Wendy Chan

After receiving MPhil degree in Screen Media and Cultures from University of Cambridge, Wendy decided to take a 400+ hours immersive web development programme at Ironhack (Madrid) to become a developer. Whilst on the programme, she built a foundation of a wide range of skills in Full-Stack web development, including Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, JQuery, Rspec, PostgreSQL, APIs, Node.js, HTML5, CSS3.

We reached out to Wendy to chat to her about her experience transitioning from an arts background into her role at Remitsy (offer businesses affordable methods to make payments to China) as a Web Developer, and feel that anyone who considering a similar transition will be inspired by her success.  What started out to be a surface-level chat with Wendy goes on to be an incredibly meaningful conversation about topics like positive discrimination, confidence in the industry and solutions to hiring women in tech with the intention of retaining them in the long-run.  It’s a pleasure to introduce Wendy to you as one of our 100 Inspiring Women

N: When did you learn to code and why?

W: I was inspired to code after going to an event in Cambridge and listening to a talk delivered by an inspiring lady in tech, Andrea Kennedy.

N: How did you learn to code?

W: After doing some online learning on Codecademy, I went to Madrid to join a coding bootcamp called Ironhack where I learnt web development.

N: What motivates you?

W: I think it's mainly because of various apps that I love using which make my life so easy and fun. Without the technology, this would not be possible. Then I thought to myself, why can't I create these apps? After learning to code and actually building something, I think that the whole process of building something from scratch and realising the ideas you dream up can be really empowering.

N: Who are your role models in tech?

W: I don't have a particular person in my mind that I think of as my role model. The role models that I have are actually institutions that I really look up to. For example, I really like ThoughtWorks and the social values that they embrace. I love reading their Insight articles to keep up to date with their development. And, in terms of gender diversity, they are a company that seem to be getting it right and everyone is looking up to.  

N: How did you come across ThoughtWorks?

W: While learning to code, I joined Rails Girls London, and my mentor was an engineer from ThoughtWorks.  I really admired that they talked about diversity in the company for both gender and race. It was refreshing to get that kind of insight up front.

N: Why do you think women aren’t equally represented in the tech sector?

W: I would say it is a combination of a number of reasons including a lack of exposure to career opportunities in tech, a lack of role models in the industry, and not knowing what a career in technology entails.

N: How do we solve the problem?

W: We need mentors and role models, exposure to training and development opportunities, and increased transparency when it comes to understanding which companies are either diverse or actively looking to achieve diversity.  

N: So, let’s go a bit deeper. Did you find it difficult to find a job?

W: After IronHack, I applied to loads of jobs and the feedback I received had been quite positive. Around 25 companies showed interest in me and I got to further rounds with around 15 companies before accepting my job at Remitsy. 

N: And what were the biggest challenges when you were looking for a job?

W: I’m from Hong Kong so I require sponsorship to work in the UK and I was conscious that a lot of firms were rejecting me because of this. Some recruiters seemed genuinely disappointed that they weren’t able to take the interview to further rounds knowing that they would not be able to sponsor my VISA.

N: Why do you think gender diversity in tech is important?

W: I think for the sake of the product; you really need diversity. I met an engineer who told me about his experience working in a white male-only team. They were developing technology that detected skin colour; but had not yet thought of detecting the pigmentation of any other race other than white.  That’s when you realise the importance of diversity.

N: It’s kind of scary when you realise how these blind spots will influence not only the products you develop, but the demographic you reach. In a lot of cases, you could be missing out on a lot of business simply by not considering perspectives other than your own.

Do you think companies are doing enough about the problem?

W: I definitely think there is progress, particularly amongst larger firms like KPMG. They hosted me at a career expo marketed toward technical women in business. It was a huge event, and there wasn’t an entry fee/cover charge, which made it more accessible to diverse communities. I’m also aware that when KPMG’s recruitment team are interviewing for a position, they require at least one female candidate to be considered. We’re also seeing events like Women in IT Awards and Careers Fairs popping up everywhere; so I’m hopeful that we will get there but we have a long way to go.

N: Have you heard of any success stories that you may want to share?

W: I met a girl who was hired by a company in Berlin based on competencies that they felt would enable her to learn how to code quickly. She learned to code on the job and has gone on to be the technical lead, which is pretty inspirational.

N: That’s great. I hear Berlin’s tech scene is very encouraging and supportive of women.  

We hear many stories where girls feel marginalised for asking questions which I think often plays into why women are not remaining in the industry. I can imagine that if you’re the only woman in a room full of men, working on challenging problems that – because of the current coder demographic – are assumed to be solved with more ease by men (yes, I know it sounds crazy but it is a common misconception), that it can be daunting.

Why do you think men are assumed to be more confident, and do you think this is a problem that is contributing to the imparity?  

W: I have a good friend who is one of the brightest Chemical Engineers in her PhD class. She told me that she often feels very frustrated as she is usually the only female engineer in a group. Very often when she raised a point in a group discussion, the classmates and tutors would not value it much, but later on when a male classmate repeats the same point, everyone else would say that it’s a good idea. This is obviously very upsetting as her opinion is not valued in the same way as her male counterparts. I thought it was a unique situation for my friend and in her field, but it turns out that my friend is not alone in this kind of gender bias in workplace.

I read an article recently talking about how "female staffers in White House adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”:  When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own”.  

So I think men are assumed to be more confident than women because of the group dynamic that tends to endorse 'the male' contribution more than 'the female', which in turn reinforces their confidence. 

N: Perhaps it is that men feel the pressure of being viewed as ‘knowing the answer’ and don’t allow themselves to be as vulnerable in situations where their identity is questioned?

As a woman in tech, a lot of the noise stems from this notion of confidence and vulnerability. I think that the necessity for women (and men) to feel safe in their workplace – and by this I mean confident enough to not be afraid to feel a little vulnerable and ask questions when needed - cannot be underestimated.  

So Wendy, now that you are an engineer, how do you feel?

W: When I tell people I’m a developer, I often hear remarks like, ‘Wendy, it’s so cool to be a female developer!’. While I am really proud to be a female developer, I don’t feel the need to live up to the expectation of what that term connotes. Being a developer is gaining prestige regardless of gender and we need to make sure that we help other women get there, too. I feel it is responsibility of both men and women to support women in tech. I have been working in London as a developer for almost a year now, and I can say that London is the best city for female developer. So far, I have been offered generous support from the tech community. I am so lucky to have met so many lovely people who contribute their time and expertise to teach women how to code and build inclusive environment for us to grow. I would definitely recommend anyone who are interested in coding or want to advance their skills to checkout these groups: Ladies of Code UK, Women Who Code London, R-ladies, NodeGirls, Rails Girls London and ClojureBridge

N: Given your non-traditional entry into tech, what motivates you to keep going despite the odds supposedly being against you?  How do you cope being in the industry up against (mostly) men, many of whom have computer science degrees?

W: I don’t see it as an issue. In fact, my boss told me that he sees my humanities background as a plus and admired that I had gone over and beyond to follow my passion and do web development training after my degree. When you think about it, a large proportion of what we do in tech firms is borrowed from arts and design and I think that because he is also a technical engineer with an arts background he can appreciate the way it helps you think in more than one perspective.

N: Have you had any particularly bad experiences since entering the industry?

W: No, not at all. I felt that there were many opportunities and a couple hurdles (i.e. VISA), but nothing that I couldn’t get through. I do recall telling a male friend about my progress with job applications however, and felt that he implied I had gotten so many interviews because of my gender. His assumption was that the technical tests are designed to be easier for women as opposed to men to reduce the barriers to entry. That upset me because I had been working so hard to get through them, and really didn’t believe (nor wanted to) that that was true.

N: This is interesting because I’ve heard it a couple times before. I’m curious to know, did that comment make you doubt yourself and the tests you took?

W: For the technical tests I received, I am assured that they were the same (i.e. they wouldn’t have sent men and women varying tests). I do recall a company where the CTO told me that he deliberately gave me an easier set of technical questions because he knew that I did not have a Computer Science background, and he would be happy to hire and train me up. I was very grateful that I was offered an interview opportunity with them, but at the same time I also wonder if it is fair to be treated differently in a job selection process purely because I am from a non-traditional background (i.e. I didn't study computer science at university). 

N: If there was positive discrimination and interviewers were indeed lowering the bar on technical tests to get women through the door, how would that make you feel?

W: I would be quite upset and not really know how to react, to be honest. If I were hired solely because of my gender as opposed to my ability, I would be concerned that my colleagues would look at me differently, not take me seriously enough to give me challenging tasks that have a real impact on the business. Being valued and appreciated of what I do, rather than who I am in a workplace is very important to me. 

N: It is one of the concerns of hiring FOR diversity. Getting it right is often much more challenging that hiring managers presume. One policy that many companies are trialling to repair the gender imbalance is implementing what is known as ‘The Rooney Rule’ as we spoke about before; and I think what needs to be emphasised is the difference between looking harder to find more women to interview for the same position; and maintaining an interview process that enables all applicants (male and female) to be tested fairly so that we don’t have this feeling of being a vase, or ‘tokenism’ seeping through the cracks and continuing this vicious cycle.  

W: Yes, I think that The Rooney Rule is good in that it allows diverse candidates to have the opportunity to get a foot in the door and be interviewed, but when it comes to the hiring process making those decisions, the company need to be very transparent about how they’ve gone about it so that minorities can be confident once getting the job.