International Women’s Day: Women in Development

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we want to shine the spotlight on some of the awesome, talented women in our in-house R&D team! These dedicated developers and QA technicians establish and evolve the technology behind our localization and media services.

With varying roles and backgrounds among the R&D team, we spoke to Sophie, Melita, Melissa and Natasha about their experiences as women in development, why it’s so important to see positive role models in the workplace and how we can all encourage more women into a career in technology.

Tell me about yourself and your role at ZOO!

Sophie Wendell: These days I’m a software engineer but I started my life at ZOO as a translation coordinator. I spent a few years in production, before making the leap into R&D.

Melita Carty: I’m Melita and I’m a software engineer who’s been working at ZOO for three years now.

Melissa Rocks: I’m Melissa, or Mel if you’d prefer. I recently joined the QA team, so I’m currently learning the ins-and-outs of our products and how we can further develop them to help our customers.

Natasha Parcei: I’m Natasha, and I work at ZOO as an apprentice software engineer. I’m currently taking part in the university study part of my apprenticeship, but before that, I worked within the ZOOdubs product team.

How did you first get into R&D? What do you think helped you get to where you are in your career?

Sophie: After some time learning programming and creating projects in my spare time, I decided that I wanted to make the career switch from production into software development. I approached some of the team from what is affectionately called the ‘dark side’ of the office and asked them how I could go about being considered for a role over there. They were really helpful and supportive, so I’d credit networking with getting me where I am today.

Melita: I first got into R&D via an apprenticeship. At ZOO, I started out in quality assurance and have since migrated over to a developer role.

Melissa: I was working in tech support and I knew I really liked the cases that are a bit more complicated, that I could really dig into and figure out what was going on. My best friend, who’s a software dev, said that I’d be great at software testing.

At the time, I didn’t really know that software QA was a job! I’d only heard of games testers and knew I didn’t want to do that, because I like games and didn’t want to spoil it for myself. I went off to complete the necessary ICQB qualifications and then, started interviewing and got my first testing job from there. I’ve been doing it for about four years now, so I owe my friend a lot for encouraging me!

Natasha: Last March, I was working in the English team, but I decided to attend a workshop with Django Girls. It was a free event during which you learn to make a website using the Django and Python frameworks. It’s aimed towards women and encourages any aged participants to get into the industry. I kept working on my website and self-learning, then spoke to the HR and R&D teams at ZOO about how I can take the next steps.

My degree-level apprenticeship, that ZOO is sponsoring, is with Sheffield Hallam University for their BSc `Digital & Technology Solutions Professional’ – it’s three years of worked-based study including an initial uni bootcamp phase for three months, soon I’ll be back in the office programming all day, every day!

I’m right at the start of my career in dev, but it’s interesting because I previously worked in the English team at ZOO – where I was working on the adaptation of dub scripts, so now I’m working on the ZOOdubs platform and seeing things from the other side of that.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Sophie: It means celebrating everything that women bring in every aspect of their lives. In a work context, it means identifying and shouting about all the ways women make an impact in the workplace, in their industry, to the community, to their colleagues, and to girls and other women who aspire to the same things.

Melita: For me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating women globally and also tackling the issues that women face today. We can look back at how far we’ve come in improving women’s lives whilst recognizing what other things still need to be improved on.

Melissa: It’s about visibility and helping people feel noticed. It’s vital to have that kind of visibility of women in different positions and industries. It’s really important that we encourage women to look beyond careers ‘a woman should do’.

It’s really important that we encourage women to look beyond careers ‘a woman should do’.

Personally, it also has this wider positive message about empowering and supporting each other – regardless of gender, ethnicity, or background. With a lot of my friends and I being supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, in a way, International Women’s Day represents something bigger – and more universal celebration of acceptance and togetherness.

Natasha: It’s really important that these awareness days exist, as they can help shine the light on some awesome organisations and communities that do incredible work all through the year. Django Girls and Sheffield Women in Tech are a couple of great groups that promote getting more women into tech and they’ve personally impacted my decisions in that respect.

The more women get into tech, the more visibility there is for younger women who can then see this as a real career option – and that’s crucial to drive change.

What advice would you give to women who want to start a career in development?

Sophie: Explore all the avenues! Figure out your learning style, and then search for learning resources that fit within that – there’ll be more of them than you could ever possibly hope to get through!

Equally importantly, find communities of people on a similar journey. There are plenty of forums and groups, both online and in-person, for new coders, and the support and networking you get from these groups really shouldn’t be underestimated.

Melita: There are a lot of young people – and YouTube is a great resource for this – who talk about becoming developers and a lot of them are women. I think that being able to listen to advice and guidance from those who have had similar life experiences talk about how they overcame the challenges of being a woman in a tech environment is really helpful and it’s great that these sorts of platforms exist, making people’s stories so widely accessible.

I’d certainly recommend searching for some videos on being a female developer if you’re looking at going into development or even just curious about what it’s like!

For women who are already in the industry, I would emphasize the importance of knowing your worth. If you feel like you’re being discriminated against or undervalued, move to somewhere that appreciates you more!

Melissa: Don’t let the fact that it can be male-dominated put you off! There are really great people in the industry, of all gender identities, who will help encourage you and want to see you succeed.

As with most industries, development is the kind of profession that can really benefit from having lots of different mindsets, and I’ve seen it work best when people from different backgrounds come together. Especially in QA, having people from different backgrounds is invaluable, because you’ll always spot something that someone else hasn’t.

What woman has positively impacted you in your career? What’s one lesson she taught you?

Sophie: The wonderful Karla Harrison, who was my manager at ZOO when I told her I was going for a role in R&D and would be leaving her. She championed me and really gave me the support and courage I needed, and I am incredibly grateful for it.

Melita: I think so many people have influenced me over the years to get me to where I am. All through my education and among my friends and family, I’ve been fortunate to have lots of supportive people who encouraged me to choose the paths that most interest me, whatever they may be.

Melissa: I worked with a woman called Sura who was one of the testers in my very first R&D role and she showed me that you didn’t have to ‘stick out’ to be part of that team. As a woman, you can endear yourself to the team and be yourself. You don’t have to change your behavior. Be yourself and people will accept you for who you are. If that’s not the case, it’s a problem with the company, not you!

She also taught me more generally about communication. In QA, we can often become the bridge in R&D. There is this stereotype of someone in dev just wanting to get on with their work and keep their heads down. And in some cases, it can be the case that developers are more reserved or introverted.

In QA, we tend to want to have those big conversations – brainstorming different features and demoing to different teams. But she taught me how the different communication styles are useful across different departments and how you can adapt so that everyone feels comfortable.

It makes you think, ‘These are the sorts of women that I want to surround myself with. This is how I become a great developer.’

Natasha: The women I currently work with are a real motivation. It’s great to see skilled programmers taking on these huge features and user stories and making it work; breaking things down and ably working through every challenge. It’s really encouraging to see people who are just so competent and in control of what they do. It makes you think: ‘These are the sorts of women that I want to surround myself with. The ones who are ambitious and want to be good at what they do. This is how I become a great developer.’

Why is it so important to see female role models in the workplace?

Sophie: It helps dispel outdated views – which many of us hold, in one form or another – that can often keep women from pursuing avenues where they’d excel.

Melita: I know that I’m fortunate in how I have been encouraged along the way, but a lot of women don’t have that same experience and are pressured to go into more gender-traditional roles by those around them.

I think that being able to see women in developer roles reminds you that you shouldn’t let other people’s ideas of what route you ‘should’ take get in the way of your own individual aspirations. It’s encouraging to see that attitudes are changing and women have increasingly more independence and choice in what they want to do.

Melissa: For me, it’s about showing that we can do just as much as anyone else. Absolutely, there are biological reasons for certain genders having different traits – but that isn’t the be-all-and-end-all.

This might seem a simplification, but I remember when I bought my house, the estate agents knew that I was a bit of a geek so, kindly, put some Avengers figures in the window. I thought that was really cool, but one thing I noticed straight away is that there was no female representation in that particular group. Hulk, Thor, Captain America – but no Black Widow, no Scarlett Witch.

It kind of bummed me out. So, when I moved in, I replaced these with my own set of female figures who I think represent badass women – who can still represent femininity in their own way. Captain Marvel, Black Widow, The Doctor, Scarlet Witch, Mulan, Moana.

Of course, there are bigger, structural and mindset shifts that need to take place, but it’s also extremely important to see yourself in your role models, to feel represented.

Natasha: It’s about visibility. One of the reasons I felt comfortable joining the R&D team at ZOO is because Sophie, Lisa, Melita and all these other women were in the department. It makes you feel like you can fit in. If it was a department entirely made up of men, I might’ve felt less encouraged.

It’s good to see yourself in the role, even before you make that first step. You want to feel comfortable, especially if you’re going to make a big career shift too!

How can men and women in senior positions encourage more women into a career in dev?

Sophie: Understand that, at this point in time, there will be many very skilled women who would flourish and exceed expectations in the role, with the right support, but that they may not have the experience or credentials on paper that male peers have.

Melita: I would say that one way that senior staff members can encourage more women into development careers is to maintain a work environment that welcomes them. I don’t think this necessarily requires any drastic changes – it’s just a matter of remembering to be considerate and accommodating for differences that can occur between men and women like personality types and interests. In general, those who are any kind of minority in a group can take a bit longer to get settled in to a new set of co-workers, so being aware of this helps.

I think ZOO is great at that and I’ve never felt like I’ve been discriminated against or patronised for my gender, which are things I’ve heard people say of other workplaces. Having women who are visibly happy and stay in the industry long term shows to others that it’s a good business to be in and it creates a positive cycle of encouraging more women to join in.

Melissa: A major factor is  language. Think about what you say and the impact that might have. You might be saying ‘we love having women here – even if they are a bit emotional’, and it might be that you think you’re making a joke, but that one interaction could completely put someone off. It could give off the impression that you’re not going to be taken seriously. I think it comes down to a lot of people not noticing the fact that society has changed and therefore our language needs to change with it.

I think it comes down to a lot of people not noticing the fact that society has changed and therefore our language needs to change with it.

Natasha: ZOO does a great job at this. Our VP of software engineering, Chris, is really supportive to all the women in the team and was encouraging in terms of what I needed to be successful in this role and how I’d like to approach it. It wasn’t me trying to justify why I should be on the team, it was them saying, ‘We’d like you on the team, how and where would you want to fit in?’.

Wes, who is the senior on ZOOdubs, is my apprenticeship mentor, and what he does is find increasingly challenging projects to work on and always supports me without judgement. I feel like I can always go to the team and ask for advice or guidance.

There’s a really supportive environment to learn and grow here – and that’s something that anyone senior in tech should encourage. As well as actively inviting more women into the workplace.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. What does it mean to challenge gender stereotypes in the workplace?

Melissa: It’s very important. More visibility in roles that people don’t traditionally associate with women goes a long way, but it’s also important to challenge gender stereotypes when you face them.

Natasha: It’s important for anyone to challenge any problematic behaviour in the workplace and to feel safe in doing so. At ZOO, the HR and management teams do a great job at creating that open and comfortable environment, where you’d feel safe to raise any concerns in that way.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Melissa: I’d like to give a shoutout to the awesome work of the WISE campaign which is trying to get more women into STEM and computing industries. I’ve become a ‘role model’ for them, so as of September, I’ll be going into schools and giving talks on being a woman in computing – which is very exciting. They do some fantastic work, so you should check them out!

Natasha: Personally, I’d just say that taking my first steps in tech has been really exciting. It’s been such a positive industry to work in and there are always companies looking out for new talent. I’d recommend anyone with an interest to follow that feeling.

Remember that you can always retrain, it’s not about what you did or studied when you were 18. If you want to change your career, there are opportunities out there to do that. Get involved with some of the awesome groups, find the right role for you and see if you like it!

Interesting in joining Team ZOO?

The ZOO team is always evolving – and we’re currently on the lookout for a full stack developer! This is a fantastic opportunity to join a busy development team, helping to provide a creative, innovative and quality-driven service.

Find out more about the role and keep up with our latest vacancies here.

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