Perspectives of Women in Technology

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To highlight and share stories of women in technology, we've rounded up a group of Lullabots to talk about their journeys into technology, which tools they use on a regular basis, the skills they're learning, and what advice they'd share with their younger selves. 

Here are the stories of Jen Witkowski (Senior UX Designer)Monica S. Flores (Technical Project Manager)Putra Bonaccorsi (Senior Front-end Developer), and Helena McCabe (Technical Account Manager).

Tell us about your journey into technology.

Jen: My background is in graphic design and psychology. When I graduated, I worked at an exhibit design house, creating graphics for museums, visitor centers, and trade show exhibits. The company's website was awful (think the late 90s) so I was asked to help redo it since I was "computer savvy." Yay for tables! I really enjoyed working on it, so I went back to school for 2 years and got a Master's Degree in Computer Graphics Design. I studied a lot of ActionScript... a lot. We learned how to design and code intuitive user interfaces using Flash. But I also learned a bit of JavaScript and Lingo and took an intro. to web course where I learned how to build websites using HTML and CSS...with DIVs and not tables!

After graduating, I took a web designer position at a local agency in Buffalo. We did a lot of interactive work for Fisher-Price and Mattel. Mostly it was designing and coding games in Flash for kids. But we also designed and created websites for small mom-and-pop businesses in the area. And then the iPhone came out, which changed everything. We started to lose a lot of the contracts that involved Flash because it was slowly dying. So I jumped ship and decided to work for an old Creative Director and friend of mine. She and her husband started a small company (it was just the 3 of us) whose sole focus was to design and code custom themes in WordPress. This was before any of the local agencies started using it as a CMS tool (they were still stuck in Flash). So I learned WordPress and a bit of PHP. Aside from Lullabot, it was probably one of the best learning experiences I've had in my career. I stayed with them for a few years.

Then, I applied to a bunch of places (including Lullabot) and decided to take a job at another small marketing company as a Web Designer/Developer (where I learned a bit of Drupal), for a couple of months before Lullabot called and asked if I was available for contract work. I quit the marketing job and worked on updating the user experience on Lullabot Voice with Matt Westgate and Ben Chavet.

My first true Lullabot experience outside of an interview was me sitting in a hotel room with Ben on a Google Hangout helping me set up a local environment. It took a couple of hours, and he guided me through the command line (which still scares me to this day) with such patience. I worked my butt off on that contracting project, and eventually, after it was completed, I was hired as a UX Designer. Yay!!

Monica: I learned how to code in BASIC when I was nine years old and have always loved to create my own tools and projects. I first learned HTML and CSS in 1999 when I was traveling as part of The Odyssey World Trek for Service and Education, where I traded websites for additional stays for my team at hostels in developing countries.

I became a full-stack developer in 2004, building sites for membership associations, nonprofits, government, e-commerce, and startups as a consultant, switching to Drupal in 2008 and working most recently as a staff person for international projects. With a fairly good knowledge of Drupal back-end and front-end development, and having successfully launched three major website conversions for national and international agencies, I had been wanting to move into more of a management position because I think it's a good fit for my communication style, my ability to understand big concepts and break them down into discrete steps, and the enjoyment and satisfaction I receive from solving problems in service to a bigger cause, and I joined Lullabot as a technical project manager in July of 2019.

Putra: To speak a little bit about my background, I spent six years prior to Lullabot working at a digital agency in Philadelphia called Bluecadet. I started at Bluecadet right out of college when I was offered the position of Creative Developer, a role that came with both design and development responsibilities. After a year in that role, I realized I wanted to focus more fully on development, specializing in building large-scale Drupal and Wordpress sites. I was soon promoted to Senior Developer, after working there for two years. In addition to being a leader on the development team, I helped the senior management team address project roadblocks and their implications on web projects. I spent some time working with the good folks over at Happy Cog as well before joining Lullabot as a Senior Front-end Developer last year.

Helena: I ended up in technology completely by accident. I taught myself how to make websites when I was a kid just for fun. Guilty admission: I was a huge *NSYNC fan and wanted to make a fan page for them. I had a knack for it, so I ended up using that skill as a teenager for both good and for evil: building websites for local businesses that my friends' parents owned, and for tricking my parents into letting me go to concerts that they totally would have said no to (sorry, Dad).

After preparing for my Paleontology major for two years, I realized that I was not independently wealthy enough to pursue that career and pivoted to tech, getting my bachelor's degree in Information Technology Business Management. Sadly, my time studying neotropical herpetology in the rainforest and tracking sediment flow patterns to estimate the potential location of fossils didn't pay dividends in my life.  My former web development hobby, however, has flourished into a fantastic career that I love.

I worked as a front-end developer through two unpaid internships (boooooo internship economy) and then at a local digital marketing agency before landing at Lullabot two years after graduation. The work was fascinating, and my specialization in web accessibility brought some interesting technical challenges and some awesome speaking opportunities. Despite loving my role as a senior front-end developer here, I eventually realized that I wanted to spend more time with our clients and applied to join the Sales and Marketing team. They agreed to take me on, and now I work as a technical account manager.

Which tools do you use on a regular basis in your work, and what types of skills are you currently learning?

Jen: Tools: Figma, Sketch, Invision, Visual Studio Code, Code Pen, Google Docs, and Dropbox Paper Skills: I just took an intro to React course! I have no intentions of becoming a React developer, but as a designer, I think it’s important to know how the technology works so we can better speak and design to it. Next on my agenda is to take a Vue.js course and learn a bit about ES6.

Monica: Daily, I use Jira for ticketing, GitHub, BitBucket, Tugboat.qa, and our internal communication tools like Google Drive and Dropbox Paper. There are multiple Slack channels for interpersonal communications, and there are usually scheduled standups with clients and teams via Zoom, Uberconference, GoToMeeting, and Google Meet. We are flexible and work within the frameworks our clients are comfortable.

Putra: I have extensive experience in Drupal, Wordpress, and more recently, React. In terms of development tools that I use in my daily work, I use Visual Studio Code as my code editor, iTerm for command line terminal, and Slack for communicating with clients and team members.

Helena: When I was working in front-end development, PhpStorm, Tugboat.qa, GitHub, MAMP, and Photoshop were in my primary tool belt. Now that I've transitioned to the Sales and Marketing team, my can't-d0-withouts mainly consist of a litany of meticulously color-coded Gmail labels, Dropbox Paper, Google Keep, Google Tasks, and Zoom.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Jen: Don’t be afraid to just jump in. Trust in yourself and your abilities that you’ll stay afloat.

Monica: All your hard work will pay off. Have patience in yourself, focus on your strengths, and continue to do the best job you're able to do (within your time and budget constraints). And feel comfortable talking about the results you're able to deliver. So often we are so modest - it's fine to talk up our accomplishments. As Dizzy Dean said, "It ain't braggin' if ya' can back it up."

Putra: Don't internalize unpleasant feelings. Have the confidence to speak your truth!

Helena: Please don't cut your own bangs. Also, you know all of that huge scary stuff you're thinking about doing, like changing majors and spontaneously moving away from your quiet little home town to a busy city to start the life you've always really wanted? Totally do it. It'll be the best decision you've ever made.

What’s important to you when you build, create, and use technology?

Jen: For me, my best work happens when I step away from technology. Taking a walk to think about a problem, or sketching on a white board or pen & paper can be powerful. Also, I always try to keep in mind who I’m designing for as I’m creating new features for an app or website. This is especially helpful when I’m stuck on a problem.

Monica: I think it's important for us to develop our skills as much as possible so that we are able to work on problems that directly affect us, our families, and our communities. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We can be the change we wish to see.

Putra: As a developer and a user of the web, it's imperative for me that I take into account the user experience and create positive experiences that keep users loyal to the product or brand that I'm building. I enjoy bringing designs to life by introducing moments of delight to the users. Most folks label this as icing on the cake, but I see it as an avenue to bring challenge and delight and to inform our users about the brand they’re experiencing. Most importantly, I understand the fast-paced, problem-solving, collaborative environment of agency life and how important it is to stay innovative and keep current.

Helena: If I'm the one building it, the most important thing to me is that as many people as possible are able to use it. In the digital space, accessibility is equality. No one should be locked out of an experience or information because they have a disability. If I'm the end user, my priorities are an attractive interface, limited intrusions on my experience, and the availability of the features that I'm looking to use.

What’s a fun fact, favorite hobby, secret talent, or big goal you’d like to share?

Jen: I have all of these sketches for jewelry that I’d like to make one day. I have all of the equipment, I just have to find the time.

Monica: My first job was identifying potato beetles for an entomology research lab, so I can tell within 3 seconds if a potato beetle is a male or female. For the future, a big goal is to compose and print a set of music with songs and lyrics—this has been on my bucket list for some time and I'm actively working toward it now.

Putra: I've recently gotten into gardening because it's therapeutic and it allows me to take a break from the computer screen and create something tangible. I'm still a beginner, however, this season I've planted many shrubs, perennials, and annuals. I have an Instagram account, where I showcase the progress of my garden. You can check out my account @goodpathgarden. Also, as a hobby, my husband and I currently run an online interactive fantasy game based on the TV show Big Brother called Fantasy BB.

Helena: I'm an avid oil painter. I take weekly classes and have a studio in my house, and my hands are pretty much always covered in paint no matter how often I wash them. My other great love in life is video games. One room of my home is a VR gaming studio entirely themed around the Fallout franchise, complete with a hand-painted full Vault door mural.

Do you have perspectives to share? We'd love to hear them as we're all learning, growing, and getting better at our craft. Leave us a comment or tweet us @Lullabot.

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Monica S. Flores

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Monica S. Flores is a Technical Project Manager who has been building websites since 2004.