Many women don’t realise that a career in coding is possible. But three Australian females who work in software development are here to shine a light on the profession.
Despite working in a male-dominated industry, Jaime Gunther, Natasja Laurie and Jane Chau are taking steps to dispel the stereotype of a coder.
All three women are members of Code Like a Girl, an organisation that empowers women and girls to explore coding through events, workshops and coding camps.
They are all passionate about promoting and supporting females in tech, with the aim to encourage more women into the field.
These are their stories.
Jaime Gunther: Developer
After working in a job that she didn’t enjoy, Jaime Gunther went looking for a new challenge.
The 38-year-old became interested in coding about two years ago when she started teaching herself in her spare time using free online tools.
For Jaime, finding coding was like finding true love.
Only a few months into learning, she found herself constantly wanting to try something new with code.
“Not only was I being challenged and flexing my problem-solving skills, I was loving it,” she said.
“It’s incredibly satisfying working on a problem and then having the instant gratification of seeing the result of your work, right there in front of you on the computer. In a lot of instances, particularly in the front end, there is a wonderful blend between the technicality of writing the code and the creativity of how you display it to the user.”
Jaime now works as a developer at Envato, and even though she admits the coding industry is dominated by men, she hasn’t personally experienced any push back, loneliness or negative consequences for being a woman.
She said the coding community – including men and women – has been “incredibly supportive and encouraging”.
“There is a big push to diversify within the (coding) industry at the moment and so one could argue that this is a great time for women to get involved,” she said.
Jaime believes having strong female role models working in tech is important.
“There is that saying that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. So, seeing women software engineers doing their thing and succeeding is crucial,” she said.
But she points out that we don’t only have to seek out women who are founders, heads of companies and award winners to find true champions in coding.
“There are many women, not necessarily in the limelight, doing amazing things within the industry that you might identify with more readily,” she said.
“The community of women (software) engineers is big and very supportive, and I encourage anyone who is looking either for a mentor or just a bit of insight, to find someone whose journey they can relate to and then reach out. You’d be surprised how keen most people are to help.”
In many ways, Jaime is an example of this type of role model, and she is doing her bit to lift the profile of female coders.
“I am particularly interested in getting young women and kids interested in tech. As such, I take any opportunity I can to visit schools and do talks about what it’s like being a coder,” she said.
“If I can broaden the scope of who a developer is and what opportunities are available in tech then my hope is that more girls will see it as an exciting option.”
Natasja Laurie: Software engineer
Natasja Laurie’s journey into coding began during her early teens when she used website builders like Piczo and added custom HTML/CSS to sites like Myspace.
“At that time, I really enjoyed building and tweaking web pages and it was so cool to be able to share a website link with my friends and family so they could see what I had built,” she said.
Now, at 26 and working in software engineering full time, coding allows Natasja to be even more creative.
“I love that I’m learning something new every day. I love the process of a project starting off as an idea, working through the whole software build to producing a piece of software you can use. It’s also incredibly exciting to work at the forefront of the technology industry, as it’s constantly changing,” she said.
Natasja currently works as an associate software engineer at Cognizant, and said her team comprises a diverse mix of men and women.
“I haven’t personally felt any loneliness as a female software engineer but I’m aware that many women do feel like this at work. This is why I love being a part of Code Like A Girl, whose events and workshops are aimed at women to help them overcome these kinds of feelings,” she said.
“However, I do believe situations like these can be turned into a positive by using it to your advantage to stand out.”
Natasja said it’s important to have female role models in the coding industry “to remind us what we can and will achieve going forward”.
“Women have been at the forefront of technology and innovation, but it feels like they aren’t promoted enough to young girls and women.
“I feel that because I was able to make a career change from recruitment into software engineering, I have a responsibility to support other women who want to do the same. I believe right now is a great time to get into the technology industry as a woman,” she said.
For her future goals, Natasja wants to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to young girls and show them that coding is a career option.
For those looking to get started in a coding career, Natasja recommends using spare time to research areas of software development, doing tutorials and getting comfortable with the fundamentals of a programming language. From there, she suggests building small projects and doing some networking.
“There are plenty of junior-level events on Meetup.com and Code Like A Girl provides events specifically for networking with people in the industry. This is where you can make an impact and potentially get your foot in the door,” she said.
Jane Chau: Front-end/UI developer
Jane Chau, 24, became interested in software development during high school.
But because coding wasn’t offered as a subject at her high school, Jane didn’t think much about it until she had to decide what she wanted to study at university.
Jane had a strong interest in maths and science, and when she had a chance meeting with a career counsellor it was suggested that she consider a course in computer science.
So, she signed up for a Bachelor of Software Engineering.
“I actually had no idea what I was getting into. But I honestly really enjoyed those four years,” Jane said.
Throughout her course Jane had the chance to learn a range of coding languages but kept coming back to HTML and CSS. She also enjoyed the design element of UX (user experience).
“I like the problem-solving aspect of coding, and I’ve always enjoyed building something. I compare it (coding) to building Lego – you start off with all these different pieces and then as you build you get this end product,” she said.
Despite thoroughly enjoying her time at university and building a career in software development, Jane has noticed that, as a female coder, she is among a minority.
She was one of only five women enrolled in her university class of about 30 students.
“That was something I had to get used to because I came from an all-girls school. It was different,” she said.
In her career she has had to learn to speak up at meetings that were mostly male-dominant and build confidence in her abilities.
“I’ve always played to my strengths, and my strength was definitely in the UI (user interface) space. I’ve used that to my advantage, when I try to stand out,” she said.
“It’s such a different message to what we’re taught in school, such as ‘work on your weaknesses’. I think if I’d continued to work on my weaknesses, instead of focusing on where I really shined, things would be different. Because I’ve focused on the UI space I have advanced really quickly in that area.”
In her current role, Jane fortunately has a lot of women in leadership positions to look up to, but she believes it is important to support women in tech.
When she thinks about how she got into software development through “sheer luck”, thanks to that chance meeting with her career counsellor, she realises that the profession needs to be promoted to women more.
“Helping to spread that awareness is important to me, so women know that coding is an option and that it’s possible,” she said.