Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Women who code: Lotte Pitcher

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a director of a small web development agency in Shoreditch, London. It is actually a family business, which is somewhat rare in our young industry. My mother started the business in 1980 writing MS-DOS programs, and over the last 38 (!) years both her and my father have kept up-to-date with technology enough to still be working as web developers.

I joined the company after graduating from university. For the last 10 years or so I have been the technical lead, so I am definitely the one now needing to keep one-eye on the future, as well as on the bottom line. I still do a lot of coding though, it's the part of the job I love the most. I manage to keep the business administration and project management to about a third of my time.

What’s your experience with Umbraco?

I first discovered Umbraco in 2011 I think. I remember the version number, of course, v4.7. It was when razor support was first added. When we first went from Windows to Web development we went down the Microsoft route, so finding Umbraco was a perfect fit with our skillset. I wish I had discovered it earlier, although then I would have needed to get to grips with XSLT, so perhaps not!

I am about to become a fully-fledged Umbraco Master as have the final certification, Searching and Indexing, in April. Even though we only use Umbraco in about 25% of our sites (a lot of our projects have no CMS requirements), I am an active member of the London Umbraco community as I still get a lot from the meetups. I have also been lucky enough to attend both CODECABIN years.

When and how did you become interested in coding?

In my early teens my mother used to employ me as a systems tester on her Windows software. She figured if a 13 year old could use the system it was good enough. I guess that must have been when I caught the coding bug. Today's children get to program Minecraft: I had to do with BBC Basic and make pixelated pictures, but it was still fun!

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

As I was joining the family business those concerns weren't really relevant for me. But it was studying Computer Science at university when I was first exposed to the huge gender imbalance in IT.

Having been at an all-girls school it was a bit of a shock to be on a course where it was a 15:1 ratio of men to women. To be honest, this didn't really bother me. What did was the fact that most "CompSci" students seemed to spend their entire life in the computer science laboratory. Very few did sport, or had any hobbies or interests that didn't involve a computer screen.

Basically, very few seemed to be people "like me". This was in the late 1990s when the perception was that the industry was full of the stereotypical male geeks who would prefer to communicate via a keyboard than face-to-face. Sad but true.

I confess that I was always delighted that people were surprised to learn that I was a computer scientist. I don't think it was because they were surprised that a woman could do it, more that a woman would actually want to do it, especially an extrovert sociable woman like myself.

Why do you think there still aren’t that many female coders?

I don't believe that girls/women are dissuaded from coding due to being inadequate or incapable. Not these days. I fear that the perception of it being quite a solitary career still exists. Okay, yesterday I spent six hours of just me "against" my computer... but those days are thankfully rare.

Inside the industry we all know that being a successful developer is not just about coding, you need to be able to communicate clearly, collaborate effectively and, hopefully, mentor empathetically too. There's no reason why men should get more out of problem solving than women, I think some women don't realise what a sociable career it can be. Which is a real shame, as with more and more companies embracing remote working, it's a great career to fit around family schedules.

In your opinion, what could help to increase gender diversity in tech community?

Fair enough, most coders I know are men. Most of these men are family-oriented individuals who have full lives outside of writing code. Perhaps they play sport, go running, play the bass (lots do for some reason!), or just enjoy hanging out with their kids.

Point is we're a diverse and interesting bunch just like within any industry. So clearly we need to be more transparent about that. We need those on the outside to see people "like them" on the inside.

An easy thing to do is avoid the use of hyperboles such as "rockstar" programmer. To me that sounds like an overly loud person who won't entertain the ideas of others. Not someone I want to work with!

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

Look out for local “learn to code” meetups and events. You'll make connections with people so you can get ideas and help when needed. Then find that personal project that you really want to build and get started. Be realistic and get something simple working, then build it up bit by bit. If you're a logical thinker who likes problem solving, then keep at it!

How do you imagine your future as a developer?

It's a bit of a balancing act, at the moment, between being a developer and running a business. Whilst I still enjoy the coding, I shall continue as I am. We are always learning new stuff in our career and, whilst that is part of the joy of it, I fear that there might be one learning curve too many at some point. In which case I'll switch to doing more business stuff and let the younger generation do the "real" work!

Related Story

Women who code: Brittany Dufort

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