Mom to Developer. Meet Gaia Gonen.
Welcome to our interview series, where we introduce you to developers of all levels from all walks of life. Prepare to be inspired!
Meet Gaia Gonen. She became a developer after becoming a mom and swapped spots with her husband! He stays home with their adorable son while she works as a developer.
What is your position and company? What’s your day-to-day like?
I work as a junior web developer, doing both front-end and back-end. It is my first-ever tech job. We work mostly with WordPress and sometimes from scratch. We work a lot with animation, pixel-perfect FEND, 3D CSS animations, etc.
My day to day is mostly about work. With the commute I’m out of the house for 10-12 hours, 5 days a week. My husband is home with our son all day.
I get to see my son a little before I leave for work, and most days he will wait awake for me and I get to put him to sleep. I sometimes arrive late and stay with him for a few hours in the morning. My employers are very understanding.
Can you tell us about how you got into code, and why you chose this career path?
I started to get into coding when I was about 11 by building simple static HTML sites which I designed in Paint Pro. I also learned Photoshop a little later on. It is a little funny, but when I grew up, I did not code anymore at all and did not even consider this as a career path for many years.
Going back to coding happened by chance, but I chose it because I love to code. It’s great that it can be remote, the salary is good, and I truly see myself doing it for years to come. I also love that is an area where you never stop learning.
You successfully transitioned your career within a year, and you were taking care of a baby! Can you tell us how you managed to do it so quickly? What steps did you take?
It all started from a scholarship from Google for a nanodegree in Udacity. It came up as an ad in Facebook offering scholarships for people in the Middle-East. The first three months were intense, as it was a trial where only 10% of all the students would move to the next stage and get a full scholarship for the program.
I took it very seriously. I think during those studies I took coding from a hobby to a profession, and I loved every minute. But truth be told, I’ve never finished the program. The reason why was because I have a family, and I was in dire need of a steady income.
I started sending my CVs everywhere, even if the job description wasn’t a perfect match. I’ve read a lot about how women differ from men in building a career and why it is holding them back and I decided to break the “rules”.
I used all of my connections, all the Facebook groups, and all the job sites to find leads; I had my CV, a LinkedIn, and some small projects on GitHub.
Finally, I landed an interview with IBM. It did not go well at all. I was scared and not myself, the test went horribly, and I returned home knowing that I busted it and with many doubts about myself. The same day I found out I did not make it to the second stage at IBM, I got a second interview in a small digital marketing agency.
I went there much more relaxed and myself. When I returned home I just knew I would get the job. I had a home-test, then an in-office test, and I passed them both.
Then I negotiated my salary and perks after counseling with my brother (who is also a programmer) and listening to podcasts and lectures. I did compromise in terms of salary, but I work in a great place that is very understanding of my parenting needs and that compensates for big successful projects.
How did this transition impact your family life?
I have had some support from my partner during my studies. But I feel I had to put my foot down and say that this is what I’m doing for the sake of our family and of myself. Now I have full support at home. My husband became a stay at home dad, and I think we are both enjoying ourselves.
Most days are fine. We get to have a nice routine and we make the most out of weekends and vacations. I feel I’m missing my boy, but I know it is just for the time being and not forever, and I really try to make the most of my time home.
I know that special memories are the one that lasts from this age and I know we have a strong beautiful bond from the two years I was home with him.
What is your favorite part of your work?
My favorite part is the big projects I get every other month or so: big sites that I develop from start to finish, back to front. Those are sites that are usually big, complex, and need to come out perfect. I consider those my work-babies and I put a lot of energy and time into it.
The friends I’ve made, the bosses, and the office are all highlights of the job as well. I feel great going to work every day, and it is not a burden on me.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in code?
Specifically, in code I think one of the biggest challenges is people belittling women’s knowledge and ability to understand complex problems. But I also think the world is changing rapidly.
I think companies want to be progressive and I came across many that specifically wanted women to work as developers. It is not rainbows and sunshine yet, but I think due to women all over the world that are working hard to break into this industry (just like on this website), it will be downhill for women in code.
Other challenges come from different aspects and are relevant to all women, like fear of negotiation, impostor syndrome, or just fear of sending your CV. It is worth learning about those, as reading the statistics and being aware of the problem makes us stronger and more likely to beat the odds.
What advice would you give to a woman at the beginning of her coding journey?
I would say, don’t give up and be determined. Don’t be afraid if you feel your knowledge is not enough, or that you are not a fast learner. The study curve for programming is weird, and it consists of unbelievable highs and deep-deep lows. Just push through, ask, study, read, and learn.
Some, if not most, knowledge comes from actually working. Don’t worry what they might think of you, just send the CV. Study non-stop, but not only code, study about what holds women back, both in believing in their knowledge and in landing jobs.
I would also say keep a hobby, something relaxing or physically challenging. I do hula hoop, pole dancing, stretches and more. It keeps my mind and my body leveled and helps me relax and take things easy.
Train your body and your mind, even things that don’t seem relevant to coding can be helpful for you in the long run and in keeping yourself motivated and curious.
Quick fire round
When I can’t solve a bug, I… Google. If that doesn’t work, I take a coffee break. If that doesn’t work, I take a notebook and a pen and do some written brainstorming with myself. Lastly, I will just start commenting parts of the code out until I reach the root problem. Sometimes I will start with that one, aggressive, but effective.
My favorite programming language is… elm.
Dream organization to work for… writing spec at W3C
If I had unlimited resources, I would… develop RPGs & MMORPGs
In 5 years time, I want to… Move away from Israel to somewhere beautiful and work as a game developer.
Your favorite quote… ‘We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’ – Doctor Who (this one written by Steven Moffat)