Welcome to our interview series, where we introduce you to developers of all levels from all walks of life. Prepare to be inspired!
Today we meet Stefanni Becker, a consultant with experience in both design and development.
She has led many development projects for clients, and has SO MUCH wisdom to share with us about standing up as a woman in this industry!
Introduce yourself! What’s your day-to-day like?
I’m Stefanni Becker, a Front End Developer and UX Designer. I work for Slalom, which is a consulting company based in Seattle, WA. As a consultant, I am employed by Slalom, but get the opportunity to work with many different clients.
I work either on-site or remotely and utilize my skill set to provide whatever the client needs to reach their goals. I have my BS in Business and Marketing Management, my AS in Web Design and Interactive Media, and my PMP. My experience has given me a solid and varied background, which I use to my client”s benefit – I have even done some project management when needed.
Another large aspect of my value is being the translation point between designers and developers. I can do both, so it’s been very useful to clients when I can translate design requirements to the engineers, and when I can advise on the design based on my development knowledge.
It accelerates the process and breaks down barriers that normally exist between designers and developers.
How did you get into coding and why did you choose this career path?
I’ve always been an artist. I got into this field because the marketing company I was working for noticed my knack for graphic design. They taught me how to do basic website updating in Dreamweaver. From there, I developed an extreme interest in web design.
I started going to The Art Institute and got a job as a Graphic Designer with the DoD in my early 20’s. I had to work full-time through college. Working in the field I wanted to have a career in just made sense to me. Over the years, I migrated to front-end development by working as a contractor for large agencies like Wunderman and AT&T.
My coding knowledge grew over time and I learned the most by working on projects hands-on. I was always happy and eager to learn, take on more work, and complete hands-on training. I believe this has been absolutely crucial to my success. Debugging with DevTools was also very helpful!
You’ve had many different roles like graphic design, marketing, and web development. How did all of these experiences shape who you are today?
Who I am today is a daughter, sister, aunt, fur-baby mom, and friend. Someone who enjoys the outdoors, loves my animals, and has a bright energetic disposition.
I’ve worked very hard and haven’t had it easy. I’ve worked with companies who were wonderful, but I’ve also worked with people who treated me like crap. I put up with it because I knew that in the end, the experience and learning opportunities there were invaluable.
I’m strong, I don’t take constructive feedback personally, and I can produce high-quality work on incredibly tight deadlines. I’m also very comfortable working with just about anyone, from a team member to the top stakeholder of a project or the big boss at a company.
I’ve been knocked down so many times that I’m used to getting back up – that’s the takeaway here. You get back up.
I also know my value. The positive experiences I’ve had have created a strong sense of self regarding my ability to collaborate with others, rely on my skill set, and be able to make strong recommendations to clients.
This strength is an asset because when I’m communicating with a client, I need to be an expert – both my positive and negative experiences have created an incredible amount of resilience and confidence in my capabilities.
What is your favorite part of your work?
My favorite part has always been presenting my work to my clients and getting happy reactions. It takes a lot of hard work to get to that phase, including phases of rejection or interference, but when the project is a wrap and you reveal this beautiful thing that you helped to create for the client and they love it, you can’t beat that feeling.
I’ve also learned Angular, React, and terminal coding this year. Continuously learning new languages and technologies is absolutely crucial to success in this field. Right now, I’m learning how to develop an Angular 7 project wrapped in an asp.net core environment using MVC, which is my latest challenge. I’m extremely novice with C#, so I wouldn’t capitalize on that.
When the project calls for a certain technology, you spend time learning. Make a passion project, take up a course, consult with a team member or mentor – do what you need to do to get the code to make sense. Ask for feedback, take on related work.
Most of all, take care of yourself, take breaks, and keep yourself actively engaged by prioritizing your health. Everyone has a mental wall that blocks learning when you’re studying too hard – study in bursts, relish in the ‘ah-ha!’ moments, and keep building!
When your brain is in a state of learning, it’s wired to learn more… keep your brain in the state of learning by continuing to build on your skillset.
You’ve led a lot of web development projects. What is that experience like? Did you feel you were dismissed because you are a woman?
Thank you, and yes I have led many development projects. The feeling is amazing and I always feel extremely grateful that a company would trust me with their brand.
Working with a group of people to create something that you are ultimately shaping with your unique skill set is nothing short of incredible. Creating a big impact is a euphoric feeling for me – I love it!
Leading a big project can also be frustrating. You have to balance the needs of the stakeholders and end goal of the project, normally while working with a team who has their own opinions and skill sets who also want to make an impact, while trying to lead the project down the right path for the company.
Staying organized and having tough skin is absolutely necessary. You can’t be too tied to your work because it can always change. It’s important to be resilient, empathetic, and prioritize the goals of the project as well as possible.
Also, it’s important to rely on your team and to realize the tremendous amount of value that they can bring to your project – listen to them and encourage their input.
I have never experienced dismissal at Slalom, but in my past, I have definitely dealt with sexism and ageism. I hit the ground running and took on a professional job at 18 while in college. By the time I was in my late 20’s, I already had a decade of professional experience.
Unfortunately, many people who I worked with saw a young girl straight out of college and easily dismissed my value.
It’s quite frustrating when this happens – and you can always tell. There really isn’t a black and white answer… If you address it directly, people see you as entitled or not politically appropriate, and if you make off-handed comments, it could come off as passive aggressive.
My best advice for this is to let people think what they think – you can’t change it – and let your work speak for itself. Interject yourself into conversations, deliver high-quality work, and propose solutions.
Get involved, work with a team member and present your findings together (sometimes the support of another person who seconds your solution is a great bridge).
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in code?
As a female developer, I see that women are an extreme minority in this field. Obvious, right? Men and women have social norms that have developed the way we communicate over time, and sometimes women are more timid.
Sometimes it’s hard to speak up in a meeting, to tell a man that his solution could be done in a different way, or to say or do anything that others see as confrontational. The biggest challenge is rising to the occasion and realizing that you are there as part of the team for a reason!
Get used to being uncomfortable. Speak up. Use your feminine qualities to your advantage – for example, empathy is one of the main platforms of User Experience Design; as a woman, you have the ability to understand your users and translate their needs in a different way than a man can. Use this to your advantage!
Speak up and offer your insight and opinions. I believe that many women think others don’t want to hear what they have to say, but I bet if you challenge that, you’ll find that your participation is not only welcomed, it’s necessary.
What advice would you give to intermediate developers who are looking to level up?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask to attend trainings and workshops, and really dive in. If you’re trying to learn, make it known that you are trying to learn and people will be happy to work with you!
Dig in! Start a passion project, create a free account on codeacademy, go to coding MeetUps, learn from online tutorials or YouTube. Find out what opportunities your company is offering or ask for manager approval to attend special trainings. The more hands-on experience you have, the better.
Ask for a challenge at work. If you’re trying to level up, be transparent about it with your boss and your team. They will be likely to give you more work to help you progress, help you balance your projects so you’re not overloaded, and may even spend time mentoring or advising you on the way.
Stay thirsty and keep learning! Believe in yourself.
Quick fire round
When I can’t solve a bug, I… ask my team
My favorite programming language is… SCSS because it’s fun
Dream company to work for… Slalom
If I had unlimited resources, I would develop… a mobile app as a charitable project to benefit a great company with limited resources or for community service.
Your favorite quote… “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” -Ben Franklin. It means to take care of yourself.