My Best Assets as a Female Coder

Louise Fitzpatrick Hayes
Feb 19 · 20 min read
Cadillac Mountain, Acadia, Mount Desert Island, Maine, U.S.

“Failure is Success in Progress (Einstein)”

I am a Female JavaScript coder, I have been in tech longer than not. I am a Comp Sci collegiate from the 90's, a bootcamper , a mum x 4 boys, an Irish girl living in NH. I recently pivoted to fullstack modern Javascript coding, to contribute to my family but also to have a fulfilling life. I believe certain assets helped me get here.

Feel free to skip to the last paragraph of this blog for tips and resources— I would not have had the confidence to tell this story if not for the support of the coding communities listed below, my husband and my family. I hope my honesty and advice helps other people.

I am a health nut and love to exercise. I believe in food as medicine, loving what you do and being compassionate in work. 9 years ago I got seriously ill with an autoimmune disease. I could not dress myself or pick up my newborn. I was given a 75% prognosis of being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, and this changed my life. I am a dreamer of ideas and I love coding. I like being busy and challenged, lists and books. I have gaps in my long tech career, to study Naturopathy and have kids, and have had many non-coding tech roles.

I grew up in the roughest parts of Dublin, Ireland. People from my community are under represented in tech. They don’t go to 3rd level education, and are lucky to escape the crime and drug scene..I think we have a grit and a street smarts that can’t be taught. We have the drive, but we need a break.

My families first radio was off the back of a stolen truck. There were neither shops nor playgrounds and the options I had were football, skipping or we would play on the building site by our flats. We’d tie a rope around a lamppost and our friends would swing us and let go, until we crushed into it.

Ballymun, Dublin, Ireland.

We were amongst the lowest income families.

Another kid thaught me cursive writing , deliberately I gave up a font row desk, went to the back and used my chair as my desk. The facilities in my catholic crowded school were non existent and the class had 75 kids. I was called Fitzer, no one used first names epecially not the nuns!

Luckily I had a teacher who saw potential in me. I loved her guitar and could copy her every move when she gave me a go. She told my parents to get me my own guitar, and lessons. She said I was clever and would do well in school but to encourage me. My folks were always scurrying to get money together for lessons.

Thanks to that 1st teacher, 10 years later, I found myself with options, I could go to college.

My mam headed up a committee for the area to get us money for instruments so we could start a marching performing band and hire a paid conductor/instructor to teach us 3 times a week.

This kept us off the streets, away from the dangerous gangs and substances. I grew up in the youth centre, amongst ‘stars and stripes’ and ‘sweet caroline’ playing trombone (not a shy instrument — like myself) I made great friends, smart and academic, and this rubbed off on me.

My brother was not so lucky to escape the perils of our surroundings. He got addicted to drugs as a teen and did time in Jail in his early 20’s for helping a crime gang with stolen TV’s. He is lucky to be alive today, (I am very grateful to whomever is up there for watching over him). He turned his life around and is now a social worker with 2 degrees, helping people from underprivileged areas, enrolling in a Master in Trinity College Dublin. He brought a homeless man, a dear friend of his, to our Christmas Dinner. His friend took this pic of us; parents, siblings, and kids — 27 of us!..a few months ago. My brother has his hand raised heroically:

Dec 2018, Dublin: My family!

I entered a long life of music, I auditioned and got accepted to the Royal College of Music, I was passionate and tenacious. The music college exposed me to a different community of people, and I wanted to improve myself.

From here I started to realise life could be very different for me than it had been for my parents. They left school age 12 and worked in manual labour jobs.

Sunset from our Irish Gaelteacht house

Other than baby sitting, I had a job in a local pub at 14 serving alcohol. I developed a very tough skin from this, and an awareness of men’s perception of me. These became assets as a female coder later on.

By sheer determination and some luck I got a good leaving cert which is the Irish Highschool Dip, so I was able to go on to college. Not many in my school did. I loved English, devoured books by Shakespeare and all the poets.. was very capable at Math. I asked my parents for tutors/grinds to help me.

My parents grew up with extreme poverty in Dublin, 10 siblings each in a house with 3 small rooms, 6 girls in a bed for my mam, coats for blankets, half a sausage each for dinner, if lucky. My dad’s house was full of horse racing results pasted onto the wall, and his parents where either gambling or drinking the winnings in the local pub. He would arrive home from school and had to beg the neighbours for leftover food for him and his sisters. He skipped school at 12 and worked delivering paint to DIY stores on a bike all over Dublin city centre. He never told anyone and for 6 months pretended to go to school. He passed on this strong work ethic to me.

My mom was amazing, she was my dad’s unofficial company manager, for his growing window glazing company.

Mam and Dad

While I was rocking the Dublin music scene(in my marching band!), mam went back to school age to help me with my homework, and fundamentally changed from a timid house wife who believed she was illiterate (but a fantastic baker), to a very confident ambitious person who wanted to work at something herself (and was allergic to housework!) She inspired me. She found out about a grant for me for college so it didn’t cost us anything. She continued on until she could go to a college herself and years later at the age of 45 became a very established and sought after therapist in Dublin with regular TV and radio shows.

Mam taught me It is never too late to reinvent yourself.

Dad had a very hard battle with alcohol and gambling back when I was growing up, and worked long hours away from home to earn a good living for us at times. He is a wonderful hard worker and kind person, and he always wanted to provide a better life for us. He eventually went to college himself, and joined my moms business as a therapist age 50!

I heard someone talk about Galway once, on a bus. It seemed like a great place to go to college. So I applied.

Galway, Ireland — My college town.

At 14 My distant uncle, married to my mam’s sister who emigrated to the UK at 17, worked for one of the Big 10 London companies, and had a house in Cheshire. One day while I visited there for the first time for a week, he assessed my plans, and explained that a musician would not be a clever choice for working in the business world. I had never considered choosing something to get a job in corporate. This was a pivotal conversation. He was a good asset looking back.

When I started to fill out the application form, the only courses in Galway Tech were Business through Irish(Gaelic), Hotel Management or Computer programming and System Analysis. So I enrolled in a comp sci course. I did not know anything about computers. I had never used one. I was enrolling in a computer science course, having no idea what a computer was!

Somehow, I was one of 4 girls who graduated from the Computer course 3 years later.

I had a strong work ethic, I was determined to pass. I believe this is why I stuck with it.. The programs we used were Cobol and Pascal and practical labs were 50% of the course. This was a good foundation for my pivot into JavaScript coding decades later. I learned that the guys in the class would not share or help me. They had home networks and big plans that did not include me. However I discovered to my relief I loved the lab. I remember my first time to type into a DOS terminal and see the Basic command PRINT “Hello World” on my terminal. However I was struggling without a computer of my own, and had to go into college in the evenings to get any extra lab time. It was gruelling, as I had to work late nights in a 24x7 diner which affected my lectures. I was not having the kind of fun in Galway that I had planned, but I was engrossed.

Somehow out of the 270 who started, 25 finished and I was one of them. I am still friends with one of the 4 females who graduated.

A friend and female techy is a great asset to have in a male dominated field.

My college Dean did not believe I had coded my final project. It was a Pascal printing company app for my final. It was way more than was required but not intentionally, I just got carried away. Another asset for coding is a desire/need to stick with it until it meets your vision. My tenacity led me to a meeting with the Dean as he had trouble accepting my work, openly querying how I did it. He picked out functions and asked how I found out how to do those algorithims. I eventually I got top marks. Sadly this doubting from males in the coding world was a sign of things to come for me.

I had many gender issues being accepted into coding as a female.

Right after college, Within a month I got offered a promising role in tech support for an accounting software company. It was mainly phones and client facing tasks. When I pushed for a coding role, infuriatingly My boss asked me why I would want that kind of stress, legs on desk, hands behind head. He reckoned I was mad and the idea was preposterous, I had a great job.

I eventually moved to a new company, as a Cobol coder in a freight company who had a large software dept. I proved myself for a year updating the existing system but I realised the future trajectory with them was not the core dev role I wanted at that time, in the Visual Basic coding team. My second boss would refuse to move me into the team, saying I dressed very well, talked so well to the company heads who needed us to enhance/bug fix the old systems, and was best where I was. He would also flirt with me on company social events, physically inappropriate at times. I was the only female. One guy sent me letters to my flat, about how he could not stop watching me in work. I had to bring a pal where ever I went from then on, on work socials for moral support.

Back then, I thought it was all on me — something I was doing or saying.

A few years after college, I got an amaxing opportunity albeit a non coding role. My college friend and fellow female dev, helped land me an interview with SAP. There was a great balance of female and males! The atmosphere was healthy in terms of respectful attitudes to women. I was in a great role. I got great training. It was a fun place to be female and good at tech. I learned about DB admin and OS maintenance for SAP systems, and I met other female techy friends for life, and here I met my future husband.

Me and my husband — 2 kids in!

10 years later, I needed a break from the corporate tech world.

Although it was an amazing challenging role with great salary, travel, and camaraderie, I felt I was not making a difference to the world or being creative. I quit, rented out my house, sold my new car, and together with my fiancé we bought an open ended ticket to go travelling. We travelled to Asia. It was the first time we had no phones or computers and we had no plan other than have fun, and catch a flight from Bangkok to Sydney 2 months later.

Sydney was and is a special place. Initially I worked as a contractor on an in-house SAP system for Caltex. I was responsible for 24x7 systems, had a pager, had an amazing salary, but I also had weekend work regularly, and major pressure during system outages. I was not seeing much of this beautiful exciting city, to explore. Hours were so long. I decided I needed to a more permanent change. As it happens, We married during this time and started a family. My friends and family came to visit and toured the country, it was my Dad’s life long wish to see Australia. I enrolled in Sydney’s Australasian’s College of Naturopathy and Nutrition. I thought I would never work in the corporate tech field again.

I studied as a naturopath in Sydney for 3 years, and had a wonderful time. We loved the beaches, healthy lifestyle and sun! Eventually though, we missed family and we returned to Ireland.

I started creating websites for my friends and family and helped tripple their revenue, while rearing kids. I really enjoyed the work while at home with my kids.

Web Dev is a great job for women who are at home, who need to earn a living, but find it difficult to get office hour child care.

This developed into a career with lots of local businesses plus I enjoyed meeting clients, training them on content, I learned more about Joomla, mySQL , JavaScript, HTML, CSS and PHP. I enjoyed playing around with ideas on design. Eventually I secured a long term contract for a government company in Dublin, for their Airport store, TheLoop. Suddenly I was back in the tech corporate field! However it was different, more family friendly. I worked remote mainly, flexible and I could do it without a pager or a major a sweat on most days.

Then just after the birth of my third child, I got very ill and was unable to get out of bed or look after myself. I developed acute systemic Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was fast spreading, permanently damaging my joints. It was debilitating and worrying. My prognosis was grim. I couldn’t get up from sitting in a chair, get myself dressed.

Doctors warned me to expect the worse, a wheelchair for life, with a 75% chance I would never recover or work again.

I gave up running and exercise. I hired a cleaner and my husband worked til midnight every night in his side job to earn more as a freelance web dev. We had a new born and 2 boisterous boys age 4 and 6. He also managed the cooking and school runs and had to do the night time feeds on top of his full time engineering day job. I couldn’t lift my new born out of his cradle. It was here that I dramatically transformed my life. I started seeing a herbalist, meditiating, reflecting, eating a wholefood pure diet, I saw a nutirtionist Susan Jane White in Dublin who devised recipies just for my inflammation. I would play with my kids, some times just sitting on the floor while they made a puzzle as that was all I could do. This was a very hard time, with lots of family and friends helping, I was in a lot of pain all the time and on many kinds of drugs. I took a break from the life I knew, the threadmill of it all.

I was determined to get better though from the beginning.

Within 6 months I was almost symptom free and within a year I was off most of the drugs. Doctors could not believe my recovery. I continued to improve until I was healed 100%.

Eventually I returned to freelance web sites for my clients. This continued right up until I left Ireland to come to the U.S.

We always dreamed of traveling with the kids, so when the company my husband worked for was acquired by an American Company, Red Hat, we jumped at the chance to move to U.S. Things were in recession in Ireland, it was tough after my illness, we needed a fresh beginning. The stress on my relationship and family during my illness was the worse we had every experienced. So it was a great second chance for us all, plus it was a great job opportunity for my husband, and we already wanted to travel for years and had talked about it before I got sick.

However this was also the worse time to leave Ireland, because my sister’s youngest boy age 3 had just been fearfully ill, and almost died. He had been diagnosed with Leukeamia — ALL. We had already invested all our savings in our new life in America, down payment, flights. We could not stay even though it was the toughest thing I have ever done to leave. Sometimes life is too hard, and the next few years for me in America were some of the hardest. Luckily 3 and half years on, my little nephew is 100% healed, he just finished his last session of chemotherapy last week!

Feb 2019: Scott — age 6 — last day of Chemo! His older brother Dean and Dad Leon and my sister Jo.

We departed for our American Adventure.. with 4 kids in tow and only our backpacks! This is another blog for another day!

Irish in NH!

My Best Assets

I realised I wanted to get back into coding full time. Once I got us all settled, found a house, schools sorted, found where to buy groceries, and figured out how to drive on the wrong side of the road, I started teaching myself JavaScript. I was obsessing over books and following tutorials. Making markings in the books, bringing them with me everywhere.

I was constantly learning to code and feeling like it was me against the machine. And the machine was winning! So I joined a bootcamp and for suppport.

During the precious time when my preschooler was away , 3 x week, I’d study, try out code snippets. I decided I needed a community, and I would learn best from practical projects and deadlines. I found the UNH bootcamp near where I lived that was not cheap, but it focused on the MERN stack and back to back 6 months practical projects, group projects, in a class room setting. It also helped with career support. I was nervous investing in this, as I already had a Comp Sci qualification. But I wanted the community more than the skills it offered but it would be great to level up and refresh my skills.

In fact, my rusty coding skills from the 90’s were very helpful but I was just as nervous and suffered from major Imposter Syndrome even before I knew that was a thing.

Thinking about the computer industry from a 20 year perspective made my head ache.

Think floppy disks and DOS terminals, no Internet, or PC’s, and no cloud to share anything including code. No git, no IDE’s, no prompts for syntax or variable names / spelling!! And worse of all no dev console. No one talks about LIFO stacks and blowing up the memory heaps now. It takes more than a month of coffee to tease the memories from my old brain.

I am now skilled at JavaScript, react, angular, mySQL, mongDB, git . I have a git portfolio of over 50 apps. I learned more in this bootcamp than in my degree. I sat in class 3 x week but I coded at home 8 x hours a day, sometimes more. I stopped watching TV, I gave up sleep, I cooked while I watched podcasts, I left as much to my husband in the chores / kids as I could to deep dive immerse myself. I coded with kids on my seat, playing on me, and at Christmas, New years and more. I loved it and I was obsessed. The tools available made it so much fun. I made some cool apps for the kids to use and my local PTA school committee. Also the people I met were amazing throughout this process. I lived on slack!

Here is the list of tech talks I went to in the last Boston Code Camp FREE tech conference!

The bostson code camp FREE tech conference — Sep 2018 — talks that I chose to see!

However while the tech stack had completely transformed, similar issues still existed gender wise.

For my final project at bootcamp I worked with a small team, one man of which kept trying to kiss me at the graduation ceremony several times.

During another project, a team mate used to put his hand up right in front of my face during database design talks or standups, so he could concentrate on the other guy in the team. Later he asked me to stop trying to trump their ideas, interrupt and compete.

My husband codes and has been helping me. He sees the way I have been treated recently in tech and over the years. He is not surprised and has seen this in his work environment all too often. Women are forced into softskill roles, or they work with much lower pay. They are punished for raising kids, part time working, taking gaps, judged as competitive in the work force if strong ideas, or are shutdown or treated in an inappropriate way.

Happy Boston Working Girl

Recently, I interned for 2 months as an Angular FE developer, and I created a Chart component that could be imported into any app in 3 lines from scratch without a 3rd party library. I got stellar reviews from the team. I was asked to start skilling up full time on a new platform, come to Boston meetings, and to skill up to be able to develop JavaScript custom widgets for an upcoming project built on a low-code PaaS, Mendix. The director said he wanted me to play up my mom skills in the meetings in Boston. He thought I would be a great asset in a female /mom sense. I gained certification and trained a team remotely for several months. When it came to the contract and pay, they refused to pay me, kept putting me off, and when I gave them a final deadline, they admitted they had no intentions.

A few months later, after I had moved on, they called me and said the project was kicking off and offered a full time permanent role including back pay. The director was a nice guy who wanted to try make amends, his hands were tied I guess. I turned it down. To say no to this put my wellbeing before my job.

Reflecting in the Irish countryside with my kids

In the past few months, I have completed a momscancode hackathon and my team won 1st place with an Imposter Syndrome React JavaScript App called Realup.

Erica Peterson founder of MomsCanCode enabling all us mom coders!

I was also just listed on a 200 female devs to follow on twitter list along with members of my fellow momscancode team! Amazing. The difference in coding with other women, and mom coders is staggering. The compassion, the humble attitudes and positive feedback is refreshing and motivating. I have weekly standups with my hackathon team, as we have become friends and cocoders. We share technical information and life, goals and achievements. We encourage each other. I am going to meetups and conferences. I am gaining in confidence. I am networking at events.

I am contributing to open source and I have clients. I hope to find a company to work for, I will soon put myself out there and do interviews. After 10 years freelancing, I crave the comraderie, support and challenge of a team, a company environment, and the multiple exposure that this brings.

Follow me as I post blogs on my technical tips, projects, and usefull resources from coding and life. I recently added a scrum board to my list of tools to plan and improve family life/ kids / chores!

Teaching my 5 yo to code

I like helping out at a local GirlsCanCode class, and I want women to stay in the tech game, and moms to join!

I am passionate about helping other women get into the tech field. I want to pave the way for the next her.

My Best Assets as a Female Coder:

  1. A friend and fellow female techy, especially in the same place as I work if I am in a corporate role.
  2. Grit and persistence, a thick skin, not giving up, staying focused on the love of code, belief in myself.
  3. Learning to see through the words and actions of male coders who feel threatened or just stereotype me, it is not about me!
  4. Respond to put downs with “I do not know what you wish me to say to that” and walk away.
  5. Turning each setback into a driving force — towards my goals.
  6. A compassionate coder community, like MomsCanCode — to co work and code review with who see my enthusiasm and ideas as a plus not a threat.
  7. Grab the clipboard — leave the tea making.
  8. Work hard — who said coding was easy, expect it to be tough, the painful issues are usually the most beneficial to learn from.
  9. Know what Q I am asking before I ask it, be specific about my issue. This is so important for google-ing and for people.
  10. Never put myself down. Ask for help, then ask have they had that issue before, do not ever hand over my keyboard.
  11. Talk to someone or something about my issue, the plant, the pet, the husband, the kids! I will often just get the solution mid sentence and dash back to my computer.
  12. Share my story, my tips — it leads to ideas, confidence , creativity. Trust me!
  13. Support other women, I am actually then supporting my self.
  14. Good role models in the field are so inspiring, such as the awesome female coders I follow on twitter, I have a list here that I follow, if you want to subscribe to it.
  15. Support communities like GirlsWhoCode , MomsCanCode and WomenWhoCode

My biggest asset right now on a daily basis as a female coder is my MomsCanCode community!

The friends and coders I have found in this community are there every day for tech talk or just camaraderie and support. Thanks to @kudacoder @SaraTorrey @koodiela for helping me become a better coder and person.

Daily Standups that have continued — with my momscancode hackathon team

Parents, expose your kids to females in STEM. Teach your girls to grab the clipboard! I am not affiliated or paid by any of the below — feel free to ignore. Thanks for reading and please be kind out there!

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