We've recently had the opportunity to catch up with Caitlin who switched into tech as part of the ThoughtWorks<>Makers Academy Women in Tech Scholarship programme. Below Caitlin tells us more about her journey and what she enjoys about her role.
What‘s your current role at ThoughtWorks?
I am currently a Software Developer and Consultant for ThoughtWorks.
What activities or projects are you working on at the moment?
My current project involves working on a microservices product, i.e. a collection of small and simple applications that can be plugged together, for a fashion company. We are building in GoLang for the backend and using React for our UI (user interface). I’m getting to also learn some skills regarding setting up a build pipeline, so we can see our software is working whether in development or if it is in production and live, as well as Amazon Web Services, which is where we are hosting our products without having to rely on our own server!"
What do you love most about working in tech?
For me, it is the stability of knowing I can shape my own career - that even as the industry changes, I can change with it.
You joined ThoughtWorks as part of the Women in Tech Scholarship with Maker’s Academy. How have you found the experience as a career switcher?
It has definitely been an interesting and challenging ride since I joined last February (2017)! Bringing such a wealth of knowledge with you to switching careers means that your experience is going to be unlike anyone else’s. Luckily though, I’ve been surrounded with lots of other people who have also are career changers and asking them and getting their advice has often been a life saver. There is this constant fear that without a Computer Science background I simply don’t know what I don’t know, but along the way I have learned that I know a lot of things I didn’t realise - I may just not have the vocabulary that others have yet! You also find that unlikely things help you in amazing ways. For example: having studied Gender Studies has meant that I have often been able to help with design and debugging because it has given me a strong capability to think about complex and abstract concepts!
What did you think would be most challenging when you first started out in tech? How has this changed ?
I thought that the hardest thing would be getting back into a routine - especially as I wasn’t in work for a long time due to suffering from PTSD as a result of a workplace sexual assault. Unfortunately, it is still tough for many people from underrepresented groups in tech, and it is not all that common to hear of women still being harassed or assaulted by their colleagues who are men. It has been a challenge to get back into an office environment, and when I first started my current job I suffered a lot of setbacks. Finding the right people who could support me at work and also in the tech community at large - especially women and LGBT+ in tech groups - has been amazing, and I now no longer have PTSD incidents and am part of a team where I feel supported and valued.
How have you dealt with moments of doubt, i.e. the “imposter syndrome”?
Imposter syndrome and this feeling like you shouldn’t be here, that you don’t know enough, that you aren’t a real dev is a non-stop for just about everyone I know working in tech - ranging from career changers on their first projects like me all the way up to Tech Leads with 20+ years of experience. I have found reaching out to my community of supporters that has grown throughout my journey really helps because talking to others shows that we all feel this and it just simply isn’t true. Tech is constantly changing and there is no one perfect way to do anything and this means there is no one way to be a dev, BUT there are millions of ways to learn new things! For me, when I feel in doubt I just let my curiosity take over: staying curious is the best cure for feeling falsely incapable.
Do you have any tips for how employers can support their staff, particularly groups of people under-represented in the tech space, to feel more confident about their abilities? Have you experienced a company that has done this well, and what are examples of how this worked positively?
I think employers need to think about the importance of keeping their employees in the conversation. I have often seen companies simply say “our goal this year is to focus on getting more women in” and that doesn’t actually address what it is like to work in a company as a woman - even if the company is very progressive. Just like there isn’t one way to do coding or be a dev, there isn’t just one way to be a woman in tech. In many ways ThoughtWorks has done a lot of great things to support women and girls in tech, but there is still a lot of work they can continue to do. There have still been times where I felt my male colleagues were praised more or critiqued less, and also times where I felt that decisions were made to hold me back because of my diagnosis of PTSD, without talking to me.
However, keeping a transparent and open dialogue about our experiences and remembering that we have to remain aware that everyone’s journey will be different and doesn’t just end at employment is key to improving this. Raising these issues, instead of internalising them, to our leadership team or an advisor, has allowed us to think how we might do these things without realising them and has opened the space for more women to come forward when they are struggling with something at our company.
What’s next on your journey?
I have just been put on my first delivery project after several months of waiting patiently and self-teaching, so right now I am learning as much as I can from my colleagues! Long term though, I would love to combine my previous work experience in girls education with coding and hopefully help inspire the next generation of awesome technologists.
Note: at the time of publishing Caitlin has since moved into an exciting new role as a QA (Quality Assurance) Tester!
Code First: Girls