Talking to Women of Tech

Talking to… Lucia Velasco

Lucia Velasco TechSPARK Women of TechLucia Velasco
Junior Developer at Rocketmakers – LinkedIn

Hi Lucia,
So, let’s start with an easy question. What do you do?

I’m a junior developer at Rocketmakers. I write in Node and I used to write in PHP.

And have you always worked in tech?

Well, yeah, because I’m only 19.

Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

No, not at all. So, at school it was something that I’d thought about. You see people on TV doing really cool stuff in essentially the Matrix (or that’s what it looks like!) and I thought, “that looks awesome. Imagine if I could do that.”

Then I went to school and I did ICT and they said, “Cool, here’s some stuff. It’s called Powerpoint…”
Yeah, so I dropped that pretty quickly.

Just by chance I ended up doing work experience where I got to do some code and then came back the next summer and did some more experience and really enjoyed it.

Where did you do work experience?

A company called Claratize.

O, I think I’ve heard of them. What do they do?

They were a startup doing big data analysis.

So essentially they got a guy. They said “OK, so we’re going to get an intern for a month, could you be in charge of her?” And he said “Sure, she’ll do databases.” They sat me in front of a computer and said “This is how you do the databases. Here are some resources to learn more.”

And luckily with databases there are some amazing resources, so I picked it all up.

And then they said “Right, here is this amazingly long function, which is maths, translate it into SQL.
So that’s what I did. It was just so much fun. We were working on loads of data, and I was producing data and doing all sorts of wacky things with it.

And what is it that you like about working in tech?

I always worried that I would never be challenged enough. My big thing was that I’d either do a job where I was always having fun but there weren’t many prospects, like acting. Or where it was really great but you’re just doing the same thing day after day, like I imagine accounts are.

Originally I wanted to go into biology because it’s always changing, right? And then I found tech, and it’s changing a lot faster!

The other reason is because you can go into anything. I could walk into a zoo and say, “Let me build you this stuff that you really need.” And if I pitched it really well I could end up working for a zoo.

Or I could go and work with cars. I could go and work with anything. I’ll always be able to just dip into anywhere.

So it’s the flexibility of it and the fact that you’re constantly learning? Rather than the building or anything like that?

Exactly. I’ll always be challenged and I’ll always be able to go anywhere, into any industry.

That’s a really cool way of looking at it. I’ve never thought of it like that before. But you’re right. You’re absolutely right.

You said you didn’t really do IT at school. Did you have to do a course or anything to start coding professionally?

Yeah. So after I did that internship, and they taught me some stuff and I really liked it. I went back to school because I’d just finished doing my first year of A Levels. I started doing my A Levels and I realised it sucked.

What A Levels were you doing?

Biology, Spanish and Maths.

And I would have taken English language but they only did English lit. If I’d taken that there would have been a theme of languages.

I really enjoyed Maths and I really enjoyed Biology and Spanish was the easy option because I’m bilingual anyway. My dad’s Mexican.

I realised that everything I did was just for the sake of doing it. I was churning out work that was going to do nothing, become nothing. Whereas before I was being paid to make stuff that would actually potentially have a difference. I was handing it over to people and it would get used. Which was great.

Basically I thought, what’s the point? I’m never going to use this stuff anyway and I wasn’t motivated enough to get the marks I needed to get into a university worth going to so that I could do what I wanted to do, which turned out to be zoology.

So I quit the day before my first exam.

O, wow. That’s a brave decision to make!

Yeah. It helped that I knew what I wanted.

Anyone else who just decides to up sticks and quit school probably shouldn’t, unless they know how they are going to go about finding contacts and finding a job and where they’re going to start. I knew I had to get trained up before I did anything else. So I wanted to look at apprenticeships because I knew there were loads out there.

When I quit I looked for apprenticeships and I looked for internships. Mostly I went to companies and said, “Do you do this kind of thing?” Because I wanted to learn on the job. And most of them said, “No, but we could do.” Then one company said, “Yeah, go through this other website”. It was a generic apprenticeship website, which wasn’t good. It’s not where you should be going to learn IT.

Then I found this course called Mayden Academy. It had never run before. Because it was their guinea pig year and they had funding from this pot of money it was paid places. Six places, and I applied. There was something like 140 applicants and they narrowed us down to nine, and then they narrowed those nine down to the final six.

Well done!

Thanks. 🙂

I was the youngest applicant. I was 18 when I started and it was really amazing. It taught me everything and rather than learn on the job where you’re at risk of having someone saying, “Just do this and it works.” But you don’t learn how it works. Mayden Academy teaches you why things work the way that they do and they give you the basics to understand where to go from there.

The best thing is that if I’d gone to uni to do computer sciences I would have come out not knowing things like how to use Git, how to use agile methodologies like Scrum, things like test driven design, which are all really big, core things in the tech world right now. Because I went through the academy, I came out not only having learned about these things, but having practiced them for six months.

So they could be a bit more flexible about what they were teaching you because they are an academy rather than a big academic institution?

Exactly. It’s industry focus. It’s run by the company because they need people trained to a high enough standard and there weren’t enough people being trained full stop. Which made this amazing course.

And from there you went to work for Rocketmakers?

From there, all of us were hired by Mayden, the company who runs the academy, which was really great. Everyone went in different directions. Some people focused on design, some people focused on dev ops stuff, which is mind boggling to me.

What is dev ops?

It’s basically systems. Anything that isn’t writing just the code that makes things work, it’s about things you write that code on and how it gets into a server and a website. It’s those steps between the code I write and people actually being able to see it. That’s amazing. I’ve no idea how it works!

So after awhile I figured that Mayden was great, I’d learned everything I needed to and that I wanted to work in a slightly different area. So I left and went and worked for Rocketmakers where I work in a completely different language, doing things that are not completely different from what I did before but different enough.

And you’re still learning and changing?

Yeah. I found that at Mayden because I was working on stuff that wasn’t being created from scratch a lot of my skills got rusty. APIs, REST APIs, core practices that you don’t need to know because they’ve already been built when you’re working on a product like that.

At Rocketmakers, because we’re building applications from scratch, I’m suddenly getting all this back, making some mistakes, recovering from them a lot faster and now I know for next time. Still learning, but because of the skills I learned in the academy everything’s close enough to what I learned.

Do you think that being female has affected your career? Your choices? Attitudes towards you?

I mentioned at school, IT hadn’t really been a thing. I went to an all girls school and I definitely think that there was no hint of it, no hint of what it could be, other than if you took maths you might have something in common with code. That’s probably prevalent in a lot of girls schools, that it does take a real change to push all schools to modernise. In mixed schools it’s probably something that happens more. Boys are already pushed in that direction whereas for girls you may not recognise that you need to modernise the curriculum in that place.

Other than that, I did say when I was going to Rocketmakers that they should hire me because they had an all-male development team. And lots of places have that. I’ve had conversations before where people will call me up and say, “I saw your application. I just need to know before we go any further; are you OK with the fact that it’s an all-male development team?”

It makes no difference. Girls are kind of weird anyway. Boys are also weird.

It hasn’t made any difference that I’ve been able to put my thumb on, but women do think differently, that’s just a fact. Sometimes I’ll see things that are completely obvious to me that a guy may not naturally see and sometimes it’s the other way around. And you often get interesting dynamics between men and women where a lot of women will have the same thought processes towards various problems. Maybe from different angles, but still jumping through the same hoops.

I think being female has created nothing but opportunity in the fact that it’s always a good selling point that people don’t have enough diversity.

And how do you find working with an all male dev team?

I quite like it. I haven’t had any experiences yet where I’ve been on a team with a girl, other than being at the academy where I was one of two girls on the team. I don’t think it makes a massive difference, but I think it helps form the culture in a certain way. So, for instance, my team drink quite a lot, they have lots of food and there isn’t that balance of other traditionally more feminine activities, such as pilates, which two of the women at Mayden started going to. I think that can be a bit of a culture shock if you’re not expecting it. But not necessarily a bad one. It’s just about making sure that the team that you’re on are receptive to bringing in new activities that are more suited to you.

Have you come across imposter syndrome?

I think every dev does.

From the stance of particularly being female?

Just generally.

I went around and asked everyone at Mayden if they had any advice and one of the things that I came out of that experience with was knowing that at every point at the beginning of a project where you think, “I have no clue what I’m doing” or, “I have no clue what to do first”. Every developer at one point or another has doubts and if they don’t then they might have some ego problems that they should address…

Knowing that helps. Having a no-blame culture really helps with that kind of thing because it makes it OK to ask for help, which is one of the big things that can help alleviate imposter syndrome.

My final question is do you have any advice for women working in tech or wanting to work in tech?

Ooo… that’s hard.

I think the big question I’d have in response to that would be, what would be your worries, what would be your concerns. Because some people might be concerned about glass ceiling, which isn’t something that happens as much in tech. It’s a thing that happens in that people wouldn’t necessarily expect a woman to code, but in terms of having a point where a man is promoted above a woman it isn’t something that comes up as much. So if that kind of thing is stopping you from going into tech, then don’t let it.

Or if you’re worried about that everyone on the team might be a guy and you won’t have anyone to talk to, don’t. You’ll make friends.

Don’t let any fears you may have about potential stigma around you being a developer stop you. Just go and have fun.

That’s good advice.

Well, 1) we need more developers, 2) we need more female developers, 3) there are pretty good bonuses for female developers out there and any kind of minority group. There are always going to be benefits for you.

Even though women aren’t technically a minority group! 🙂

True. Marginalised.

Yes!

And definitely use the fact that you will probably think differently as an asset. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion just because you think differently. I should know, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and that’s the best thing for me.

Great advice. Thank you very much.

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