Venture Out Profile: Claire Leslie on Career Pivots and Finding Support In and Out of the Workplace

Image courtesy of Claire Leslie

Claire Leslie is a Software Developer at Loopio. She helps to build features that empower businesses to seamlessly manage content and collaboration for responses to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), Requests for Information (RFIs) and Security Questionnaires. Claire’s internet activity reveals an obsession with book tracking on Goodreads, a plethora of pictures of her dog Stella, and a determination to complete all of the shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

VO: Claire, can you give us a quick overview of your background?

CL: I went into university studying social work and thought that was what I was going to do, but I realized early on it wasn’t the place for me. I enrolled in a full-stack web development boot camp, did some freelancing, and began working at Loopio as a software developer on a cross-functional feature team in April 2018.

VO: What motivated this switch from a very non-traditional background?

CL: It’s not very common to begin in social work and then become a web developer, but for me, technology and social justice have always been a part of my life.

During university, I was a founding member of a group that taught skills like website creation and social media account management to non-profits; we found a lot of these organizations didn’t have the resources or knowledge to do these things and thought we could offer them our technical skills. It started off as a side project, but once I graduated and realized that practicing social work wasn’t really the right fit, I started looking into other career paths where both my interests and skills would be aligned.

I’ve always been a technically creative person — I love puzzles and building things, and in general, had an interest in the tech industry. I started playing around in Codeacademy and I enjoyed it so much that I felt like I could seriously pursue this as a career. In addition to wanting to engage in work that would be more technically challenging to me, my voice was overrepresented in the social work field, whereas I felt I could offer a more diverse perspective in a cis-male dominated industry like tech.

VO: For people who come from similar non-traditional backgrounds or who identify as part of the LGBTQA+ community, what advice would you give?

CL: I wouldn’t discount your knowledge or experience as something that’s not valuable because it’s different from the majority. It can be hard when you’re in a room of people, and they all agree about the same thing or put out the same idea, yet you feel differently. What I’ve found is that having these different perspectives that either come from your identity or your educational background can be advantageous. Soft skills, like those I strengthened throughout my social work education, often do not take precedence over hard skills when hiring for technical roles but are crucial when it comes to working collaboratively with a team. I tend to be more aware of and responsive to the inclusion of the voices of individuals who aren’t being heard, which is important when you are looking to build products that everyone can use, as well as foster a workplace that people want to go to every day.

Also, if you can, find someone or a few people who you can really connect with and trust. For me, I’ve found a close group of women-identified and queer developers with whom sharing my feelings, ideas, and experiences has been so validating. To be able to express, “Hey, this thing happened and I’m feeling uneasy about it” and to brainstorm solutions with them makes me feel more comfortable dealing with issues directly and productively. Make the most of these relationships and help them out too; these two-way relationships go a long way to improve the workplace.

VO: What is something important that workplaces can do to support marginalized or underrepresented folks?

CL: There are many things that a company can do that matter in terms of inclusivity, like allowing employees to declare and share their preferred names and pronouns in internal company profiles and directories, or being physically accessible and having inclusive bathrooms. I think it is also important to have coworkers and managers that go out of their way to show recognition for people who aren’t normally held up. If you come from a marginalized group, making sure that your voice is heard can be difficult, so I appreciate when there are colleagues and managers who notice their contributions to the team, actively work to boost their confidence, and show that there are different ways to be a valued employee.

Lastly, I appreciate knowing that I can give feedback directly to people I work with. At Loopio, for example, the People team actioned on feedback about diversity and formed an exploratory D&I committee. The focus was on what was being done correctly, what really needed to be worked on, what we wanted Loopio to look like a year from now, and the steps needed to get there and measure our success. The company allowed everybody to be a part of this community, and we came up with some good discussion points around topics including unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, improving company policies, and language. This was just one initiative that I recognized as a good step forward.

VO: Where do you think the tech community has opportunity to grow?

CL: There is an opportunity in the general tech community to be more aware and supportive from a financial perspective, because it can be very difficult — especially if you’re from a marginalized community — to go back to school, pay for the right equipment, attend conferences, etc.

Something that I appreciate about Venture Out is how open you are to inclusivity for everyone and how you offer financial assistance to attendees who need it. Because of that, I was able to attend the conference in a previous year where I wouldn’t have been able to go, and it gave me a lot of confidence to be surrounded by the community and not feel excluded because of income.

It’s gratifying now being on the other side as a part of Loopio’s sponsorship of Venture Out, to be able to give back and let others have the same opportunity I did to attend the conference with financial aid.

VO: Finally, what would you recommend to someone attending Venture Out Conference for the first time?

CL: I’d look to attend events that sound interesting to you but may be outside your comfort zone — you could learn something completely new and that’s the thing you might take away the most when you leave the conference!

Get your tickets today for the 2019 Venture Out Conference on March 14 & 15 at MaRS!