Heather Floyd 3

Women who code in the Umbraco community: Heather Floyd

Heather's thoughts on coding, Umbraco and gender diversity in tech industry

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In light of International Women's Day, Umbraco community member Heather Floyd shares her thoughts on coding, Umbraco and gender equality in tech.

A little about yourself.

I am currently self-employed as a fulltime Umbraco/ ASP.NET freelancer, primarily working with Advertising/Digital Agencies who don’t have Umbraco devs on staff. I am based in New York, NY, USA. And I’m actually turning 40 on March 8th (yes, today) 😄

How did you come across Umbraco?

Back in 2006 I was building .NET websites for clients and thought there must be a better way than having to create all these custom CRUD interfaces for the client to add their content to the database. So I started researching CMSs.

I was looking specifically for ASP.NET ones, since that was what I was familiar with. At that time there weren’t a lot of options. There was one which was way too expensive; I saw DotNetNuke – which was just a hot mess; and then I found Umbraco (version 3). It took me several months to launch my first Umbraco site (darn XSLT!) but the rest is history.

How long ago and what brought you to coding in general? What do you enjoy about it?

While I was at New York University (NOT studying computer science or anything like it), I had an office job on campus. My manager came to me with an Access Database and said: “Get this data for me”. I had NO CLUE how to do that, so I figured it out – teaching myself querying, and report design, then getting into improving the database UI via VBScript macros.

After that, I dabbled with HTML to create a little website for The Womyn’s Center on campus, then did classic ASP, then ASP.NET, when it came out. I took to Umbraco immediately, because in some ways it reminded me of Access – with a nice interface to create my “data tables”.

The thing I love about coding is having the power to make cool things happen, to solve problems in elegant ways. When you are a programmer, you are always learning and growing, because technology is always changing.

When you decided to enter this industry, were you concerned about facing prejudice as a woman? If yes, what were your concerns?

I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to “enter the industry”. After I graduated, I needed to find work. My liberal arts education – while wonderful – didn’t give me any marketable skills that would have led to a career. I enjoyed technology, and had some skills there, so I figured I’d look for an entry-level web developer job. Unfortunately, it was right at the time of the first tech crash, so my resume was ignored. I started freelancing to pay my bills.

Because I wasn’t really in any tech communities – no CS school or even a job where I’d be in a tech department – I was blissfully unaware of the existence of prejudice in technology.

And fortunately for me, the first major tech community I joined was the Umbraco community – via the old Yahoo! Group. I never experienced any sexism there, and by and large, the people I’ve met in the Umbraco community since then are just wonderful, decent, people. I consider myself very fortunate – especially when I talk to women who are working in other areas of technology. I have heard their stories, and I know that sexism is a very real issue in technology as a whole.

Do you think the industry is changing for the better? What do you think would help to increase gender diversity in the tech community?

I think awareness is way up in the industry – a lot of things which were hidden before are now out in the open. But at the same time, I think the scrutiny has caused some retrenching of the “old boys network”, so change has been given more lip service than actual results – pay equity, for example.

Other than salary and opportunity equality, I think the tech culture needs to mature. Most women aren’t comfortable with the “fraternity house” atmosphere of startups and development teams.

And I think that companies will need to become friendlier towards work/life balance for all their staff – men and women both want to have a healthy family and personal life. The expectation for a 60-80 hour work week that is frequently the norm is really unsustainable and eventually drives a lot of talented and experienced people out of the industry.

What advice would you give to someone looking to make a career move and learn to code?

I’d tell them to try it out. I think it’s a great career, with plenty of growth potential, but it can be intense, so they should be sure they actually enjoy the work. I’d suggest finding a class or online tutorial to work through before committing to an intense 6-week boot camp or anything.

Anything else you wanted to mention?

It so happens, that today I am releasing my first book about Umbraco! 📚

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