A nearly-done psychology degree. A public relations degree. High school years spent customizing Tumblr pages. Art school.
For the six women on this web design team from REDspace, a software company in Bedford, N.S., these were all stepping stones to a career in tech. They’re working on a new website for Techsploration, a non-profit helping women explore careers in science, engineering, tech and the trades.
Their stories show you can be anyone, with any background, and still manage to build a solid career, and a wicked web site, if you want to.
Even if — especially if — you don’t think you’re good enough at math.
Their stories also show that working in tech isn’t just about coding.
Rin Heimerle, Software Developer
Sometimes you do an english literature degree in New York before you wind up doing back-end web development in Nova Scotia, am I right?
That was the case for Rin Heimerle. She’s from New York but her partner is from Nova Scotia, and they moved to the province after she’d finished her lit degree. A friend of hers was doing a coding course at Nova Scotia Community College and suggested Heimerle might enjoy it. Two years later, in 2019, Heimerle graduated from NSCC herself, ready to begin a career in software development.
Why does she love coding so much? “I really like solving puzzles,” she says. She would have gotten into it sooner, she says, but she didn’t believe she was good enough in math.
She was wrong. (And at the risk of editorializing: if you’re a woman thinking you’re maybe not good enough at math, you’re probably wrong, too.)
Heimerle says she’s interested in making coding more accessible and inclusive and hopes she’ll be teaching at NSCC some day.
Mengjie Yang, Quality Assurance Specialist
“The fun part of my job is trying to break the software.”
You can pretty much hear the grin on Mengjie Yang’s face as she says that. She’s the team’s quality assurance specialist, which means she’s using carefully-built tests and procedures to unearth bugs in the code. She has to think of every which way something could go wrong on every possible platform and then dig in to see if it will.
“It’s a lot of attention to detail,” she says.
She graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Dalhousie in 2013. While she completed her coursework, which included a lot of programming, she did a number of work terms in various branches of her field: power, electronics and software. It was the latter that captured her heart and she’s five years into a quality assurance specialist career, rooting out and annihilating software bugs, first for IBM and now for REDspace.
“I think more girls are choosing computer science or choosing the IT field. This is a very good sign,” she says. “It’s a very good career.” She says she loves mentoring up-and-coming QA specialists and hopes she’ll run her own team some day.
Chloe Tyler, Junior Software Developer
Chloe Tyler spent much of her free time in high school teaching herself the coding skills to customize her Tumblr page.
“I would stay up all night long fiddling with it and playing with it, trying new things,” she says. “I would barely post on it, but I just loved trying to make my own site. I remember trying to make the coolest sidebar and importing my own fonts.”
She says it was really the creative side that drew her in: trying to make something look amazing and completely unique. But at the time, she didn’t see herself making a career out of it.
“I just thought I wasn’t good enough at math.” (Again, at the risk of editorializing: if you’re a woman thinking you’re maybe not good enough at math, you’re probably wrong.)
She went to the University of King’s College in Halifax for a year of English Literature before completing the Information Technology program at Nova Scotia Community College in 2019.
She began a software development internship at REDspace almost immediately after, and works remotely from Toronto. So far, it’s a fit, she says. “It’s so nice to be challenged every day.”
She’s really into the idea of using code as a visual arts medium, something she thinks we’ll be seeing more of as young creatives like her pick up coding skills. Her advice? “Don’t ever count yourself out.”
Jocelyn Stretton, Web Team Lead
Jocelyn Stretton is completely self-taught. But get this: she taught herself to code before there were sites like Linda.com to guide her through it. She taught herself in the late 1990s, in the Netscape era, after dropping out of a psychology program in Toronto, 1.5 credits short of a degree.
“Suddenly I had all this time on my hands,” she says.
She was working at Starbucks, “without a game plan,” when she started learning, first teaching herself graphic design, choosing things she liked on paper and then trying to replicate them on the computer screen.
The particular Starbucks she worked at happened to be right across from the Much Music and City TV buildings in Toronto, an area in which a lot of hip emerging businesses were setting up shop. She wound up getting a coffee for someone who took a chance on her and now she’s a full-on web developer with a suite of design skills.
Stretton says the best thing about her job is that it’s always changing.
“It’s growing so much as a discipline and as a craft. You never get bored, you’re always learning.”
Alex Garnett, Web Designer
Alex Garnett had no idea her graphic design degree at the British Columbia Institute of Technology would ever land her a job in tech. “During my program, we had a section on web design and I never even thought of that as something you could do,” she says.
She figured going to post-secondary school for the arts was a risk — it was certainly how her classmates in high school viewed the arts, she says. But she got her job at REDspace almost immediately after she graduated in 2016 and so far, she’s really enjoying her work designing the look and layout of REDspace’s projects.
“A lot of it is functionality and user experience,” she says. “It’s a lot of empathy and putting myself in users’ shoes. There’s a lot of psychology in there.”
Her advice to young women curious about a similar career? “Don’t shy away from the arts.”
Karen Bell, Senior Project Manager
Karen Bell jokes that she “leaves the coding up to the smart people,” but, like, she’s the one keeping track of every last tiny detail while somehow keeping the grand vision in mind. She has to make sure everyone from the client to the back-end developers know what’s happening and why, while keeping the budget for both time and money on track.
She’s also an example of all the different skills needed to work in tech — it’s not just about coding.
Bell got into the field with a public relations degree, which she finished in 1992. She started working at Bristol Group and eventually wound up at HB Games, a Lunenburg-based video game studio, as a project manager before joining the REDspace team.
“Keep your eye on the prize and don’t take no for an answer,” she says.