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My journey to become a female developer

A Picture of Kerly Pereda
March 08, 2019 | Topic: Human Resources  
My journey to become a female developer

I have been working as a developer for almost 6 years now and, to tell you the truth, I can’t believe what a fun and long ride it has been! Of course, this is just the beginning; there are more years to come and more experiences to learn from.

You may agree with me that it’s good to look back and remember how it all started. This is not to regret a thing but to better appreciate what you have accomplished and how you have made it this far. After doing so, I have come to the conclusion that being a developer has been a rollercoaster – it has its ups and downs, but it has marked my way not only as a professional but also as a person in a career dominated mostly by men. So here is my story on how three different moments throughout my experience as a developer have changed the way I see life.

The early beginnings

I was born in Trujillo, a small city in the north of Peru. Deciding to study systems engineering was probably one of the bravest things I have done because it wasn’t what my family expected me to choose as a career. They wanted me to study something that – as they saw it back then – would guarantee a better future for me or something they were more familiar with. I don’t think even now, after all these years, they understand what I do for a living! However, I started my first semester and, to be honest, I didn’t like it that much.

My shyness and social awkwardness have always been my Achilles heel, but there I was, entering a classroom filled with almost 50 guys and only 5 girls beside me. I didn’t like the fact that there were such a low number of women in the class, but I knew I had chosen a field composed of a very high percentage of men.

I clearly remember feeling scared to raise my hand whenever a teacher asked a question, not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I was afraid of being wrong. On the contrary, the guys in my class would always participate and didn’t care if they didn’t have the right answer. For them, raising their hands was an interesting and fun challenge.

One day, while watching YouTube videos, I ran into Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk (the founder of Girls Who Code), where she mentions how girls are taught to be perfect, while boys are taught to be brave. I think that phrase fits perfectly in this story.

To be or not to be

As I decided to fight the fear to make mistakes, things started to get better. Luckily, during that time, I met a teacher who introduced me to one of the deepest loves of my life: coding. Like many relationships, it wasn’t easy at first. It gave some headaches and it broke my heart many times.

I wanted to be perfect at coding even when I knew from the beginning that perfection is not what coding is about. Coding, like many other things, is a process of trial and error – a simple letter misplaced could make the entire app stop compiling. Even when it does compile correctly, a lot of changes must be done on the go to make it meet all the requirements (and at that moment, updates are always implemented or needed). It took a lot of patience, passion and hours devoted to study to finally get along with it, to understand how it works and to decide that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Nevertheless, there were still some stereotypes to bring down. In class, every time a teacher would assign a group project, it was assumed girls were in charge of documentation and boys were to do all the coding. It is not my intention to underestimate the task of documenting software, because I know it takes a lot of work. What really bothered me is this generalized idea that a girl can’t be as good as a guy in coding. I wanted to prove this wrong and I think I did a pretty good job in the following 5 years of university. It was a great experience.

A new challenge arises

After I finished my university years, I decided I had to move to Lima since Trujillo didn’t offer opportunities to work as a developer. That was another tough decision, I might even say a bolder one but it turned out to be the most wonderful and richest experience of all. It didn’t only took me out of my comfort zone, but it also helped me grow both personally and professionally.
But of course, it didn’t start easily – just like when I was studying there were a lot of stereotypes to bring down.

Every time I started a new job, 90% of the members of a team were men. That didn’t really matter to me since, at that point, I had become used to working with men. What really annoyed me at that time was the usual question: “You are the new QA, right?”. I hate that question, it is wrong in many different ways. First, it seems as if people were diminishing the job of a QA analyst like it’s an easy thing to do, or a job just for women. Secondly, why can’t people assume a woman can be a developer? And why do we need to make assumptions at all?

But it wasn’t only that question what annoyed me. When starting a project I was always assigned to do the “simplest thing, like changing the color of something or doing some basic designs”. I’m actually quoting my boss here. Once again, I had to prove myself, and there is nothing wrong with that, but why would a woman have to prove herself to be capable of doing things that are never in doubt for men? I mean, we are all developers, right? Probably because of my shyness, it took me some time to decide that I had to show what I was capable of, that I could be in charge of a project, and that whatever I didn’t understand I could learn.

It has taken me a lot of effort not to be brought down by negative or sexist comments. I have learned to believe more and more in myself, to take wrong comments as a challenge, to make me want to give more of what I’m asked, to get out of my comfort zone constantly and to prove not to others but to myself that I can be good at anything I choose to do with the right amount of heart, passion, and effort.

Two years ago I was lucky to run into an organization that empowers women through code. There I met a big group of girls all eager to learn and prove to themselves and to the world that coding can change lives, make you braver, and embrace mistakes as part of code and life and bring down stereotypes. It isn’t a matter of girls vs boys, this career has given me my best friends – all men – from whom I keep learning more and more each day. It’s a matter of bringing down the status quo, working together as a whole, helping others improve and be better. Each week I see more women joining our company, and it’s something I celebrate because it means things are changing step by step. I think all big changes start off like this.

My advice to women out there that want to be a developer or are starting this awesome career is simple: do it, don’t give up. It may not be an easy road but I guarantee that, when you reach your goals, it will be the most satisfying thing. It’s a journey that gives you the greatest experiences and lessons, that apply not only to work but to your personal life as well.

Life, like code, doesn’t have to be perfect, you just don’t give up until it compiles the way you want!

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