Women of Tech Meets: Natalie - UI Engineer
It was a happy accident that the first post back here to Women of Tech is written by a Natalie, about a Natalie.
Natalie is a UI Engineer based out of Nashville, TN in the USA.
Self-described as a houseplant hoarder, Natalie has been working in technology for several years now, holding a specialist eye for design principles, optimization and performance improvement.
Prior to delving into building a career in the world of technology, Natalie had a background in the creative space. This, she felt, partly influenced her decision to take this path into tech, noting that in her experience, being a visual communicator has been invaluable as a tool when working on the User Interface.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what it is that you currently do in technology?
Currently I am a UI Engineer at Experian. Originally, I was self-taught - I went to a boot camp and then from there stuck to the front-end work. The front-end became my favourite.
I’ve worked in UI roles since then really. Sometimes you feel a bit like you’re a magician when you’re working on the front end, because you can just create these visuals right in front of your eyes, bringing ideas to life.
Was there anything in particular that sparked your interest in pursuing a career in tech?
I think just really thinking about what I liked to do helped to lead me here. I wanted something that could be challenging for me, something to make me think, but also allowed me to be creative.
When I thought back, I used to love editing my MySpace. Even as young as around 10 years old I was sort of creating websites for fun without necessarily knowing that I was creating websites. That enjoyment stuck with me.
There’s also the lifestyle that comes with working in technology, its flexible.
You studied Communication and Media at University, did you find the skills you learnt there helped you to transition into working in tech?
Yeah, I think so. You go into so many types of environment on the course. I did graphic design for example and some video courses – something kind of simple like just understanding how video works in particular formats, or knowing different resolutions, it can all become really applicable in tech.
What was your favourite thing about studying at University?
I loved working on video productions actually, we also did a TV show that aired on our college channel, it was fun learning all about film, TV and video production – my other passion.
What do you enjoy the most about working in technology?
I think I love the fact that you can have such an impact on the world, which means you can do things for the greater good.
For example right now so many people have created things to help with Covid and you can just really impact people directly. There are so many avenues that you can go down. I would love to work more in and contribute to the mental health space eventually.
Is there anything perhaps that you don't love about working in the technology field?
I think what I don’t love is that there can sometimes be a bit of a toxic work ethic around expectations of technology employees. For example, there’s almost a consensus in the industry that if you want to go and work for a big company that you’ll be expected to grind out leet code and study before work, after work, during work, and it makes it hard to relax because you’re always like ‘should I be doing something?’
Theres an underlying expectation sometimes that you need to have a side project or two on the go and that’s just not always that case for some people.
I believe you need downtime, hobbies, family time, and time to unwind to be able to contribute your best.
Is there anything that you think employers could be doing more of to support women working in the tech industry?
Diversity in hiring and more hiring of women in general.
Diversity in leadership also is really important, how can things really change in the wider workforce if they’re not changing at the top?
I think employers could also be more active and supportive in advising and educating young women early on the options available to them within tech industry, get involved with school and college programmes that guide and nurture talent from that younger age.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in developing your skillset and how did you overcome it?
Definitely a lack of mentorship - certainly in my first tech role.
A lack of mentorship led me to sort of take it upon myself to learn a lot on my own, which has its pros and its cons.
When it eventually came to searching for my next role, specifically looking for something that had an emphasis on mentorship was a really big part of it.
Often when you’re new, employers tend to just throw you in the deep end to see how you swim, I don’t find that to be the best approach to encouraging someone to learn.
Do you have a favourite podcast that you listen to regularly?
Syntax FM with Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski is my favourite. It’s mostly about front end engineering but they cover a wide range of topics within web development as well as ‘pot luck’ topics, whats going on in the world of tech right now. It’s really fun to listen too!
Do you have a recent ‘tech moment’ that you’re super proud of yourself for achieving?
I was recently approved to be a contributor to the Free Code Camp blog, which I’m pretty excited about.
I’m working on a post currently about empathy and why that’s one of the most important soft skills I think you can have as an engineer – I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone.
Do you have any tips or tricks that you can share with others with regard to job hunting or looking for new job opportunities?
One thing I personally do is set remote in the location, just to see the wider range of jobs available out there.
I would also say network, join communities – you’ll find people that will like you as a person and value your contributions. It can be surprising how many opportunities can come through your network too.
Do you work remotely yourself?
I do, I really like working remotely - it really fits around my lifestyle. Say for example you live in an isolated area in Minnesota or somewhere that’s not known as being a tech hub it enables you to find and be exposed to so many other roles that you might not normally be able to consider.
What advice do you wish that someone had given you at the start of your tech career?
I would say definitely find a mentor and I would also say start a blog. Even if you’re a beginner you have knowledge that is worth sharing that someone could learn something from. It’s also a really good way to log and review your progress when you reflect back.
And use open source! It’s such a good resource to learn with. GitHub is a really valuable tool – understanding it and knowing how to use it is a good, valued skill off the bat.
What does a typical work day look like for you as a UI / Software Engineer?
Right now, every morning we have our stand up, and then I’ll do some code review – bug fixes lately – I might pick up some tickets which could be bug fixes or working on a feature for a few hours.
I make sure I take a good lunch break and get outside if I can – step away from the computer - coming back to it with a refreshed mind and continue programming in the afternoon.
What is your go to desk snack?
You volunteer with Nashville Women’s Programming Group - can you tell me a little bit about what that involves for you?
I’m a big proponent of women in tech, I’ve always wanted to get involved with a group like that. At the time I was relatively new to Nashville. I found them through the NashDev Slack Channel and noticed that they were looking for some support with their social media accounts, which I offered my help with.
I also help to try and find speakers for the talks we have every month. We meet at least once a month.
You'd mentioned to me before about Code Bookclub, can you tell me a little bit about what that community is?
It’s a learning community, started by Madison Kanna – its grown a lot recently. We’re currently reading the book you don’t know JS together at the moment and then bi-weekly we’ll meet up and discuss the chapter we read that week and hold each other accountable in different learning facets in a really fun way!
We also do algorithm problems together, hop on to HackerRank or something like that and co work on solving problems together.
Anyone can join the Code Bookclub, its international!
Are there any learning resources that you've found particularly helpful along your journey in technology so far?
I think if you’re entirely new to coding, Free Code Camp is a really great resource. Its where I started learning self-taught HTML and CSS and its free so you can try out different things to see if you like it.
ClubHouse lately has been great, I’ve been joining a lot of tech related talks. It’s very new right now but there’s a lot of great conversation happening there.
All the free resources on YouTube – likeFun Fun Function - I learned a lot from him!
Udemy is another good one, you can pay as little as $9 to do a short course, it’s good to try out and dabble in different things.
What do you have in the pipeline for the next few years, do you see yourself heading in a particular direction?
I’d like to continue down the route of working on UI and front-end design. I’m dabbling in learning more about accessibility to just help make sure that everyone can use applications, eventually maybe some leadership roles.
Developer advocacy is something I really care about.
You can follow Natalie on Twitter: @ui_natalie
Useful Links, mentioned by Natalie: