Sunday, November 8, 2015

My First Job as a REAL Developer

I literally took the first job that came along. Once my resume was updated with my new shiny degree, the recruiter calls were rolling in. I had no idea how any of this worked or just how far I could go with my skills, experience, degree, and unicorn card. Had I knew then, what I knew now, I would have taken my time and researched companies, done a lot of interviews, and sought out a culture of diversity. I probably wouldn't have taken a PHP job either. The money was well more than I had ever made though, and with a 4 year old and new baby, I was game.

They were on the 16th floor of this building
Some very aggressive recruiters from TekSystems got me in with a smaller company in Dallas that stayed on the 16th floor of the right gold tower in the DoubleTree on 75. It was a cube based office. The lighting was ambient: small squares of cloth strung up with soft lights beaming up on them. There were nerf guns everywhere. It was pretty much everything I had heard a dev shop to be.


The business was CRM's for Convention Center bureaus. It was written using a homegrown PHP 4 framework that attempted to be OO. The database was in Postgres with a lot of xref tables. The code was overwhelming given the nature of it. Everything we pulled from the database was formed into XML using PHP. The XML would then be rendered via XSL. That's right folks. XSL. Very poor documentation. It caused a lot of pain. There was some Javascript, but it was vanilla. In 2008 that was not fun. My favorite thing that I got to do was data import. When we got a new client, we would have to take their current database and figure out how it fit into ours. I was able to do this a couple of times and it was my favorite thing to do.

Ex-Co-Workers desk, you can see the awesome lighting
So I'd found myself in a real software shop. Well... web software. I was very excited to finally had made it! TekSystems gave them 6 of us. They only kept 3 and I was one of them. I was one of the first to be hired only 2 months after starting. We had a team of 7 and were just beginning to adopt this Agile/SCRUM stuff. We used an actual board with post-it notes and had bi-weekly day long sprint planning meetings. We used sub-version, which was a concept I had never heard about. I was one of 6 women in the whole company. The other women were not developers and I never interacted with them.

My team was made up of a bunch of early 20's single guys who were all self-taught in some form or another. Some of them had degree's, others did not. I was in my late 20's with two children, one being a new baby. I certainly got some looks when I walked in and was introduced as a developer. There were a lot of your dev stereotypes. Some of them didn't know how to take me. Most of them wouldn't listen to me at first. While I was working hard to learn the system and all the gotcha's of PHP, my degree prepared me very well for business process of software engineering, so it was frustrating when guys with no degrees and knew someone who worked at the company wouldn't take any of my suggestions.

Me in meetings
It was a tough first few months getting to know the team. I really had to work hard to prove myself. A lot of lmgtfy links came my way. Interruptions in meetings and what not. I assumed it was the nature of young single men, I mean, they interrupted each other a lot as well.

Either way, I was treated like the punk little sister for a long time. It was hard to get a word in, but they slowly came around to me. Don't get me wrong, not all of them were this way. I had one guy who was an advocate for women, believed in my abilites and continued to mentor me after we no longer worked there. My manager was very good. An older man who was a very experienced dev manager. He was hands-off, but in meetings when he was present, he would always call people out, including me, to hear their thoughts on something.

My team lead, while not used to the idea of a female developer, did his very best. Towards the end, he leaned on me to help with SCRUM things and organizing releases, and asked my advice on many things.

There was this one guy though. He just never took me seriously. I had found a bug one day. I fixed it, but it was such an anomaly I had to show him. He saw it, and was just as wow'd as I was that it was even a thing. He then began to man-splain how it should be fixed, and I interrupted him showing him how I had already fixed it (which was a lot better than the path he was going down). He got really quiet, and said quickly "Well that is clever" and B-lined out of my cube. That was a pretty huge win for me and he then had more respect for me after that.

I did get pregnant when my son was 6 months old.  Unexpectedly so, and I don't handle pregnancy well. I mean, all of them were fine, I was healthy. I just don't like lugging around another person in my body. I was also FREAKING out on how I would afford daycare. This made things even more awkward for the early-20-somethings I worked with, because they were still having to get used to having a woman around, and now I was pregnant.

The very worst thing that was said to me was when I was expressing concerns of having another baby. I can't remember the exact words, but he said something along the lines of: Well you shouldn't have babies if you can't take care of them. I eventually got up and went to the bathroom and cried. I never let anyone know though.

So the dynamic with my team mates had it's up's and down's. Win's and losses. I instinctively knew to lean in and I constantly fought for myself. My manager and upper management, who were all older and had families, gave me really good reviews. There was also an older developer on our team who had a daughter in college for something STEM related. He too was an advocate for women, and he was nice to have around. He worked with me and mentored me as well. He was overshadowed during meeting time by all the early-20-somethings too smart for their own good as well.

Son number 2
Things at home between my ex-husband and I became worse and worse as the pregnancy carried on. So bad that when my second son was born, I was ready to get out and file for divorce. I had a C-Section and was working 20 hours from home 2 weeks later with a newborn, 15 month old, and 5 year old.

I went to my bosses boss and let him know that it was imperative that I get away from my husband, and to do so, I would no longer be able to afford to live in Dallas. I wanted to move back home and get my life in order. He allowed it. So I did just that. I moved to Texarkana when the baby was 8 weeks old and began to work from home. The teams lack of inclusion really came out then. They constantly complained about how hard it was to have me being remote. It came up A LOT and it was stressful, but at least I was home. A year later the company sold out to their competitor and laid me off. That took me to my next adventure which I'll write about in another post.

All in all while this post may sound bad, I learned a lot from this job, and appreciate all of my co-workers as I learned a lot form every one of them. The sexism and exclusion I dealt with was mostly on a subconscious level. I think a lot of it had to do with their age as well.

I did have the few gems around me who were real allies, some even not mentioned in this post. They really helped me make it through. I came in it expecting to have it hard because I was a woman, I accepted that it how it was, and dealt with it accordingly. I was prepared. There was a lot more good than bad. My performance was great and undeniable, so it made it hard for anyone to get too ugly. I left there with respect from them all. To me at that time, I knew this was a problem with young single men in general, not just developers in the tech industry.

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