Women who code: Emma Garland
Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a Senior Software Engineer based in North Bristol at an Umbraco Gold Partner called Rock Solid Knowledge. We also specialise in Identity Server, Xamarin and development training and consultancy.
I've been a developer for 11 years, and have worked in the travel and financial sectors along with several agencies. Through most of my career I've been involved in Content Management System development, predominantly Umbraco.
What’s your experience with Umbraco?
I have worked with Umbraco since 2008. I love it, feel happy when I'm working with it, and always miss it if I am away from it too long!
I started out using version 4, and have absolutely loved seeing it grow and evolve throughout the years yet remain true to making it an easier experience for content editors as well as accessible for extension by developers.
I have been to the epic Umbraco Codegarden retreat in 2017, and have attended and given talks at several umBristol community events and Codegarden 2015. I love the Umbraco community and the contribution to open source, the welcoming atmosphere and the nature of trying new things and continuously encouraging and improving.
The Headless CMS offering interests me a lot, as does content modelling and combining Umbraco with other applications.
When and how did you become interested in coding?
I have always been comfortable with computers and consoles. My family are into tech and gaming, my grandad, dad and uncle all have experience as coders, and from an early age my sister and I were given hand-me-down PCs and consoles to play with.
The hours that me and my sister spent on Sonic and Final Fantasy VII... yet I also remember spending hours building random platform games using Shoot'Em-Up Construction Kit (SEUCK), building the pixelated characters and missiles, like toothbrushes firing toothpaste at plaque.
I remember when I was very young, my grandad showed me a crossword generation program he had made on Christmas, and I had to be the tester! Me and my best friend used to spend hours creating movies using 3D Movie Maker too, and I first started playing around with HTML on MySpace making custom backgrounds raining pixel hearts...
I loved creating and writing stories too, so my path led me initially to an English Literature degree. However, after graduating I remember seeing a brochure in Cardiff University, Wales, for the MSc Computing. The modules sounded fascinating - especially the coding and web development modules.
I remember getting a really excited feeling that I just know this is what I wanted to do, and over a decade later I still get that feeling when building something or fixing a bug. I was lucky to get a Go Wales placement at a startup in Cardiff Bay called Propona, being kept on, and trained on .NET and SQL for a dedicated afternoon every week, giving me a great start in my future development career.
When you decided to enter this industry, were you concerned about facing prejudice as a woman? If yes, what were your concerns?
I didn't spend much time thinking about that because it never came up for me (not that I am consciously aware of, anyway). I grew up in a mixed gender friendship group, I'd always been a gamer, and I used to bodyboard and was usually the only girl in the water - I genuinely never really noticed this, since I was there with mates I spent time with at school anyway, or my dad.
When I went into the Computing Master’s, there was a balanced group in a fairly small and very friendly class. Prejudice as a woman wasn't something that really crossed my mind, and I was never made to feel uncomfortable or excluded. I'm very glad I had that experience, but I'm aware that sadly this isn't everyone's experience.
Why do you think there still aren’t that many female coders?
I've thought about this over the years and sometimes discuss with friends... I genuinely struggle with an answer. I usually have this conversation every couple of weeks and various ideas have been suggested, but it is very hard to pinpoint exactly why the balance is so typically weighted as having fewer female coders.
I do feel lucky that I had early exposure to computers, and because they were mine to play with as I wanted, I never felt afraid to dive in and try things on them. I doubt I'd be as comfortable in this arena if I hadn't had that experience.
I have always felt comfortable and free to choose what I want to do and never been pushed down any gender role or expectation from my family, so this has definitely helped. It’s something I'd love to know the answer to and will continue to explore this question.
In your opinion, what could help to increase gender diversity in tech community?
I think the community is trying really hard to help with this, especially Umbraco. I think making sure there aren't things to make people feel potentially awkward or singled out for their gender preference.
Conference Codes of Conduct helps to try and make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable. Having strong role models in the industry can make people see what is possible, even if they are low in confidence at the start. Gender diversity and gender neutrality are huge areas to cover in a blog post like this and I would be happy to chat about it at a future meetup in more detail!
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a career move and learn to code?
It is like getting to do a logic puzzle book every day. If you like problem solving, or Escape Rooms, you'll fall in love with it! I also think there is a different aspect of coding for everyone. Some might prefer the gaming side, some the pure backend low-level side, some a combination of front-end and back-end... you'll find your place that you feel comfortable in.
Don't forget to try and push outside your comfort zone, though, even if it scares you. I loved watching Guy Martin recently learning to code making a cup of tea using Python... it is that sort of fascination and excitement, even as a "grown-up", to still learn what is going on under the hood that really stands you in good stead.
Don't stop playing! It is important to keep having and finding fun however that might come about... we know life and deadlines will always be there, so try not to put off having fun for too long! There can be a huge weight of expectation from yourself and others, but you know best what you enjoy and what makes you tick and those minutes fly by in the working day.
Community meetups, events like Codegarden and CODECABIN all give a chance to get exposure to the coding world and you never have to feel like you've been thrown in at the deep end.
Everyone has different learning styles - I'm fairly visual, I remember things in pictures and sketches - but some prefer audio-books, or group discussions. Pluralsight is always a good shout, and general coding concept books like The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt. Have a mentor, someone you admire and who has the time and patience to teach you. Maybe have a career hero - even if they're a secret hero! - someone you can follow and see how they progress their own career for inspiration.
How do you imagine your future as a developer?
Right now I feel like I want to be coding for the rest of my days! However, in the immediate future I want to spend time focusing on design patterns and architecture this year, delving deeper into the lower-level code and best practices. I'd also like to throw myself back into the Umbraco community. I hope that Umbraco continues as a product for the rest of my career and longer! I feel very lucky to have found a career that I genuinely enjoy and don't get the Sunday blues about.