Tiffany Prosser 2

Women who code in the Umbraco community: Tiffany Prosser

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

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

A little about yourself.

I'm 42 years old and I am living and working in Leicester. I joined the Leicester City Council Web Team as a Web Architect.  Since then the team was renamed to the Web Management Team and I became a Web Management Officer.

How did you come across Umbraco?

I was introduced to it when I joined the Web team.  Some of our sites were built on Umbraco and it was my first foray into working with .NET.  Before then I was building sites and interfaces using HTML/CSS/JS.

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

Hah!  Well, I've lived my life around computers since my dad worked for one of the largest computer firms in the early '80s and he's a bit of a genius engineer so of course had high expectations.

Sadly, when I was bought my first computer, my trusty 3k Commodore Vic-20, it soon dawned on my father that despite hours of trying to get me to learn to program in Basic at the age of 5... I really wasn't picking up much more than getting a ball to bounce across the screen... Mainly as a result of being interested only in playing games. Why sit for hours typing dark blue text on a light blue screen with things like 'PRINT 'Hello World'" when I could be loading up Gorf or Radar Rat Race and spending the time better trying to beat it?

Similarly, I would sit for hours with the latest copy of Computer Video Games for hours whilst typing up games like Horace Goes Skiing that was printed in a magazine in unintelligible machine code.

It was only when the web came along - and we had it early in the house - coupled with online gaming and object-oriented programming, that I started to really get into the inner workings of computers.

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

Not specifically worry as such.  I definitely concern myself with prejudice in any given situation.  However, as I work for a local authority I was confident that there were enough practices and codes in place to prevent prejudice and discrimination at least in the explicit sense.  Of course, there is still a large issue with institutional discrimination but this is a problem with a much wider context than the team I work in.

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

There's a million and one ways to answer this question and no single answer will work but there are two areas I would like to point out need addressing if we want to improve diversity in the tech community.

Culturally, the UK and US, in particular, have attached a large stigma associated with technology and working with tech.  It's very frustrating and points to an issue relating to gender stereotyping that spans centuries of discrimination against women whereby anything requiring brain power or skill is not something that women should be seeking to adopt.

Similarly, technology seems to be too closely associated with stereotypes of lonely, isolated male basement coders that have no social life and an abundance of acne.  It's something that exists in the collective mindset of western culture as something to ridicule and deride.  Add to that the part that the media and advertising plays in defining social structures and relationships and one begins to build a picture of how big the mountain is to climb before things can really change.   We can't get ahead of ourselves when so much of the problem is rooted deeply within our culture and we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of addressing the issues.. and there is still a long way to go.

On the other hand I have seen a real change in the approach to many of these issues and I'm extremely hopeful for the future.  Championing diversity and changing perceptions by featuring articles such as this can help and are an important part of tackling perceptions - and I've found the Umbraco community to be very welcoming and embracing the need for diversity.

What I find particularly impressive and encouraging is that the approach is inclusive without being patronising or trying to give special preferences only to a select few.. instead communities such as this really send strong positive messages to the whole tech sector that by embracing diversity and encouraging a diverse approach to how we develop and build the technology we spend our lives using - ultimately the society we live in becomes better, stronger and the barriers that may prevent anybody from a diverse background from participating, are weakened. 

One area that can greatly improve is how tech-related work is represented in recruitment. Web development is a broad and diverse area requiring a multitude of approaches and skill sets and yet much of the job market still relies on very prescriptive templates for jobs that effectively communicates “we are looking only for a maths genius who can sit and generate algorithms for breakfast.. and we will be testing you on it”. Jobs like this are far too commonplace and do more damage than good to opening the field to diversity.

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

Get involved.  Don't be put off by sites like Stack Exchange who can give off a very negative impression of developers.

Diversity drives development and there's something for everyone.  As long as you take the right approach, with a desire to learn and a willingness to solve problems I think you will do well.

I would like to stress here that you don't need a career change to get into coding and tech.  Do it because it is interesting and exciting and speaks to your creative or techy interests. The career bit can come later on... but there's absolutely nothing stopping you from sitting down and start learning how to create that game or website you always knew you had in you.  It's not easy... and there are many challenges. But once you get started it can be extremely addictive and great fun. Get coding!

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