Employee Feature: Copperleaf's Janet Chen Advocates for Women in STEMBy Copperleaf
Meet Janet Chen, one of the amazing software development co-ops on our Cost Estimation team! Janet studies computer science and economics at the University of British Columbia, and develops virtual and mixed reality tools in her spare time. She also actively advocates for increased participation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)–she recently attended the BC Tech Association Women Who Tech Fireside Chat and spoke as a panelist for the #VRDiversity event by the Vancouver VR Community. Janet sat down to share about her experiences as a woman in the tech industry and her advice for other young women interested in tech.
How did you get into the tech industry?
In early 2017, I enrolled in a Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ) course at UBC. My professor introduced me to the HTC Vive virtual reality headset and I fell into the black hole of immersive technologies. My final project for the course was an Android app called ChinaSphere, a Google Cardboard tour of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. The course inspired me to co-found a virtual reality (VR) student development group at UBC where we create education and research tools.
My passion for VR led me to being a part of a team that placed first at a hackathon for Riddikulus, a VR exposure therapy app for treating phobias. Currently, I am leading a team to create an VR educational tool called “Rats!”. It will be available to high school classes as an alternative to traditional animal dissections in biology courses.
Why do you think it’s especially important to support women in the tech industry?
Women pioneered the field of computer programming (Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper), but the number of female computer science majors has fallen over the years. One big reason was because when the personal computer was first released, it was entirely marketed towards boys. By the time girls reached high school, there was already a gender disparity between girls and boys studying computer science. When girls reached university, it was assumed that computer science students already had previous knowledge of computers. However, those that did have this knowledge were overwhelmingly boys.
This was my experience when I took my first computer science course. Experienced students, mostly boys, scoffed at the programming language: beginner-friendly DrRacket meant to level the playing field. They asked why this mandatory course didn’t use Java, the language taught in their AP Computer Science class. It’s a common experience for women to feel like we started 10 metres behind the starting line.
As my female friends and I entered the workplace in our early twenties, we were often welcomed as the only woman on the development team. This can be isolating and lonely. At Copperleaf and my project teams, I am lucky to have a diverse set of coworkers and friends. However, it can be hard to be optimistic when you hear about the tech industry’s ongoing issues with women and diversity in the news all the time.
What’s your advice for women who feel alienated and alone in the workplace?
Attend events like the Women Who Tech Fireside Chat. Going to these events and knowing that I belong to a greater community of amazing women who have been through similar experiences is a moment that grounds me and encourages me to continue despite adversity. You can even ask your company or school to sponsor you or connect you to other women in the community.
What do you think women should do in the workplace to build confidence and succeed?
In my experience, it’s so important to take the time to speak to mentors and friends. Your support network of personal champions who believe in your potential will be your strength in times of self-doubt and inevitable failure. Create a list of your accomplishments and strong points. Go to events and make meaningful connections. And I cannot stress this enough: do not be afraid of asking questions.
How can we get others to care about diversity and inclusion?
If diversity matters to you, dare to do just 10% more than you would normally do. Ask about diversity and inclusion efforts in interviews. At an organisation, you might have to be the first one that starts a Slack channel about diversity or shares events about women in tech. Find other people that support diversity and use their positive affirmation as motivation.
Once you find your voice, use it to empower those around you. Offer to mentor others and share your experiences. Position yourself visibly, whether that means speaking on a panel or offering a little more help than you would normally. Build others up!
What do you like best about working at Copperleaf?
At Copperleaf, I have the support of my team to learn and develop enterprise applications. Every day, I have opportunities to learn from senior developers, product owners, team leads, quality assurance analysts, and DevOps specialists. Working as a co-op student in an engaging and collaborative culture has taught me more than any university course.
To learn more about Janet and her work, you can check out her website here.
Copperleaf is always looking for talented individuals to join our team! Check out our current job openings here.