One woman in tech's genius move from consultant to coder


It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach like you don’t belong. That feeling that tells you - maybe I should just skip the rest of this event, because it’s clearly not for me. We’ve all been there - you go to a mainstream tech event, and despite the fact that you do in fact work in tech, you feel like a fraud. Why? Because you don’t code.

But what if learning coding was easy? What if learning it was geared towards women specifically? One of the themes of the Women in Tech conference on March 8th in Stockholm was to just go for it and learn coding - because it can be learned by anyone. One of the most awesome aspects of coding, to me, is the fact that no one seems to care how you learned how to code - if it was via school or with friends, or an online program, or a week in Barcelona with Tjejer Kodar (Girls Code). They only care about how much skill you have. At least this is my impression as a non-coder (for the time being).

One of the most inspirational stories I heard at WIT was from Annie Thorell, Frontend Engineer and Team Lead at Wrapp, who talked about her journey from management consultant to programmer. We just had to share it here on the blog. Below, she actually tells us how to get started coding, today, for free.

I have to tell you that this sounds amazing to me as an entrepreneur. There’s so much that I want to do and build. Code seems to be the tool, the building blocks, to build the coolest stuff. It’s the key that opens all the doors these days.

To frame this story in the larger context of the world that we live in, here are a couple of pieces of useful information.

  • The job category of programmer has grown by 46% in Sweden in the past 8 years
  • “Programmer” is now the most common job title in Stockholm
  • Programmers in Sweden are comprised of 20% women and 80% men - this number has decreased by 2 percentage points since 2005 (it used to be 22% women, 78% men)
  • In the EU, there was a deficit of 1 million workers in tech at the end of 2015.
  • Looking at the monthly salary data for women and men programmers (category 2512), based on data from Sweden’s Central Statistics Bureau, SCB, divided up by age, industry, and gender, for 2014, we unfortunately can’t control for years of work experience. Still, we can observe a wage gap in average wages among programmers in the private sector.
    • Age 25-34, women outearn men on average: women’s monthly salary is 35200, men’s is 34700 (not controlling for years of experience though). However, in all other age groups, men vastly outearn women. The average monthly difference between women and men age 35-44 is 2300 kronor per month, and that grows to 2600 per month from age 45-54.
  • Surprisingly, the wage gap is much worse in the public sector than it is in the private sector.
    • In the public sector, women 25-34 earn 700 kronor less per month than their male counterparts on average. Women 35-44 earn 2000 kronor less a month on average, and women 45-54 earn 3200 kronor less a month.
  • Please check that your company has done a wage survey in the past 3 years as the law requires (if you have one female and one male employee doing the same job), as it’s the only way of ensuring that you or your colleagues are not being discriminated against in your wages, based on gender bias. (This goes for both programmers and non-programmers). These differences get compounded over one’s career. Do it this week - we’re counting on you!

Here’s #GETBlog’s interview with Annie:

Can you tell us the story of how you went from a management consultant to coder, and why?

I actually started studying computer science at KTH and did my bachelor in CS, but felt I wasn't good enough to work as a developer. There were a lot of people speaking up about their skills and I hadn't been doing that much coding before I started at KTH. I decided to go for something I was good at, did my masters in industrial engineering and ended up working as a management consultant and project manager.

Later, when I had been working with the Code Pub (at Netlight) for a while, I realized that the way I felt at KTH was pretty common for women in computer science, and I was really upset that I had given up on something I loved doing because of how others made me feel. I also realized that if I had just started working as a developer, I would probably be better at my job than most of the people I thought were so good back in school. I didn't feel challenged enough at my job and I wanted to do something that allowed me to be more creative. When I talked to my friends who worked as developers, I was so jealous of how they got to go home at the end of the day feeling that they had created something, something they could show to their friends and reason about. I decided to take a leave of absence for a couple of months to brush up on my old skills and start exploring the new techniques. After a while, an opportunity to join a small startup in a really junior role came up, and of course I took it.

How long did it take you to learn how to code?

Well, I knew how to code so that wasn't the challenge for me. The challenge was more getting up to speed with the current way of doing things since everything is changing so fast, especially within frontend and the web. Also, I hadn't been working with frontend before and I had no experience building products, and that's really what I had to learn and what I'm still learning (and will never stop learning). The hardest thing you'll ever have to learn is not to code, but to write simple and understandable code. I wish I had know about that when I started and I would probably have felt a lot less stressed out.

How did you learn to code?

It's hard to say since "learning to code" is such an abstract thing. I mean, I wrote my first code when I created my profile page at LunarStorm back in 2000, but I didn't know about that then. Writing the code is the easy part, the hard part is figuring out how to do it in the best way, what libraries to use and how to connect all the different parts. For that, my friends have definitely been the biggest help. I have a lot of people around me who are great developers and that inspire me. I ask them as many questions as I can and they're always happy to help and share their wisdom. I also recommend sitting together with someone to set up your first project, then you can talk about all the concepts and get something working that you can continue to explore on your own.

Can you give an example of the thing you've done with code that you're most proud of?

Well, I have really high standards and working in startups mostly means you have to release things that you're quite embarrassed about, hehe. But right now at Wrapp we're working on something that I think is going to be really cool and amazing to use – stay tuned :) I'm also really proud of the Christmas Calendar I built, mainly because I think it's a good project to get you started with React.

What would you say to get more people to try out coding? Also, what methods of learning would you recommend?

Coding is beautiful and challenging and you can continue to learn cool things forever and ever. Also it's an incredible feeling when you realize that you can actually do anything or go anywhere with your code. It's the closest I've ever been to having wings!

My best recommendation to get started is, it's free and has really good online courses. Then you can go on to other similar alternatives that suit you. Next step I would say is to find someone who can help you get onto the next step. Maybe you have a friend who can help you? Otherwise, if you're in Stockholm, there are really good meetups you can find on, the Stockholm Ruby group for example has great intro nights for beginners. If you're not in Stockholm, you can always email the meetups and ask for help about where you should start.

Also, just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not for you. It will be hard and you will get frustrated, just know that you'll get there and that all the help you'll ever need is on google :) Good luck!

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På #GETblog - ett samarbete mellan Google och Ny Teknik, skriver Alice Marshall och Serge Lachapelle om jämställdhet inom teknikbranschen.