Women or Femme in Code: Expanding Opportunity Q&A Part 1

Anne Arnold
Anne Arnold
April 27, 2022
In this 2 part Q&A, 7 women in software engineering at Smarty discuss their efforts and share tips about increasing employment opportunities.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. You can read part 2 here.

This edition of our blog comes from a special guest writer, Anne Arnold, daughter of Smarty’s own Wes Arnold. Anne will soon graduate high school and as part of her career exploration, she had the opportunity to sit down with the women on Smarty’s software development team.

They each shared how they discovered their love for coding, what it’s like to be the only woman in class, and how they’re helping spread the opportunities for prospective women in code like Anne. Here’s Anne’s experience in her words:

Every high school student goes through a lengthy process of choosing what to do after they graduate, and I am no exception. I had many career options presented to me, but none seemed to hold the proper appeal. Encouraged by how many developers at Smarty are women, my dad suggested I should look into coding.

A 2021 StackOverflow survey shows that women account for only 5.31% of software developers worldwide. A career in development was never really something I had considered, yet as I did more research, it sounded like something I’d enjoy. I thought it would be the perfect time to investigate what it’s like to be a woman in software engineering——an industry dominated by men.

I had the rare occasion to interview seven remarkable women who work at Smarty regarding how they got involved with coding. I was surprised to find that many of them hadn’t actually considered software development as a career until they inadvertently discovered their love for it. They explained that software development offers something for everyone. That belief has unified them in their mission to spread a message of increasing opportunities and a love of coding to others who may initially feel like they don’t belong.

I hope sharing our discussion will help others, like me, feel like coding is for them.

Anne: Did you plan on going into development from the beginning?

Savannah: No, I did not. I was a music major. I was going to do musical theater and vocal performance and during my first semester of college, I decided to switch to coding.

Kiersten: Similar for me. I was also a music major. I did that for two years and then I overheard a conversation between a professor and another student talking about how difficult a career in music could be and how uncertain it can be financially. And that got the gears turning that I actually wanted a stable career.

Shaylee: I took a robotics class in high school. I was going to do either mechanical engineering in school or English. And then I realized I don’t actually like building stuff. And a lot of people told me that programming was something I’d probably be good at, so I decided to give it a try. I took my first programming class in college and really liked it. So I stuck with it.

Anne: How did you become interested in software development?

Kiersten: It was almost random. I knew engineering would be a stable career, so I went down the list of engineering disciplines and saw software and thought, “Oh, that sounds a little different.” I thought I had zero experience but looking back, I had a MySpace page and I would Google how to hack my MySpace page and add things to it that you usually couldn’t do. I didn’t realize I was actually coding. Other than that, I had zero experience coding.

Cami: I kind of got into coding when I was younger. I was always on the computer—always playing our CD ROM games and stuff. Like Kiersten, I would copy and paste code to a personal website to make it into what I wanted it to be. When it comes to schooling, I wanted to do more animation, so I took a class in high school. Later on, I found out that BYU (Brigham Young University) had a Computer Science degree with an emphasis in animation, I thought “that sounds perfect!”

Jenny, Savannah, Caroline, Madelyn, and Raya During a Company Trip to DisneyWorld in 2021

Anne: What was it about coding and software development that won over your interest?

Caroline: In my case, I was pursuing Accounting; and there are so many rules in Accounting. Programming has a lot of rules you follow as well, but it’s so much more creative. You can take any problem and find a solution for it and compare it with your classmates. The solutions can be completely different, but still solve the same problem.

Jenny: I felt the same way. I took my first computer science class in college. When I first started, it was hard, but once I started mastering it, it made me feel like I could do anything in my life. I felt like I could overcome anything by breaking it down into smaller problems and just taking it a step at a time. It’s cool to know that even if a problem seems really overwhelming at first, you know you can figure it out. And it’s really, really satisfying to look at a working product and know that your efforts contributed to making it work.

Anne: What challenges have you experienced as a minority in coding and software development?

Cami: Every so often people will assume that my husband is the one who works full time and that I maybe work part time or don’t work at all. People need to change their mindset and remember that women can work too, and they can be the ones that work full time and the husbands can be the stay-at-home dad.

Caroline: Smarty is amazing and I don’t necessarily feel like there’s any bias or like weird things that we deal with here. But I will say, I get a lot of comments from random people, like a chiropractor, or doctor who ask “you’re a software engineer?”

Cami: Yeah, like “your family health insurance is really under your name?” Yes, it’s under my name.

Caroline: You also get a lot of interesting comments from other students. But you just have to decide, “I’m not going to live my life according to everybody’s else’s biases, but according to my dreams. I’m going to push through, not because society expects things of me, but because I really love doing this. They can say what they want. But this is what I want.”

Continue to Part 2.

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