“If we do not share our stories and shine a light on inequities, things will not change.” – Ellen Pao
I was 14 years old when I had my first computer (I was born in the 80s). But my obsession with computers started long before. I remember not having a computer and going to my cousins to use theirs. We used to play games using the computer console and have lots of fun.
I convinced my parents to spend the money that they had saved for my fifteen birthday party on buying a computer. You need to know that the celebration of your fifteenth birthday is a huge deal for girls here in Buenos Aires, but I couldn’t care less. I was already spending most of my money going to “cyber-cafes” and staying there for hours, sometimes even skipping homework. A big party for my birthday wasn’t important for me, I just wanted my own computer.
At that time in Argentina, access to the internet was through a dial-up connection. Since I was on the internet all the time, we had to install a second phone line in the house so my family could also use the phone for regular calls (kids these days will not know about these struggles, lol).
But, hey! Spending all the time you can with a person you love is how you really get to know them. For me at that time, that “person” was my computer.
Instead of going out and partying, I was one of those few girls who would stay till very late playing games, talking with people from all over the world through mIRC or ICQ or trying to give my Fotolog and MySpace pages a “cooler” look by searching for web scripts on the internet. That was my first interaction with coding. I remember doing everything using Microsoft FrontPage.
Another passion I had at that time were games. I would sign up to participate in the early beta testing stage of online games and play till dawn. We used to get “in-game” rewards for finding early bugs in the game, like special items for our game characters. I didn’t mind not getting paid to play, because as the saying goes, if you are doing what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.
Every time I look back at those times, I can picture myself with a big smile on my face. I wouldn’t change a thing from those days, even remembering people who used to tell me “you should go out and find a boyfriend”. Funny thing is that I met my husband online and we’ve been together for 16 years now 🙂
My parents never forced me to study something specific and they encouraged me to do what I love, but I didn’t feel at that time that my love for computers would justify a career in software. Transforming computer devotion into a professional career? Can anyone do that? I thought it was perfect as a full-time hobby (and it still is, even when it’s also something I currently do for a living), but I didn’t see myself working professionally with computers. In my head, that wasn’t a place for a girl. Sadly, I didn’t know any woman at the time who could encourage or inspire me to start a career in software.
So, it was the beginning of 2003 when I started my studies to become… a kindergarten teacher.
In a way, I thought I was doing what society expects from a girl. Since I also considered myself too young at that time to become a mother or to get married, a career teaching kids seemed to me the obvious path considering my non-software-related skills.
Ironically, the times I enjoyed the most while studying were working on the computer, the long psychology fieldwork, or when I had to write reports about my practices.
Once I received my degree and started to work, it was very clear to me that I hadn’t chosen my field properly. I could see the passion my coworkers had for teaching, but I simply didn’t share their devotion.
However, I believe things happen for a reason.
At that time, Disney Online Studios was looking for people to join the company as Player Support for online games. The job was to communicate with kids to solve their questions about the games they were playing.
To become a direct employee of Disney is very hard. You have to pass a lot of tests, exams and background checks. They look for very specific profiles.
Because of the nature of the position, my kindergarten teacher background was a major benefit. So 9 days after my first interview, I became a direct employee (not a contractor) of the Walt Disney Company.
Whoever knows my obsession with everything related to Disney can understand what this meant to me. I got, what at that time was, the job of my dreams. I was using a computer and playing games for a living.
Everything worked out amazingly. After a year I was promoted. One day, my manager approached me and told me they were looking for people with good knowledge about the game to fill an open quality assurance (QA) position. I think this approach, looking for someone with a good eye and attention to detail, and then embedding them in the processes required for the job, is good out-of-the-box thinking.
And that is when the real magic started for me.
After my precious time at Disney, where I learned the basics of quality assurance, I felt ready to jump into the world of companies that specialize in software development. I was craving to learn about new technologies while growing as a tester.
In my new job, Belatrix has supported my career development. They paid for my training to become a certified tester, and they are helping me now in my way to become an automation tester, while also taking my first steps in computer programming.
These last few years I’ve been able to serve as a mentor, a QA spokesperson and a Bootcamp Lead for people who want to start a career in software. I have proudly represented Belatrix at universities, job fairs, and tech events, where I have spoken about my experience in quality assurance. I’ve highlighted how people can get involved in this world, no matter how unrelated to the industry their current work is, and that we really need a greater female presence.
I encourage whoever is reading this article to take a leap and start researching the multiple free resources we have on the internet to learn about programming and/or testing. The software world is easy to access, it needs more people and it has no gender limits. Currently, it is mostly populated by men, but I believe there are many women out there that, like in my case, would love to know how they can turn their computer passion into a career.
Fortunately, I think there’s been a recent shift, and little by little I can see more women getting into the field.
I know there are a lot of famous women out there who have made big changes in software and gained public recognition, but there are also many unknown heroines who have helped me through my career. My current code teacher is an excellent professional who knows a tremendous amount about programming and I deeply admire her. I will be forever thankful to the female leaders at Belatrix who have mentored me through the years. They are not featured in newspapers or receive public tribute, but like them, many women are out there trying to drive change in an industry where they have to raise their voices a bit higher. Keep doing it. This is just the beginning and all of us will be heard.
If you want to start a career in software and need some advice, or simply don’t know where or how to begin, you can send me an email at email@example.com, I’ll be more than happy to help you out.