Talking to Women of Tech

Talking to… Julia Wilson

Julia Wilson-01Julia Wilson
Lead Developer

Hi Julia, thanks for agreeing to this interview.
I think it would be good to start with a little bit about what you do?

Hi Elspeth,
I’m a lead developer currently working on apps running on connected TVs, games consoles, streamers etc.

And what does being a lead developer involve?

Much of my day is spent doing the same things any developer would do – writing code, clarifying requirements, checking my stuff works etc. But I am accountable for the whole team’s efforts, so I spend a lot of time mentoring and coaching, facilitating discussions, troubleshooting, planning, mitigating risks – that sort of thing. I also work closely with people from other teams and other disciplines to make sure there is close alignment between what the developers are doing and what the rest of the business is shooting for.

What first got you interested in being a developer?

I graduated in Maths with no real idea what I wanted to do, and I talked myself into signing up to train to become a teacher. Two weeks before the course was due to start I changed my mind and enrolled for an MSc in Computer Science instead. I hadn’t really had any exposure to coding until that point – except for a website I’d made as a teenager to promote a band I was in. The idea came from a couple of people who’d mentioned they thought it was something I might enjoy, and fortunately they were right.🙂

At A-Level I’d studied Maths, French and English Lit, and tbh I found my Maths degree really dry by comparison. To people who don’t know much about it, “Computer Science” might not sound like a particularly interesting subject (it’s a terrible name) but it ticked all boxes for me – it had the logic and problem-solving elements which had drawn me to Maths, and I got to make stuff too.

Teacher training to Computer Science is quite a switch. Without much exposure to coding previously did you find you had a lot of catching up to do? Or were most people in the same boat?

The first half of the course was aimed at people converting to Computer Science from other backgrounds, so it was a pretty fast-paced, intense run-through of the fundamental concepts. Then we were flung in with the people who’d already studied Computer Science as undergraduates, which I expected to be tough but it was actually totally fine – somehow by that point everyone was on an equal footing. A great thing about coding is that you can switch to it relatively easily; it takes time to build a real depth and breadth of knowledge, but an aptitude for logic and problem-solving will get you a long way fairly quickly. I’ve worked with excellent developers who’ve been self-taught and had only a couple of years experience.

Do you think that being a woman in tech means that you or your work are treated differently?

I know of workplaces which have a horrible culture when it comes to women in tech, but fortunately where I am now gets this stuff very right.

n my personal experience, I think for various reasons people often don’t give women the same presumption of competence that they give to those who better fit the stereotypical mould, and we have to prove ourselves more as a result. I’ve noticed we tend to undervalue ourselves more too – we’re way more “imposter syndrome” than “Dunning-Kruger effect”.

I’ve heard of the imposter syndrome, but what’s the Dunning-Kruger effect?

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is close to the opposite of Imposter Syndrome; it’s when people believe they’re awesome at something because they’re actually too incompetent at it to know better. (I nearly succumb to it every time I play table-tennis.)

Ha! I have the same thing with mini-golf!

So do you think that the difference in presumption of confidence and imposter syndrome are linked in a depressing self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way? Is there something we can do about it?

Yes – I think the first can knock your confidence and fuel the latter. Hmm, it’s a tough one… Knowing “it’s not just me” is a good place to start. Seek out people who are in a similar position, either at your workplace or via meetups etc, and talk about this stuff to them. It’s way more manageable if you have people you can turn to for a chat/rant over Slack/coffee/wine (depending on severity).

That’s good advice. Do you have any other advice for women working in tech?

Be curious and absorb all you can, don’t beat yourself up when you get something wrong, and choose your employer carefully; try to work on something you care about in an environment you’re happy to be in.

That’s wonderful, Julia. Thank you.

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