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Women in Tech – Jen Williams – Senior Software Developer

We are loving the work and mission of Women’s Tech Hub Bristol: building connections between women in Bristol and South West England and the tech industry. The hub is on hand to offer practical support, such as information on mentoring and training for women, and they are also pulling together all individual Women in Tech groups, to create a common platform so they can all support each other. It’s all about collaboration and pulling together. So Bristol. So ADLIB.

We met some very impressive women through some recent Women’s Tech Hub events and we would love to share their stories, career journeys and insights. To do this, here is our first piece that is part of our mini series that features Women in Tech. Please meet Jen Williams, Senior Software Developer at Networked Planet.

ADLIB: What has been your career journey so far?
Jen Williams: I left school after my GCSEs in the mid 90s. Whilst I was lucky to have a supportive and academic family and so did fairly well in exams, I didn’t enjoy the school experience and so wanted out as soon as possible! My first job was unpacking new computers and setting them up for staff in a university department. The IT team there taught me how to troubleshoot computer problems, and so I did IT support jobs until I decided to go to uni when I was 21. It was these years that taught me not only that I had a knack with computers, but that I really enjoyed learning more about them too. I started a foundation year at Liverpool John Moores which led on to a BSc in Applied Computer Technology where I nailed it with a first class honours grade *dusts off shoulders*.
After uni I became a web developer, focusing on database driven web portals in the North West of England. I joined Networked Planet at the beginning of 2009 and have been there ever since. My focus has changed to product development, whilst still coding browser based technology using the .NET framework.

ADLIB: Are there any experiences you could share that describe best what it is like to specifically work as a woman in your profession and in Tech in general?
JW: I’ve not got any stories to share with you that would differentiate my experiences at work from that of a software developer of a different gender to me. Yes, software development is highly skewed on the gender scale, but my own experience of this has been largely unremarkable – aside from the fact that I’d welcome a lot more diversity in the field.

As with any profession that’s found itself skewed to one side or the other, it means that unconscious biases spring up (along with blatant biases!) and make the situation difficult to break out of. I’ve had more personal experiences of biases outside of my work environment than in it – people telling me that it’s strange I’m a programmer because computers / programming / geekery is somehow tied to male genetics – which is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard! But “the general public” do have this idea of what programmers look like, which then influences which people can imagine themselves as “techy”. Representation is key. Signal boost diversity.

ADLIB: If there was such thing than a quick fix, if you could make one change happen immediately, what would it be?
JW: Eradicate all preconceived notions that in order to do [[this]] you must look like [[that]].

ADLIB: What three pieces of advice would you give your younger self, just entering the Tech sector? Is there any advice that could have helped you along the way?
JW:
1. If your employer isn’t paying you the going rate for your skills then leave.
2. Stay in jobs that are teaching you new technologies and skills, leave the ones where you’re stagnating.
3. Leave yourself some energy for when you have to put in extra hours to get a project finished, if that style of working becomes a norm you’ll burn yourself out in no time.

ADLIB: When job-hunting, what are the key factors that make you choose one employer over another?
JW: The main thing I look for before applying is whether the job will teach me anything new, I would be highly suspicious of job descriptions that consist of a long list of things they think I should bring to the table, without outlining what they’re going to give me. At interview I keep in mind some advice that was given to me – that I’m interviewing them as much as they are me – so I think about whether I think I will get on with the people interviewing me on a day to day basis, to try and avoid any Office Space “stapler incident” scenarios.

ADLIB: To keep your knowledge up to date, what are your main go-tos?
JW: For specific technologies Networked Planet buys the books and I self teach. There’s a growing trend (thankfully!) for “early access” books which allow you to read the books while they are still be drafted before publishing. This is incredibly useful for the extremely new technologies and frameworks. I used to go on training courses back when I was first out of uni – those were indispensable and I encourage all companies to make sure you’re properly training new programmers!

Recently, the Future Learn website from the OU has been really interesting to learn about more general subjects that are related to what I do. Local meet-up groups such as South West Data and the Girl Geeks are fantastic. Unconferences are amazing! Specifically Open Data Camp which I love, so many bright minds all discussing really interesting ideas about how we can encourage people to open and share data to collaborate on a multitude of ideas, do check them out.

Thank you Jen for sharing.

Jen will be doing an introductory talk about linked and open data at a Girl Geek Dinners event. She’ll also be introducing two other women who are pushing data and tech forward in Bristol – Martha King and Katherine Rooney. If you are interested in the event, head to the Girl Geek Dinners meetup page for more information and to sign up.