Dee Teal is an enterprise project manager, occasional web developer, community organiser, trainer, blogger and all-around WordPress enthusiast. Code Like a Girl chatted with her about freelancing as a woman in tech and finding strength in the global open source WordPress community.
You can find Dee working as a project manager leading a team of seven developers at Human Made, after transitioning from freelance web development recently.
She considers it vitally important to keep giving back to the network that helped her grow and she works hard to give others the same supportive experience that she had. She’s grateful that the company she now works for actively supports these efforts.
Dee’s journey shows that it’s possible and really rewarding to work remotely while still being a big part of a community related to your industry. She demonstrates the possibility of taking hold of your own destiny as a woman in tech in Australia. We chatted with her about how she makes it all work and what it's been like so far.
CLG: Hi Dee! To start with: how did you get into programming?
DT: I had shown an aptitude for it in school, but that was before the tech industry was anything like it is now, so I wasn’t encouraged. I circled back to it initially by having to edit HTML emails for a boss I was working for… I learned in that experience that it was something I was good at, and it was challenging and interesting so I pursued it.
What is your current work situation and what do you do in your everyday job?
Lately, I’ve transitioned out of ‘hands on’ programming into Project Management. I work remotely for a digital agency (Human Made) working on projects for enterprise clients, many in media and banking. I’m currently leading a team of seven developers building a custom CMS and newsroom management system for a news publisher.
Are you involved with the developer community outside of your job?
Yes! It’s one of the best things about what I’m doing. I am supported by my employer to contribute to and participate in the WordPress community, which usually means going to meetups, and travelling to WordCamps (conferences) but I’m also interested in other open source initiatives.
What’s the job market like for developers in Melbourne?
Companies seem to be looking more closely at their diversity and making more of an effort to hire minority representatives. I wish things were easier, but it seems there’s no magic wand to change culture, and I believe that it can be hard here in Australia where gender lines are often more pronounced than in other places.
I’m encouraged by the extent to which people are talking about gender diversity and working hard towards better representation of (and experience in) the market for women, driven by both men and women in the workforce. I think the going is slow, but there are improvements. I hope that before long we see a tipping point where the speed of change picks up its pace.
Did you find it difficult to enter the tech industry as a woman?
This is a difficult question to answer as a lot of what I've I done or am doing I fell in to or has come about because I’m fairly forward, confident and well connected. I realise that not everyone has the same privilege or the same smooth path.
As I’ve freelanced for most of my tech career, all of my work has been on my own terms. This has had its benefits and its challenges. I think the benefits were that I was shielded by a lot of the kinds of problems other women have documented because I work at home on my own and can pick and choose who I work for and what I do.
Working in an office with a team may have other challenges where there’s direct competition for work and attention and to be taken seriously as a woman. I would love to see this change, especially given how much of the early pioneers of tech were women.
This may sound like an advertisement for freelancing so for balance, some of the downsides have been that working solo can be lonely and it’s harder to get sharper and more skilled if you’re always relying on yourself to go chasing new skills. Working in a team environment makes that easier.
Also, freelancing means having to run a business alongside writing the code. Growing a business takes time and more business acumen than I was prepared for. That said, I’ve found the WordPress community to be largely respectful and appreciative of my skills.
What would you like to tell the women who want to start programming?
If tech and programming is something you love, don’t let anyone else talk you out of getting in there and doing it. It will be hard, especially because as a woman in a male-dominated industry it can be difficult to be taken seriously, but put your head down and pursue it. We can’t expect the numbers to turn in our favour if we don’t show up.
Secondly, get connected. It is a difficult field to navigate alone and there are strong networks available out there for support so tap into those, and be that support for other women around you. We’re in this together. We need to be together in this.
Lastly, speak up. If you see something, say something. I know this is really hard. Really hard! It’s risky: from simply drawing attention to issues to whistleblowing, we really do take a risk in raising awareness of where things need to change, but unless we do… nothing will change.
What do you think about James D'Amore's Google Manifesto?
I was dismayed by it, but not wholly surprised. For a whole host of reasons, some of the toxic the attitudes behind the manifesto and behind this society we live in are being exposed, not just in tech but in entertainment, government and in a lot of the industries that have been hugely male-dominated.
I honestly think that it's a good thing because exposing it to the light means we can actually see it for what it is and do something about it. Resist, stand up, and speak up. I’m seeing more people do that, and while it’s really uncomfortable, I think some of the heroes of our children’s future will be those who did.
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Dee. One last thing: who are your role-models?
I actually take inspiration from all the women out there who have seen a space for themselves in tech and in spite of the resistance are just getting out there and doing it. I’ve got a special fondness for those who are at home building tech businesses from their living rooms while the kids are sleeping.
I think if you want to look up some women who are passionately improving not only gender diversity but the whole spectrum of diversity in tech, start by following Meri Williams, the CTO of Moo. She has a lot to say and I’ve loved what I’ve heard. I am also about to dive into Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg as I’ve followed her with interest for a long while. Can’t wait to read the book!
Interviewed by Nina Mujdzic