International Women’s Day 2020 #IWD2020 – Forging a Career in Web Development

Career development / Culture and values
Private: Melanie Small
By Private: Melanie Small | 5th March 2020

Interview with Jodie Watkins, Senior Web Developer, TWM.

“An equal world is an enabled world” is the theme of International Women’s Day 2020.  As an employer in the technology industry and to support International Women’s Day, which is on March 8th, TWM wanted to share an interview ahead of time, with our very own Jodie Watkins, Senior Web Developer at TWM for over 10 years.

Jodie’s role is to set up and maintain client learning and development academies and she is a whizz at designing and developing core and bespoke applications, as well as TWM’s learning experience platforms.

We believe that celebrating and supporting women’s achievements is key in forging greater inclusivity and equality in the world, particularly across the tech sector.

Most statistics point to the fact that women are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) roles and only between 15% and 20% of the total population of tech designers and developers are female.  A lack of relatable female role models perhaps reinforces the perception that a tech career is an unusual choice for women.

Of course, the tech sector is multi-disciplinary and includes a wide range of roles including Software Development, Data Analytics, Computer Science, Multimedia, Design and so much more. The tech industry is becoming more diverse and it is great to see so many organisations creating resource groups to help them grow female talent, and increase overall diversity, across their teams.  Added to this the number of technology jobs occupied by women is positively growing and tech is, in many ways, leading the equality change - particularly when it comes to getting more women on Boards.  There is however plenty more to do to close the gender gap.

We hope you enjoy reading this article and questions we posed to Jodie.

What experience led you to technology and specifically the role of a Senior Web Developer as a career?

I have always been interested in design and as a young adult I aspired to be an illustrator, graphic designer, or architect.  When my school started to invest in computers, I realised that technology-based design was perhaps the way forward; so I furthered my education, with this in mind, and completed a degree in Multimedia and Internet Technologies.  As time progressed, I realised that my interests had been swayed and I enjoyed coding and structure design more than front-end design, which fortunately is what I do most in my role at TWM.

Whilst I have always been artistic and interested in design, I always preferred the more scientific classes at school. I like things to have a definitive right or wrong answer; which is why I always preferred Maths to English. Being in web development, I can tick both boxes; as I am writing code that needs to be specific and formulaically correct in order to work - yet the outcome needs be visually pleasing to the end user.

Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?

No, whilst growing up and in early education computers and other technology like smartphones were not as ubiquitous as they are today. The first home computer we had was built by a friend of my Dad, and it had a 1GB hard drive that we were told we would ‘never fill’. Of course, as technology progressed and my parents purchased a 2MP camera, we quickly filled the hard drive!

Nowadays most of us have phones in our pockets with much higher resolution cameras and with hard drives 16 or more times the size of our first desktop computer.  The idea that a family friend was able to build such an amazing piece of technology astounded me and probably influenced my educational decisions quite heavily.  However, I don’t think the idea of being a web developer would occur to me for many more years, until I took an evening course in web design and enjoyed the challenge of building my own website.

Can you share a little bit about what a typical day for you is like?

I sit down at my desk with a cup of coffee, and the first thing I do is to check my emails for any small jobs or tool improvements that I can start the day with. This could be something like a request from a Project Manager to include a new function on an app that we have already built, the type of addition that only becomes apparent once the tool is in use by the client.

Once these are dealt with I check my to-do list and my schedule and work on any projects that I have in place. I chat to colleagues either over the phone or via Microsoft Teams to ensure we are all up to date with the latest developments in any ongoing assignments. I very much enjoy having a task to focus on, which could be a new exciting application or tool for a client or an addition to our core library of solutions and content. I can put some music on and just get on with building the project to the scope agreed with the client/team.

What has been your biggest success to date?

I would say that obtaining my degree would be my biggest career-based achievement. Whilst I don’t use many aspects of my degree in my day-to-day working life now, I wouldn’t have the career that I do without it.

Since I started my career I have had lots of small successes that I am proud of but probably the most prominent of these was a few years ago. We had a new client join us at TWM who required quite a few bespoke tools to be built in order for them to move from a paper-based system into an integrated web-based one. I completely owned the project, taking it from a paper description of each tool from the client to speccing them out, designing them, building them, and integrating them into our core system. I really enjoyed focusing on this project, I was proud of it, I learned a lot whilst doing it, and best of all the client loved it and it got a lot of use and, most importantly, made a real difference to their organisation.

What has been your biggest learning experience?

I can’t pinpoint a single experience that has advanced my learning, aside from the big project mentioned above.  However, I would say that whilst I felt I was learning a lot at University, the amount that I learnt in my first few years of being a web developer was a much steeper learning curve and one that I enjoyed more. I have been very fortunate to have excellent colleagues who are keen to share their knowledge on an ongoing basis and who helped me immensely in my first few years of the job, when everything was new to me.

What do you believe the younger generation need to know, hear and see to consider technology as a career option? 

The best thing for the younger generation has got to be positive female role models, both at home and in the media. I have a six-year-old daughter and both my husband and I try to encourage her belief that she can be anything that she would like to be, but unfortunately she is pretty set on being a ‘princess’ at present!  Unless there are more visible women in technology roles when she has access to social media, then she may still consider technology to be a male profession.

The bigger issue, as I see it, isn’t that women don’t get chosen for technology roles, but more that the large number of men in these roles makes you think that it’s not suited to women for some reason, and so women are less likely to pursue a career in the field. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I never feel like I am ‘a woman in a man’s world’ because I am equal with everyone else in the team at TWM, which of course is the way it should be in every profession.

What are your three key pieces of advice for female tech graduates looking to move into the technology sector or pursue a technology career?

  1. The world of technology is vast; there are so many fields, so try a variety of them before you focus on just one. Had I not tried coding, I would have stuck with design and I don’t think it suits me as much as being a developer does. I truly enjoy my job, and I know that I am very lucky to be able to say that.
  2. Don’t be afraid to step up and contribute your thoughts and opinions on a project, your opinion is as valuable as anyone else’s, and being a female in the sector brings a different perspective to a male dominated industry.
  3. It’s important to work for a company that has visible, authentic, strong core values that are lived each day and that align with your own. As a mother of two young children I appreciate the flexibility that TWM has offered me so that I am able to work around my children’s fixed schedules. Also, as a mother of two young children on certain days I appreciate the escapism that my career allows me!

What suggestions would you have for someone looking to grow their career in your field of specialism?

The best way to advance your skills in anything is through practice, so my advice would be to try to get involved in whatever projects you can. If you feel like you are out of your depth then don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, or even use Google to look up a solution for whatever you are trying to do. Technology is constantly changing, and so you may find new solutions to old problems. It is always nice to try something new and get it working on your own site, especially when you can then share ‘your’ new code with someone else on the team!

We hope this article encourages other females within STEM disciplines to take that first step and highlights what a Senior Web Developer role entails and how Jodie forged a successful career in this field.

Are you a woman in the technology sector too?  How has your experience been similar or different?

#IWD2020 #EachforEqual #CareerBurst

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