The field of software development has a lot of roads, some are more challenging than others. And for Nati Lara, a Front-End dev currently living in Denmark and mom to a toddler, these experiences have been incredible. How does remote work and software impact her job as a mom and developer?
By Scio Team
Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a software developer, the response almost always is “You must be very smart!”, because this preconceived notion of this job is that only the more intelligent persons can do it and, well, no.
It’s like when I see a carpenter doing their thing, and I say to myself “I could never do that”, but if it really interests you and you want to make your ideas into reality, it’s within everyone’s reach.
I started programming back in High School when a teacher helped us learn to use Delfi by designing a simple website. It was a very interesting exercise, having to do an entire page by myself; it was the final project of the semester and everyone did whatever they wanted, but I got really into it.
It was a gripping challenge because the teacher didn’t explain much, so we had to make with whatever solution and tools we had on hand, and I liked that a lot. Delfi already has some basics, so we didn’t have to start from scratch, writing zeroes and ones, which changed my ideas of programming. I used to think it was a black screen with green text on it like in the movies, so it was a different experience.
I used to like computers a lot as a kid, my parents got their first one when I was 10 years old, but I didn’t know anything that had to do with programming. I was curious about interfaces, not as much as the inner workings, and that’s what I specialize in today.
That’s why I do Front-End in iOS, I like things where I can see the result. I don’t get too much into Back-End stuff, where I don’t have a clear vision of how things are working, I prefer working on things where I can see the immediate result.
As a developer, the best feeling I get is when I can put my ideas in motion, and make something useful out of them, building a work of art without using my hands directly, so to speak. I like working with others, knowing everything about every part of a project, and contributing in a specific direction. The client I’m currently working with makes vegan and vegetarian food; the chefs here run the kitchen and develop recipes that avoid meat, trying to show that the absence of it still results in a good dish.
Their clients subscribe to the app I’m maintaining, and they get pre-made meals for three days, all vegan. There are many ideas involved with this project, like showing how much CO2 is being saved by avoiding the consumption of meat. I like it because, beyond the food, it tries to show the individual impact we have, and it even changed my conception of vegan and vegetarianism, which has changed since I work here and now I want to do my part.
The road here wasn’t a straight line. I originally studied Art and Digital Animation, because even though I always had some affinity for STEM stuff, I also liked creativity, drawing, and graphic design, but I didn’t want to go completely in that direction. So I tried something that had a bit of everything, but I ended up realizing that I liked it a lot, but maybe I wasn’t as good at it.
At some point, I started developing web pages with a friend that wasn’t very good at programming, but skilled at designing, so we started taking freelance jobs where I did the technical stuff and she did the visual part of the project.
That is how I ended up pursuing a Master’s degree in Software Development because I found it the best way to keep in touch with both worlds. I’m a developer, and I like having an opinion on everything visually going on during a project; when doing a website, I like to make sure everything lines up, looks good and works well. Even if I don’t consider myself the best designer, I like to pay attention to the details of it by programming.
For a degree like this, a proportion of 30% women does not sound like a lot, but it is, even if women are the most prone to abandon it before finishing. In Digital Design it was more balanced, around 50/50 or so, but here it was a noticeable difference. I think this ratio holds in most engineering careers, and in our culture at least, more women go for careers in Humanities like Arts or Social Studies, and a lot less in STEM.
My dad was a teacher, and he always raised us close to the sciences, so it wasn’t an issue for me, but my parents did prevent me from trying things like sports, especially soccer. I mean, I still don’t play it, but I also never had the opportunity, even if my dad somehow planted the seeds of interest in sciences like math.
As a female developer, though, I have never felt out of place or made feel less, although I’ve never worked full time in Mexico. I currently live in Denmark, and so far I have been the only woman in the Tech team of both companies I have worked at.
There were more women at school, that’s for sure, but right now we are fifteen people in the Development department, and to be honest, I like it that way. A lot of owners and entrepreneurs are feeling the pressure of attracting women to close the gap between male and female developers, so it has been easy for me so far to find a place to work. Being a woman in this industry is an advantage some of the time. There’s nothing to be intimidated by.
It’s even funny sometimes. At work parties, I’m the only one trying to dress well and use make-up, and my friends like to joke about it, saying that my job is making sure everything looks great, so of course, I do those things.
That being said, it’s curious to notice that, at companies like Scio for example, most women tend to gravitate towards analytical and QA stuff. I wonder why that is. I’ve never met another woman doing Test Automation or things like that; last year a girl started working with us in Full-Stack but doing Data Analytics, and everyone else has always been men.
It’s something I talk about a lot. I have many friends dedicated to Humanities, and we always discuss the differences between our fields; in the case of one of them, her office is almost purely women, with one or two guys here and there. I guess there are many reasons for it, and I have wondered before why it’s so important to close gaps in certain areas.
I don’t see a field dominated by either gender as something inherently wrong, if these differences were dictated by more biological, natural affinities, like women being more social or men being more analytic. But when those exclusions are cultural when we try to separate genders from childhood by allowing kids to play with certain toys only, we are creating inequality, and something should be done about it. And this is a change that we are not going to see in the next year or two, but it will take maybe an entire generation to change these points of view.
Now, in the actual job, do these differences matter? Maybe I have different aesthetic sensibilities and ideas of how things should look, so I can tell my coworkers an application needs, but I’m not sure that’s because I’m a woman, or because I have a background in Design. Who knows?
Being a developer has also brought other advantages for me. I have a son currently four years old, and working in software gave me a lot of leeways to define my schedules and limits, define my own way to work, and leave enough time for my family. I feel like I’m more productive, with better control of my time, and applying a developer point of view to raising my kid, where I accomplish big things by dividing it into smaller tasks, finishing each, and going from there, has helped me a lot.
Also, I’m used to staying up very late at night, so being a developer has also helped me a lot with that. Working in software, then, is very freeing and flexible, and I’m glad I could do it even before I was a mom. I don’t have to go to the office all the time, I can get along anywhere and the pay is not bad at all, so my quality of life is something I’m really happy about.