In many ways, 2015 was the year when the tech industry finally realized that there is a serious problem. There are few women who enter the field, and fewer still who pursue the software engineering field at startups and other tech companies. To do something about that, a company called RecruitLoop tracked down the leading women engineers. (RecruitLoop provides a recruiting service to find top talent.) Out of their top 50 list, which debuted recently, we asked the top 18 engineers how they got their start. Their answers offer some tips for anyone thinking of entering the tech sector.
1. Eline van der Gaast
Software Engineer, Darby Smart, San Francisco
After earning a Master’s in econometrics I worked in consumer insights and data analytics for a few years. In this position, I frequently had to write algorithms to analyze data, which I realized was the part of my job I enjoyed most. So I decided to make a career change and attended App Academy. Although it was scary to leave a successful career behind, it was the best decision I could have made. I am obsessed with creating things, combining my past experience with my new skills, and enjoy learning new things every day. I currently work as a full-stack engineer at Darby Smart and love every part of it.
2. Caroline Wong
Software Engineer, Hearsay Social, San Francisco
Programming a robot in high school was my introduction into engineering. Changing a few lines of code and being able to control its behavior was eye-opening and exciting. My teacher further encouraged me to do an independent study and empowered me to explore and create products that I wanted to build. My proudest accomplishment at the time was building a portable, solar-powered USB charger, contained in a laser-cut fiberboard box that I designed. This discipline’s inclination for creativity and puzzle-solving has motivated me to find a career in programming and has kept me interested in doing side projects in new technologies to this day.
3. Jane Philipps
Front-End Engineer, Whil Concepts, San Francisco
I got my first taste of coding when I was 13. My friends and I built silly websites with tons of animated GIFs. Not realizing that this was something I could actually study, I instead pursued my creative interests in art school. Last year, my curiosity in computer science was newly piqued. I have friends in the field and am often listening in on their technical conversations. I started teaching myself to code by experimenting with side projects and eventually decided to enroll in General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive program for the nontraditional, accelerated learning experience.
4. Jacqui Manzi
Senior Software Engineer, Zignal Labs, San Francisco
My decision to pursue a computer science degree came from an interest in computers and technology at an early age and a continued interest throughout high school. I was offered an opportunity to move out to California after graduating college and I decided to move to San Francisco from Boston in 2012 to work for a Green Energy startup as a front-end engineer. I had an exceptional mentor there, participated in an accelerator program, and gained invaluable career skills. Currently, I am continuing my career growth working with Big Data and utilizing some of the most cutting edge Web technologies.
5. Nevena Djaja
Senior Software Engineer, Constant Contact, San Francisco
I grew up in Serbia and then moved to Austria, where I earned a Master’s in telecommunications engineering. I started my career working on satellite navigation software in Germany, but as a foreign national, I couldn’t get clearance and had to change careers. Europe wasn’t so friendly to ambitious outsiders, so I moved to the U.S. and started over. I attended meetups for free food and knowledge, and cleaned hostels for a place to stay. A crowdfunding campaign I created allowed me to take all the Web development college classes I could. It took a lot of hustle to get here, but I love it!
6. Jessica Chan
Software Engineer, Pinterest, San Francisco
When I was 12, I picked up a book on HTML at the local library and taught myself how to design and code simple webpages. Later on, while I didn’t take computer science in school, I taught myself by learning about algorithms and data structures on my own and picking up projects on the Craigslist gigs section–I took on anything that mentioned needing a Web developer and I really enjoyed closing deals, making clients happy, and getting paid to learn. It was both empowering and humbling, and made for a great education.
7. Rebekah Kwon
Software Engineer, Art.com, San Francisco
I discovered software development through a friend who works at a digital agency. I had left architecture during the recession and transitioned into product development, but it lacked the impact and technical domain I loved in engineering. She recommended that I look into user experience and Web development, since it fit my engineering and design interests. I promptly relocated from New York to San Francisco, taught myself code, and an opportunity to join Hack Reactor opened. Hack Reactor was a springboard and catalyst towards becoming a full-fledged software developer. I’m now plugged into this supportive community of amazing individuals doing amazing things.
8. Jessica Dillon
Software Engineer, Bugsnag, San Francisco
9. Samin Sepasi
Software Engineer, Appirio, San Francisco
10. Liana Lo
Full-Stack Software Developer, Prezi, San Francisco
Originally a chemical engineer, I felt my career reach a plateau when I learned that my company would not allow me to advance into more rigorous technical roles without first earning a Master’s or PhD degree. At this point, I revisited a long-standing interest in computer science. After completing a plethora of online tutorials, several MOOCs, and one 10-week programming fellowship, I am now a full-stack software engineer, doing everything from managing EC2 (elastic compute cloud) instances to developing both server and client-side code. I love the culture of shared learning and open source within the tech community!
11. Randi Boice
Member of Technical Staff, Salesforce, San Francisco
My story is a complicated one. It starts 10 years ago, when I was 19 and a preschool teacher back on the East Coast. I got sick with Lyme Disease and couldn’t work as a teacher anymore because of how it attacks the joints and it prevented me from walking for a few months. After being stuck at home with nothing to do for a month, I picked up a book and learned HTML/CSS cause it seemed like the thing to do, not to mention it was challenging and creative. I then decided to get a desk job at LogMeIn doing technical support, since I couldn’t go back to work as a preschool teacher, and nothing was stopping me from sitting at a computer. While there, I saw the need for improvement in the current workflow, the time it took to do a single support ticket was on average around three minutes, and it was mainly due to the UX (user experience)–too many screen refreshes and lack of flow for the end user resulted in a clunky workflow. A funny thing happened, I kept bring up process improvements and then they said, “Well, why don’t you do it?” So I learned Salesforce and all the relevant languages with each improvement I undertook, and then after a few months was able to bring the ticket time down to 30 seconds on average. From there, I continued to learn as I saw need for improvement, every new project/task was an opportunity to learn. I started to blog about what I was learning; if I was having trouble, surely someone else was too, so why not share my experiences? The blog took off and I was able to brand myself as @salesforcegirl, and got some attention from some great companies doing amazing things. I continue to strive for seamless user experiences and enjoy working within IT to find and solve gaps within the company, keeping it afloat from the inside out.
12. Kristin Kramer
Senior Front-End Web Developer, Docusign and Associate Publisher/ Technical Director at ABlogtoWatch, San Francisco
Way back in 1994, before there were HTML classes and “webmaster” jobs, there were freelance projects from the first brave Web venturers. In San Francisco, it was informal, and often all by email. Nobody cared where I went to school, or that I taught myself BASIC on a 32K TRaSh-80 CoCo in 1982 at 14. But only when using my male-sounding nickname did I get work. I quickly built up a portfolio and always enjoyed the moment when they discovered I’m a woman–usually at the project’s end, when they learned to whom they should write out the check.
13. Anna Billstrom
Software Engineer, UserVoice, San Francisco
I’m actually an English major! I was just very into programming growing up, and started programming in Perl, then Java. I ended up specialized in customer databases for seven years, then shifted to Rails when Web 2.0 started up. I transitioned to mobile–Android and iOS–and then started my own consulting firm. I really like lean development and customer development, which helps build prototypes and fast products so customers can give feedback as soon as possible on product roadmaps. I really like making “stuff people use,” from casual games to productivity tools. I’m actually full-stack, not just front-end. I’ve been coding on and off for 25 years.
14. Rukmee Patel
Front-End Developer, NextGenClimate, San Francisco
I have always had a mystic attraction to computers, ever since I was a child. I had no idea what computers did and how they worked but I was always curious and jumped on every chance I could to get near them. It was not surprising that I took computer science as my major for undergrad back in India. After graduating from college, I decided to relocate to nowhere but the Bay Area (cuz where else should a software engineer be!!) and pursue my Master’s in computer science. The Master’s degree was a great learning curve for me, and I developed a passion for front-end development at Santa Clara University. I have been lucky to get amazing internship offers and extremely friendly and collaborative work environments ever since. I graduated recently, and I am hoping to find an equally amazing full time opportunity in the beautiful Bay Area.
15. Irina Tagintseva
Software Engineer, Gap Inc., San Francisco
My fascination with software engineering started after having spent a few years in the tech industry in business development roles. I always thought that I was great with people, but didn’t have the stamina needed to “sit and code” all day. However, I was still curious enough to start learning on the side–via online tutorials, RailsBridge workshops, meetups, and Women Who Code events. I’ve soon realized that I won’t progress fast unless I dive in full-time. I quit my job at Zazzle at the end of 2014 and joined a full-time immersive bootcamp at Galvanize right after.
16. Cintia Higashi
Front-End Software Engineer, Yahoo, San Francisco
To be honest, I wasn’t a good student in elementary school. I used to do poorly and I wasn’t able to do simple calculations quickly enough (below average). So my mother decided to enroll me into an after-school mathematics course, which helped me to understand it and eventually love it. During my first semester in mathematics at UNICAMP, I fell in love with coding, which made me change my degree to computer science. Since then, I am always looking for a new side project to work on and I love it!
17. Ritu Vincent
Staff Engineer, Dropbox, San Francisco
I got into coding much later than most–I loved science all through high school, and I picked electrical engineering as my major in college. I took a couple required coding classes, and they seemed fun, but they didn’t really connect with me until grad school, when I signed up to be a teaching assistant for a freshman programming class at UT Austin. I’m not entirely sure how helping around 400 students work their way through homework assignments in C flipped a switch in my head, but it did. I got to love the immediacy of programming, of getting right into the center of a problem and then finding the cleanest, most logical way out of it. Nowadays, my job is basically solving big, complex puzzles, and I love puzzles.
18. Elena Schneider
Principal Member of Technical Staff, Salesforce, San Francisco
Growing up, I always wanted to do something “artsy.” I wanted to go to an art specialized high school but my parents decided an engineering one would be better. In collage, I wanted to do digital design but the schools I was interested in didn’t offer such programs, so I settled on a computer science degree hoping to do some animation work. That didn’t happen, but I got a great internship at IBM called ExtremeBlue, which got me into IBM working on UI (user interface) projects, and after few years there, I moved on to Salesforce, where many amazing front-end projects were in the works, so I get to do a lot of fun UI work.