Like many of the developers at Braintree, I didn't study CS in college. Instead, I stumbled onto an online Python course four years after graduating with a degree in economics. I remember the thrill of writing my first program, which not only worked, but actually did something useful. Admittedly, the "usefulness" of the program -- which found the most common word in a text file -- was debatable, but the experience revealed to me that tedious manual tasks can be accomplished with problem-solving logic and a few lines of code.
I recently attended a DjangoGirls meetup hosted by Braintree, where I spoke with a number of female developers whose experience was similar to mine. We all shared a passion for the problem-solving aspect of programming, but we had grown up thinking that software was the domain of the solitary geniuses who had been rebuilding computers and configuring servers since early childhood. Even until recently, I often wondered if I could ever be a "real" software developer because I didn't have the right background.
What attracted me to programming was its logic -- identifying a problem, then figuring out how to write code to solve it.
I quickly discovered, however, that logic is only one component of software development. In my first few months at Braintree, I faced a continual stream of terms and concepts that were foreign to me, but which seemed elementary to everyone else. Proxy servers, gpg encryption, database clusters, middleware, worker queues, continuous integration, ssh agents, program threads....¹ I was fortunate to have coworkers who responded to my questions with patience and understanding instead of open shock at my ignorance. But even their helpful explanations sometimes left gaps in my understanding. I often turned to Google, which led to Wikipedia articles containing even more terms I didn't know, and a seemingly never-ending "wiki-hole." At times, I took this struggle as a sign that I didn't belong in the software industry.
I know that this feeling of imposter syndrome is not unique to female developers, but because women are less likely to have been encouraged to explore programming at an early age, they are more likely to enter the field unfamiliar with fundamental concepts.
Braintree is committed to breaking down the barriers that keep women out of tech, so I share my story with the hope that it will encourage women who might otherwise think they don't "have what it takes" to be a developer. An innate understanding of the software ecosystem is not what makes a great developer. A love of problem-solving and the willingness to work through difficult concepts, to ask questions, and to be honest about what you know and don't know -- these are the essential qualities of great developers.
I also write this as a call to more senior developers. When working with less experienced developers (male or female), share not only what you know, but also what you once didn't know. One of the most helpful things I was told in my first few months at Braintree was, "Don't expect to feel like you know what you're doing for at least six months. Maybe a year." Knowing that I was not alone in my confusion allowed me to ask questions and make mistakes, and to do the best I could within the boundaries of what I knew while working to push those boundaries further. I can easily imagine quitting if not for the encouragement of those around me, the positive feedback on the things I was doing well, and the reminder that the things I had yet to master took time.
I've now been at Braintree almost a year. I still ask a lot of questions. But increasingly I find myself in conversations where I'm using and understanding language that would have been gibberish to me six months ago. And the biggest difference isn't just in terms of what I know, it's that the new questions I have no longer make me question whether or not I belong here.
- ...SSL certificates, SDKs, ports, sockets, deploys, cron jobs, Redis, virtual machines, builds.
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Faces of T. Rowe Price: Niki Green, Senior Retirement Sales Executive
After being in the business for 28 years, I can say one of the things that really sets T. Rowe Price apart is that, from the leadership down, everyone truly works for the benefit of the client. That's not common, especially in sales. - Niki Green
After almost four decades in the financial services industry and experience at four different companies, Niki Green made a move to T. Rowe Price in 2016. With such an extensive and varied background in investment banking, she immediately recognized the uniqueness of T. Rowe Price's work culture, noting how long most associates had been with the firm.
The fact that T. Rowe Price's sales team positions are salaried was also attractive. "Salespeople are often compensated by commission, and I think that can drive the wrong kind of behavior," Niki says. At this stage in her career, she wanted to join an organization that would give her some autonomy and the ability to maintain relationships. "Many sales organizations are very numbers oriented and focused only on quarter-by-quarter short-term results," she explains. "They're not looking at the long-term picture."
While working for the past three years as Vice President, Senior Retirement Sales Executive at T. Rowe Price, she has witnessed first-hand the company-wide focus on doing what's best for the client in the long term. That philosophy drives the work culture. "Here, you're given this freedom and autonomy to create an experience for your clients that's also aligned with corporate goals," Niki explains. "Ultimately it's about growing assets and getting sales, but at this firm, it's achieved through a completely different approach. It's refreshing, especially for someone in my stage of a career."
As someone who has decades of experience in the business, Niki represents a variety of minority groups, particularly in investment banking. "Not only am I over 50, but I'm female, Asian, and a lesbian," she says. "I don't know that you could find much more diversity than me."
Whereas other companies might want to hire her so that they can check off a diversity box in their company profile, Niki believes T. Rowe Price values her unique perspective. "They put me in the position where I can succeed in an area that best suits who I am as an individual," says Niki. "And they help me draw on all my strengths as a way of building relationships."
At T. Rowe Price, Niki's diversity is seen as a rich resource, especially as the business environment is shifting with more women working as CFOs, CEOs, heads of human resources, and as other decision-makers at organizations. "Frankly, sometimes it's easier for those female advisors to work with a female sales rep on a closer level," says Niki. "After all women live longer and tend to make less money during their working years, and so a company must work toward helping women find suitable products to best meet their retirement goals."
Niki was one of a few women in her division when she started with the firm in 2016. In the years since she has helped recruit two more to the team. "Quite frankly, no one is killing it right now in regards to female representation," she says. Where T. Rowe Price particularly excels, according to Niki, is in matching associates with the types of clients who reside in that local area.
She believes T. Rowe Price has a unique perspective on diversity because its headquarters are in the vibrant city of Baltimore instead of someplace like New York or Boston. "It's an open culture, and everyone is encouraged to collaborate in a great way – much more than any company I've ever worked for," Niki explains.
Looking back, Niki has been able to maintain relationships with her advisors and clients through each of her company moves because of the reputation she has built in her local market. But she encourages those who are just starting their career journey to be patient. "You're building a practice, representing a brand, and doing the job that you can do to communicate the company that you represent," Niki says. They should also remember that people, both clients, and colleagues, have long memories. "Don't try to slight somebody to get that immediate sale because that could potentially alienate different relationships, and you're in it for the long run," says Niki. "When I realized that T. Rowe Price is so client-centered and everyone is in alignment working towards that common goal, I knew it was for me. You can't match the culture here."