How 7 women in Chicago tech found their calling in code

by Alton Zenon III
June 13, 2019

When it comes to forging a career, there are a number of paths one can take to get to any given destination. For some, the path is clear and straight from a young age. For others, it feels necessary to explore divergent roads, take detours or even venture from the path altogether before arriving at their destination. 

For the seven women engineers featured here, no two career journeys are the same. These developers shared their professional adventures with us, as well as what they’ve enjoyed working on since landing at their current home base. 

 

Avant engineers in group photo

Avant provides personal loans and credit cards to consumers that may not be eligible for those services from traditional financial institutions. Software Engineer Ruchita Kasliwal said she’s working on a project that makes it easy for loan recipients to manage their payments.

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

I studied computer science as an undergrad in India, and joined Credit Suisse as a software consultant. I moved to their New York office in 2015. I love working on cutting edge technologies and joined Avant to advance my career, which has proved to be a great decision. 

I am proud of the work we have done so far and excited by the challenges that lie ahead.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

I work on Avant’s loan servicing platform, which handles all steps after a loan has been issued. I particularly like this project because the loan servicing platform helps people build their credit score and provides them multiple options to pay back the loan if they are experiencing hardships. I am tasked with making this platform maintainable and scalable, which is important since Avant is growing rapidly and adding new bank partners. I am proud of the work we have done so far and excited by the challenges that lie ahead.

If I hit a snag, I take a break from the task at hand and either go for a walk or get coffee. Upon returning, I think about the problem from scratch again and often see novel solutions to the problem that I did not think of earlier.

 

Women team members at Zoro in group photo

Zoro has an e-commerce platform that lists over 2 million industrial tools, pieces of equipment and supplies for businesses of all sizes and types. Software Engineer Briana Mcneal said working on projects as part of a two-person team can prove difficult, but it can also create quick solutions to problems. 

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

I started my journey into software development first working as an apprentice at an agile startup. Prior to that, an awesome woman mentored me by teaching me basic modern software development skills and reviewing the simple programs that I wrote. This relationship and the software development leaders I worked directly with during my apprenticeship were vital to building my skills. 

Stepping out of my own thoughts and posing a question to another developer can often help solve the problem.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

In my current role, I help build out local development environments using Vagrant and Docker containers. Working in a more devops-related role and completing the project with only one co-worker is difficult. A lot of problems surface and we are responsible for solving them. When I run into a problem, I Google the question first, which often leads to browsing Stack Overflow. If that doesn’t provide the answers I’m looking for, I will reach out to a co-worker. Stepping out of my own thoughts and posing a question to another developer can often help solve the problem, or allows me to gain more information that leads to a solution.

 

Vail Systems, Inc. team in group photo

Vail Systems, Inc. is a telephone software provider that gives companies tools they can leverage to better communicate with their customers. Software Engineer Jingjing (Angela) Huang said she enjoys working with her team on their current app-based project because it allows them to use a wide variety of new tools.

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

I graduated from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics. The summer before completing my degree, I interned with Vail Systems and was then offered a full-time position as a software engineer after graduation. 

I enjoy working on Prosodica because our team is constantly adopting new technologies.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

Since my internship, I have been working on Vail’s Prosodica team. Prosodica is a speech analytics web application that helps call centers create better customer experiences by analyzing what’s spoken and how it’s said to create a more engaging conversation. I enjoy working on Prosodica because our team is constantly adopting new technologies like GraphQL and React Hooks. When I hit a snag on projects I always rely on my team members; when we discuss things as a group, we always find a better solution than we would on our own.

 

CSG engineers chatting

CSG provides clients with tools designed to monetize their solutions, enhance their customer experiences and manage revenue. Senior Software Engineer Kate Skokin said keeping a cool head and not letting frustration take over when things get challenging is a major part of being successful through a project.

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

From a young age, I have had a passion for working with technology. In college, I double-majored in computer science and operations and information management at Northern Illinois University. Although I started my career in the industry, I quickly broke into consulting to utilize my technical and programming skills, as well as my soft skills and passion for leadership. After spending around four years in consulting, I made the decision to take on a senior software engineer role here at CSG. Aside from my technical degrees, I am also a Microsoft Certified Professional, as well as a Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Master.

The most important part of working through a problem on a difficult project is keeping a positive outlook.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

My favorite and most difficult project to date was a web application I created while I was working in consulting. I had complete autonomy over the technical design, implementation and deployment, which served as an incredible learning opportunity. During this project, I grew as a programmer and technical leader, and I learned about other factors that go into the success of a web application, such as: deployment, session management, scalability, unit testing and performance testing.

Perhaps the most important part of working through a problem on a difficult project is keeping a positive outlook and not allowing frustration to impede progress on resolving the issue. Although staying optimistic is difficult under the pressure of a deadline, staying positive and focused is key.

 

Sittercity staff in team photo

Sittercity connects busy parents in need of child care with qualified babysitters nationwide. Senior Software Engineer Jen Trudell said the skills she learned as a legal professional helped her succeed as a developer. 

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

I’m an ex-lawyer, which was quite helpful because I wrote and negotiated complex loan agreements and other contracts. Attention to detail was key, and that skill is definitely required to be a great programmer. When I decided to make a career change, I did a lot of self-study, attended dev bootcamp and networked like crazy. I continue to devote a significant amount of time to self-study, including reading books and taking online courses. 

When I decided to make a career change, I did a lot of self-study, attended dev bootcamp and networked like crazy.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

My favorite project at Sittercity has been migrating data from a legacy product into our main app. The work lets customers from the legacy product maintain important and useful information when they switch to Sittercity. I really enjoy working with databases and it’s been challenging, in a good way, to transform and test data that’s being moved from one app to another. 

When I get stuck, I usually turn to Google to see if someone has had a similar problem and there’s a way to solve it myself. If I can’t find a solution relatively quickly, I’ll ask for help from my co-workers. We’ve got a great team who is always willing to help out.

 

Women at BRD give cheers

BRD gives cryptocurrency traders a place to buy, sell, manage and exchange their digital dollars. Software Engineer Erin Bailey said collaboration and spending time with her dog helps her get a fresh perspective to better topple a difficult problem.

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

Getting into engineering was kind of a leap because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after high school — I just knew I wanted something challenging. So I attended Northern Arizona University and studied computer science and math. I didn’t even like math, but I somehow fell in love with it and my passion for tech fueled my desire to keep learning and growing in the field. When I started searching for a new job, I wanted to make sure the company aligned with something I could get excited about at its core. This led me to BRD, a crypto-wallet that combines my passion for technology, security and innovation.

When I started searching for a new job, I wanted to make sure the company aligned with something I could get excited about.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

I’ve worked on a lot of fulfilling and rewarding projects, but my favorite by far is my current role at BRD, helping to bring cryptocurrency to the masses in a secure way. I enjoy collaborating and sharing ideas with people that have different experiences, so when I am struggling on a project I often get a second set of eyes on things. I’ve also found that it’s beneficial for me to step away and clear my head. Yoga has been a really beneficial tactic, as has taking my dog Lemon out for a walk.

 

Venmo staff chatting in their cafeteria room

Venmo’s platform allows users to send and receive payments from other app users and make payments at partnered merchants. Senior Engineering Manager Emily Anderson said she recently enjoyed working on a major project that involved a partnership with a third-party company. 

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. How did you arrive at your current position?

Like many in the industry, I do not have a classic computer science background. My degree is in education and mathematics, so I taught for a while and then added a boot camp for the on-the-ground coding experience. From there, I did some backend freelancing and went onto a startup, Modest. We were acquired, I moved to Braintree as an engineering manager and then to Venmo where I have been an engineering manager turned senior engineering manager, and have been loving every bit of it for the past three years.

Making sure everyone is on the same page helps to build the camaraderie that will get you through any challenge.”

 

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and how do you push through roadblocks on tough projects?

I have a lot of favorites, but my most recent was the launch of a customer engagement partnership with a merchant and Venmo. The merchant announced the launch of a highly anticipated promotion and used Venmo to send customers surprise payments. It was a high profile project that allowed us to pilot a new offering that serves many types of use cases. 

Snags are bound to come up on every project, but the key to working with a team is communication, early and often. Making sure everyone is on the same page helps to build the camaraderie that will get you through any challenge.

 

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