SWE member Christine Movius is a Software Engineer: Find out how she got there, the type of projects she’s working on, and how you can #BeThatEngineer!
I was always interested in the physical sciences in grade school and high school, taking delight in my chemistry, physics, and calculus classes. I had a general interest in computers, and first learned about basic HTML and CSS in middle school through some old-school online platforms, such as Neopets and Xanga.
However, I did not know about the field of Computer Science, and my high school did not offer courses in this area, so my interest waned in high school and college. I briefly held a job as a Technical Recruiter after graduating from college, and my interest in software development was reinvigorated as I interviewed developers for open positions. As I listened to them talk about their experiences, I realized that this field would be one in which I could be challenged both creatively and intellectually.
What I Studied in College
I received a B.S. in Environmental Geoscience and Theatre Arts from Boston College. I took courses in these two disparate fields because I enjoyed aspects of both areas. Not only did I thrive in the collaborative, creative, and fast-paced environment found in theatre, but I also liked the attention to detail, experimentation, and challenging problem solving found in the sciences.
When I later realized that I could combine aspects of these two areas through Software Engineering, I quit my job and enrolled in a 3-month, full-time Web Development Immersive through a program called General Assembly (GA). GA provides full-time courses, part-time courses, and workshops in web development, user experience design, data science, and other fields found in the tech scene.
My Career Path
After three months of training, I landed my first job as an Application Developer with a small agency that makes customized mapping applications. Now I work as a Developer at The Washington Post, with a focus on creating a workflow management tool for publishers.
My team at The Washington Post is responsible for a suite of software tools called Arc Publishing. Not only does the newsroom at The Post use these tools, but we also sell these tools to other media companies as a “software as a service” or SaaS. I work on a workflow management tool called WebSked that helps the newsroom keep track of the copy/edit status of stories, receive notifications on stories statuses, assign tasks to users, and pitch stories to various online platforms and printed publications.
After I arrive at my office each day, I quickly report to my team via our chat app about what I will be working on, and then proceed with my work. My specific day to day responsibilities include the following tasks: writing code and corresponding tests for a new feature; refactoring existing code to improve how something works for the user, or simply to make the code itself easier to understand; reviewing the code of my peers before we merge it into the main codebase, looking for any errors and suggesting improvements; meeting with my peers to troubleshoot a problem we are stuck on; and meeting with my peers to discuss new technology. The day goes by incredibly fast, and then I return home in the evening. I typically refrain from bringing my work computer home to maintain work-life balance.
Why I like My Job
I find my work to be incredibly satisfying because it is both intellectually and creatively challenging, and because I am in charge of my success through the tools I build. Each day presents its new set of problems, for which I have to deliver solutions that not only function properly, but are also presented elegantly to the end user. For example, if a user wants to create a notification, it is not enough for the notification form to simply work; it has to look good, it has to work quickly, and it has to be easy to use.
I also like how programming can be both a solitary or highly collaborative activity, depending on the situation. I can buckle down and work on a problem on my own independently, or I can troubleshoot with my team, discussing the best approach to a problem.
Another terrific aspect of software development is that you can do your job virtually anywhere and at any time. All you need is a computer and an internet connection. I typically report to my office, but I can easily work remotely whenever I want. This is not the case with every software development job, but it is becoming increasingly more common. I have one coworker who is 100% remote, and my team lead has an infant, so he can easily adjust his work day around his family life.
What It's Like to be a Woman in STEM
Although there are many efforts being made to encourage more women to be in STEM fields, the current lack of representation is still jarring to me. I was the only woman on the software development team in my old job, and I am still the only woman on my immediate team at my current job.
This lack of representation coupled with my relative inexperience in the field makes it very easy for me to doubt my skills or knowledge of a subject at times. This feeling is often referred to as “imposter syndrome”, which is defined as an inability to internalize one's accomplishments and being in a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I try to combat this through a variety of small methods. In meetings, I tell myself that it is okay to ask questions, as chances are that someone else has the same question as me. In monthly reviews with my team lead, I ensure that I am extra prepared, citing specific situations where I have done well on-the-job and ask for his feedback to ensure we are on the same page. And I have asked my teammates to replace phrases such as “hey guys” with “hey team”, and they were all really receptive to making this minor change. So in summary, I use a number of easy to do, smaller methods to combat a larger problem.
There may be many situations in which you are the only woman in the room, but know that you are not alone. There are many communities of women in tech that provide support in numerous ways, such as technical workshops, job networking, career mentorship, and general camaraderie. The women in the engineering department at The Washington Post frequently get together to share tips and advice with each other, and the Women Who Code DC is a very active and helpful organization. And definitely feel free to reach out to other women in the community if you have questions or are looking for mentorship. We have been in your shoes and are happy to help!
You can watch this video to learn more about the kind of work that Christine does.