before Javascript was really a thing. And I was like I kind of want to learn some stuff. ANd my friend was like, you should learn CGI Perl. And I was like, okay that sounds cool. He’s like yeah, get the llama book, which is the O’Reilly book which made the O’Reilly books famous, actually. And I kind of got through the first chapter and was ready to throw it out the window, because they dove right into what people call-
JEN: Yeah.
PAIGE: Perl Golf, which is the fact that with with Perl you can write very, very complex functions in 20 characters or less.
PAIGE: And it was just super intimidating and I didn’t understand any of it. And I was like, well I will do kind of designy things, maybe, for a little while. And so I did HTML and CSS just for funsies for years, because Perl had blow me out of the water.
JEN: Yeah. Yeah, that’s interesting.
ANGELA: How did you learn Perl? Did you take a course? Did you find somebody that knew it that could teach you? Did you just Google it?
JEN: I actually, well, Google was kind of — probably wouldn’t have bene very helpful at that time.
ANGELA: Yeah. Yeah, I realized that as soon as I said it.
JEN: But I did-
PAIGE: You could Yahoo it.
ANGELA: Yeah. Yeah.
JEN: Yeah, I Yahoo’d it.
PAIGE: Or dog pile. Do you remember Dog Pile?
ANGELA: Ask Jeeves.
PAIGE: Oh, even better.
ANGELA: Anyway, go ahead.
JEN: And so I just read, I read Learning Perl. And I was just like — It was a huge flog to get through it. And that kind of, what Paige just said, reminded me of how hard it was to learn programming when I didn’t know how to do it. You know, now I read a book and it’s like oh how is this different from everything else I know.
ANGELA: Right.
JEN: You know, how is this new language different. But when I was first learning it, it was just, it was really hard. But I was just really motivated to not do this boring work anymore, I guess. And I thought it was really fun. Even though it was challenging to wrap my brain around. But it was — just reading a book and trying stuff yeah.
PAIGE: Yeah, it was definitely a different ear. So since then you’ve learned several other languages. LIke what does your career look like from there to there. Because I know you’re not even in the same city anymore.
JEN: I do some of the same stuff. Like, I mean, it takes a lot less time to do stuff and I work on a larger team and on products rather than, yeah, service work. But I live in Portland now and I guess I’ve moved around a bunch since then. I lived in New York for a while and back to San Francisco and then now been in Portland about five years.
PAIGE: Crazy. Um, okay, so ‘98. You’ve been doing tech for 17 years?
JEN: Oh my god. Don’t say that out loud.
PAIGE: Well, but this brings up a really pertinent important question. That’s a long time, especially as a woman, to be in this field. You know, we know we’re kind of suffering this mass exodus of women from the tech field and have been for several years. How have you stayed fresh? How have you stayed in it, because almost every time I see you you’re super excited about things in tech or at least about women in tech
JEN: Uh-uh.
PAIGE: Like what is, what has kept you from burning out? From, from just saying screw it and walking out the door?
JEN: That is a good question. I, uh, I have nearly said screw it and walked out the door many times, definitely. ANd it has been a challenge to stay in the field. And I think that the longer that I stuck around the more that problems, which at the beginning i thought were because I was young and inexperienced, continued to linger and now I can’t really attribute them to like reasonable reasons, you know what I mean?
ANGELA: Uh-huh.
JEN: So it is, it is definitely a challenge to stick around. But I really get a lot out of doing volunteer work and working with women in tech stuff and getting other women on board and trying to change the environment, I guess.
ANGELA: Do you work with many other women?
JEN: I work with one other female developer, actually. And there are not many in this — well, not in — I don’t know about Esir at large, which is about 3,000 people, but in the Portland office there are not many developers and two of us are women.
PAIGE: So it’s not terrible, I guess. So you said you do volunteering. I happen to know that you — my understanding is that you are the lead or the director for Lesbians Who Tech in Portland?
JEN: Yeah. I am.
PAIGE: What is that organization about?
JEN: Well, we are mostly about creating a community for queer women and our allies in technology. And just sort of like getting people together and seeing what comes of it. Primarily like a social organization compared to some of the other ones in town that are more workshop based. I really enjoy seeing people become friends and just get together and they’re chatting about their jobs or their lives or what have you. It’s pretty rad.
PAIGE: I think that connecting in your professional space is super valuable on any level. Be it with people who identify the same way as you do or be it just with peers in your group. Super important. I actually get a lot of value. I have attended one or two of your events. I don’t know, yeah, I’m fairly busy. But I found them very edifying, i think is the right word for it.
ANGELA: You wanted to eat them?
PAIGE: No, uh-
ANGELA: I’m just kidding.
JEN: We’re very edible.
PAIGE: Not edible. Although I did eat at the meetup, does that count? I also had some excellent cyder. I’ve kind of been struggling personally lately with the burnout on that side too, where I’m so passionate about women’s issues in the tech sphere that I’m over extending. How do you reign that in carefully. Because I know that you’re involved in many of the same things that I’m involved in, and in fact, you even do more than I do frequently.
JEN: I don’t know about that, but that is definitely a balance challenge. I guess a lucky thing for me is that I often get to work on a little bit of volunteer stuff at Esri as part of our outreach. So that kind of cuts a few hours out the total numbers of hours that it takes to do stuff. But it definitely — I don’t know, it’s a labor of love. And can be a bit exhausting, but I find that people are — once you reach out to them for help everyone — not everyone but many people are more than willing to carry some of the burden and to give you ideas and to help out. So I find that relying on others is definitely a help.
PAIGE: Yeah, I can definitely agree with that lately. I’ve had a couple times where I’ve just had to say hey can somebody cover this meetup for me or can somebody help me with this task. And I was kind of surprised, pleasantly so, that so many people were willing to step up and help shoulder the load.
ANGELA: How many people typically come to the Lesbians Who Tech meetup?
JEN: We usually get around 20 people for kind of like the more happy hour type of stuff. For our next event, hopefully we’ll get a bunch more, because our head honcho Leanne Pittsford will be in town. Our numbers have been growing a lot since we got started in January.
ANGELA: Is there a website? Any easy website for that?
JEN: Oh, yeah. There is. Well, there is lesbianswhotech.org which is the main website. And also, we have a Facebook group, Lesbians Who Tech, Portland. And we also have a meetup group, Lesbians Who Tech PDX.
PAIGE: That’d be great. I mean, I just want to be involved in all the cool community things that are happening, because there’s so much happening. You and I have actually talked about this some at length, but I think there are so many women’s movements and I feel like if we could find the space and the time to kind of come together, we could change everything. Just everything. And I love that in Portland we’re actually kind of doing that. We have an upcoming meetup where all of the women’s groups bi-yearly, thanks to Jennifer, actually who started this, there’s kind of this group. We all get together. It’s just a happy hour, but our last one we had 150 women show up to.
ANGELA: That’s fantastic.
PAIGE: Yeah. It was just great. I did figure out my question though. How do you feel, especially as a senior developer at this point. You’ve definitely been in the industry a good long while, about mentorship? It’s a question that gets asked of me a lot. Both about finding a mentor, being a mentor. Do you feel like there’s a clear path for that? I feel like it’s kind of a valuable role in bringing junior developers up to speed, but it seems to be very hard to connect somehow.
JEN: Yeah. I think that is a bit murky as it currently stands. Kind of like, I know that at the meetups that I have and stuff like that, I definitely do, I think a lot of sort of informal mentorship. Because people will ask me questions about my job or my career and stuff and, you know, tell me their woes. And so in that way we kind of connect. But I haven’t had any formal mentorship situations yet. So, yeah. I think there’s definitely a space for that because it’s something that everyone seems to want, but no one really seems to know how to go about doing that.
PAIGE: It seems like, and I wonder if this is kind of reflective of some of the other issues that we have, specifically — and this is not exclusive to the women developer community. I also see this with male developers, but I can speak more personally to the women, obviously. And I find that the imposter syndrome is so strong that people are not willing to step out and say yes I”m someone who could mentor someone under me.
JEN: Interesting. That is a good point.
PAIGE: Yeah. And it’s definitely something that has really pushed me lately and I’m trying to — I’m working out of a boot camp right now and there’s — one of the students there has definitely decided that I’m essentially going to be her mentor. And it’s been wonderful. She comes to me, we talk about where she is in her journey, why she’s having trouble with different things. We got to have the long talk about breadth and depth of why you should learn more of one language before you learn lots of languages. Stuff like that. And then, you know, kind of advising her. Where she’s like, you know, I really, really was struggling with Python and Django, but as soon as I picked up Ruby in Rails, it just was like light bulbs went off. I’m like, you know, if that’s what lights your fire, even though we’ve had this other discussion, go down that path and I can help you with that. And I still feel, you know, many days like a junior developer. But there’s still someone under me who knows less.
ANGELA: Hi. That’s me.
PAIGE: Yeah. Which we are going to have some episodes.
ANGELA: She’s going to be my mentor.
PAIGE: We’re going to have some episodes where we teach-
JEN: Awesome.
PAIGE: -Angela some stuff.
JEN: Oh, nice. NIce.
JEN: It will be fun.
PAIGE: Yeah, so I would encourage you or anyone else to step out and at least — and it doesn’t have to be a formal relationship. I think we’re also scared of that, because everybody in the modern world is so busy and our time-
ANGELA: Right.
PAIGE: Our time is so precious.
ANGELA: We pack our schedules and, yeah. But you can always fit in an email here or a message there.
PAIGE: Yeah. Or just coffee or, you know, chat while you’re driving or whatever.
JEN: Yeah.
ANGELA: Or meetups.
PAIGE: Or meetups.
ANGELA: You’re already dedicated to be there.
PAIGE: Yes. Yeah. When I”m not leading, it’s helpful.
PAIGE: You know, and do lightning talks. Everybody should do lightning talks.
JEN: Yeah. I need to like get over some public speaking fear.
PAIGE: Well, you should come. There’s a new event happening in Portland. It’s called Navigate IT. If anybody is in Portland and wants to check it out, it’s, we’re specifically trying to help with career skills as opposed to, like, coding skills.
JEN: Oh sweet.
PAIGE: So, like, we did an awesome workshop on imposter syndrome. And I think the next one, it’s up and we’ll get the link in the show notes, but I think one of the next ones is specifically public speaking.
JEN: Cool. That would be awesome. Yeah, we actually did one of those for Lesbians Who Tech for our last meetup. It was really good. I think everyone, I had Kristen Gallagher who is the founder of Edify.edu and she — you know her from the Act W Organizing team, but she gave a talk at the Act W Conference about doing talks and speaking in front of people. So I had her come and give everyone who gave a lightning talk some pointers and advice on what to try and how to improve their talks. And it was really good. It was very well received I think.
PAIGE: Awesome. Also, if you’re scared to even step out and do your first one, if you Google how to give a TED talk there is a great TED talk about how to give TED talks.
JEN: NIce.
PAIGE: And I got a lot out of that. It was very informative.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Don’t forget that we are on social networks, as it turns out. We are on Twitter, @heywtr. You can email us, WTR@JupiterBroadcasting.com. We are on, well, JupiterBroadcasting.com. You can look at the back catalog of shows. And we’re on YouTube on the Jupiter Broadcasting channel.
PAIGE: You can also find us on iTunes where if you’ve got a minute you can leave a review and let us know how we’re doing with the show. If you want to get in touch, you can use the contact form on JupiterBroadcasting.com, selecting Women’s Tech Radio from the dropdown. Or you can email us at WTR@Jupiterbroadcasting.com. Thanks so much for listening.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter | Transcription@cotterville.net

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