Laura Weatherhead 2

Women who code in the Umbraco community: Laura Weatherhead

Laura's thoughts on coding, Umbraco and gender equality in tech industry

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To commemorate International Women's Day, Umbraco community member Laura Weatherhead shares her thoughts on coding, Umbraco and gender equality in tech.

A little about yourself.

I'm 31 and I work for a small software development company called Fluent in Cambridge. I am a Full Stack .NET Developer, which basically means that I get to stick my oar into all the different parts of the development cycle from styles to Javascript frameworks to the service layer and the underlying data structures.

I am lucky enough to love all the parts of creating a web application (almost) equally, and I love learning new technologies to add to my repertoire. When I'm not muttering passive-aggressive phrases to my code I can usually be found hanging off a trapeze at the local circus school or bouncing on a trampoline.

How did you come across Umbraco?

I started using Umbraco back when I was just starting out as a junior developer and it was only version 3 - and I've never looked back!

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

I studied Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University, so I guess I've been on the problem-solving side of the keyboard since 2006 - nearly 13 years ago now.

I actually picked up the coding bug by accident pursuing lofty dreams to be a digital animator, which fell by the wayside when I discovered that programming is not purely logical, but also subjective, creative and amazingly rewarding. Now I'm lucky enough to do something that I love, and also get paid to do it!

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

When I first became a junior developer I was lucky enough to have a female team lead who was not only protective and encouraging but also happened to be an incredibly talented developer herself. I think that having this influence so early on in my career was indescribably helpful in allowing me to build a sense of what people are capable of regardless of their gender, as well as giving me the confidence to develop my own skills without fear of prejudice.

I suppose that I have carried these instilled beliefs onwards and have been lucky enough to either escape or disregard censure from colleagues in favor of knowing that - at the end of the day - I am a comfortably capable developer and that any prejudice says far more about them than it does about me.

I probably have more concerns now than I did when I first started out - it becomes exhausting to feel that because you don't fit the image of a "developer" then your technical skills are often called into question, and disheartening to be parroted in groups by less experienced male developers but have their identical opinion lauded when yours was disregarded.

I don't want that exhaustion to carry through to women who are considering entering into the industry; I don't want them to fear an atmosphere that they may never have to endure!

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 that the industry has had an influx of fresh talent as people are finding the confidence to teach themselves and increasingly relying on the community for resources to upskill. This new talent has widened the horizons of "traditional" tech circles, as well as increased diversity by making it easier to get started and get a foot in the door. Unfortunately, there is still a remarkable and visible male/female imbalance.

How do we solve this - more visible or vocal female voices? Mixed gender hackathon teams? Grassroots work with girls in schools and universities? A safe network of companies and women who can mentor and share their experiences? I think any and all of these things are important - anything that helps to start not only to build up confidence but attempts to keep it stable as women start and progress through their development careers.

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

I suppose that my biggest piece of advice is to keep an eye on the big picture: do you want to have a job that challenges you? Do you want to be creative for a living? Do you want to build things? To fix things? Do you want your brain to be stretched every day? If the answer to these things is yes, then always make sure you focus on that.

There will be days when programming is tough; days when you feel like you've found your career-ending challenge, projects that you hate, colleagues that psychologically wear you down, and you will feel like it's too hard and not worth it - but it is, I promise. There will also be days when you will rise above and you get to surprise yourself; when you get to point at something you're proud of and say, "I made that", and those moments will make it all worth it.

Other advice includes:

  • Don't let anyone tell you what you "should" be doing either professionally OR personally - for sure, take advice from people but at the end of the day do what you want to do!
  • You should know that a lot of people are just "winging it" - don't be intimidated by what other people are achieving; focus on what *you* want to achieve.
  • Try not to feel like you don't belong. Sometimes you might be the youngest, or the only female, or maybe even the person in a team with a non-technical degree, and this might make you anxious or insecure - but if this is where you want to be then you have a perfect right to be there and be contribute. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise (they're probably dealing with their own insecurities).

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