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Life as a… Woman in Web Development

Have you ever wondered what life as a female web developer is really like? What does it take to break into the industry and to stay on top of the game?

In this context, we caught up with Mairead Buchan, JavaScript Developer at Swoop Applications to give you a little more insight. If you are considering a career within the Tech industry or are planning on adding an expert female web dev to your team – you can find some first-hand perception right here.

ADLIB: To start, and in a nutshell, what is a typical day like for you as a Developer? (…if there is such thing)

Mairead: We have a Slack chat scrum standup every morning once everyone is in. I’m either working on tickets in our sprint, writing React flavoured Javascript, reviewing other people’s work in Github or maybe doing manual QA. We’re a really small team and at least 50% remote so most conversation is over Slack. We also have regular sprint retrospectives and sprint planning so most of the discussion around what we’re working on happens there. Otherwise, I am generally working alone. Sometimes I might be writing a piece of code in tandem with another developer.

ADLIB: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Mairead: I really like working in a smaller team in a small company. I find it easier to make improvements to the codebase because we’re working continuously on one product. I also find it easier to have a voice within the company about improving our work processes. I think the agile scrum structure of having regular retrospectives helps reinforce the idea that you’re always working to get better at what you do.

ADLIB: Web development is a typically male-dominated industry. Could you share some top tips for women looking to break into tech/development?

Mairead: The advice I wish someone had given me and I’ve learnt from watching other developers is don’t be scared if you don’t know the answer yet. A lot of programming is trying to do something you’ve never done before. I think women can sometimes doubt themselves or their skills and are also more prone to imposter syndrome. It can feel overwhelming and impossible at times, especially when you are first starting out. The distance between where I wanted to be and where I was seemed vast. Don’t let those feelings defeat you. Ignore your fear of failure.

Also don’t be afraid to leave a job where you are not happy and supported. There is a lot of work out there in the world, don’t stay somewhere where they don’t deserve you. In a good company that values its junior staff you will find it easier to progress.

I think it also really pays to find other women working in your field on Twitter or similar and surround yourself with their voices. Women are in the minority but you don’t have to feel excluded or othered. There is a huge community of women out there offering support, mentoring, advice and encouragement if you need it. The best advice I have seen on Twitter (from the women I follow) when interviewing ask why the last woman on the team left the company. You can learn a lot from this answer.

ADLIB: What key lessons have working in tech as a female taught you?

Mairead: Communication is key when translating requirements into acceptance criteria for QA/UAT and you need to be able to communicate well with all parts of the process including clients, product owners, designers, other developers, stakeholders etc. Communication oils the machinery of software development. It’s a vital overlooked part of the hiring process in technical roles because people spend so much time worrying about the technical exam or whiteboard tests (Whiteboard? just say no). It’s easier to teach people how to add code to your codebase than it is to teach people how to be better at human interaction. I’d rather work with average coders who were amazing communicators than the other way around.

I think there is a misconception that you have to be very clever to be a programmer and so the software industry tends to attract people who think they are the clever one and other people in the business buy into that by allowing a certain leeway in their behaviour.

I find people assume technical skills go hand in hand with poor communication skills. I think hiring more women into development teams challenges those notions and female styles of collaborative problem solving can be much more effective in the sprint process where you are constantly making decisions as a team. Someone with too much ego or an aggressive style of disagreeing can severely disrupt the team dynamic.

ADLIB: And finally, what are the top 3 skills you see it takes to succeed as a Web Developer?

Mairead:

Curiosity – Wanting to know why something works the way it does. Sometimes you can get by on just knowing it works and moving on but you’ll learn better and gain a deeper understanding if you’re willing to take time and look under the hood. Also the web industry moves fast so you have to be willing to keep learning. That’s a constant of the job.

Courage – A javascript teacher once said to me “the best position to be in, is the worst player in the band, because then you have the most to learn” but it takes a lot of courage to accept that is where you are and feel comfortable in a development team knowing everyone is more skilled. If you are happy to surround yourself with other developers who are constantly learning you will be better off and they will keep you on your toes.

Patience – Web development is 90% banging your head against the wall for 10% of sweet success. (50% on a good day) but mostly it’s a frustrating exercise. You have to learn to ride the waves. Be like water and let it flow through you.

Thanks so much for sharing!