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Spotlight 83: meet Senior Lead Designer Jess!

Happy Friday everyone! I hope everyone had a fantastic week and I hope that you’re reading for another wonderful story :-) It’s time to switch from backend development to UX/UI Design and Front End! Please meet Senior Lead Designer Jess as she shares her experience, her advice on learning to code and talks about her hero….(and I couldn’t agree with wit her more!). 

Name:  Jess Nolte-Cerchio
Job: Senior Lead Designer at Differential (UX/UI Design and Front End Development)
Favorite website, app or gadget: Agh, this is hard. Can I say more than one? I use AirBnB when I travel and love to create wish lists and just browse the site randomly. Venmo makes my friends and I’s lives much easier. Poncho (an adorable and fun cat themed weather app) is the first app I open every day. I was an early Spotify adopter and it is always open on my desktop, phone and Roku. And I love my Nest thermostat!
Favorite book: I’m currently reading “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” by Amy Morin, but my favorite genres are dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Hunger Games series… I love everything Tina Fey does and Bossypants is no exception. My list of books to read in the near future includes Bad Feminist, Hillbilly Elegy, Between the World and Me, and A Grief Observed. I’m trying to read more non-fiction.
Twitter:  @noltecerchio
Site:  http://www.jess-nc.com/

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I don’t remember my life without a computer – my family got a Macintosh Classic when I was a toddler in the early 90s, which I feel was fairly uncommon at the time so I was very lucky. Growing up and into high school, I was involved in fine arts but felt like something was a bit off. I disliked doing traditional projects like still lifes and
self portraits as I got bored and didn’t necessarily feel like I was solving a problem. I was also more drawn to working on projects where I could be very precise in my application of whatever medium I was using. My school didn’t offer any computer science or design options, so I would go home and mess around with HTML and CSS on the computer at night, as well as play games like SimCity, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon. When I started applying for college, I knew I wanted to keep art in my life but merge it with my love for computers, which is what led me to design school – where I decided I wanted to focus on digital product design and development upon graduation.

What does your working day look like?
Differential has a flexible work culture, so I go into the office 3 days a week and work from home the other 2 days. Generally, the days at home are days where I can be completely in head down mode. I have an office at home but will sometimes go to a coffee shop or brewery (some of the breweries in Cincinnati offer coffee and incredibly fast wifi during the day). I rarely have meetings on those days, though my coworkers and I are always connected via Slack.

The days in the office are when I collaborate (and socialize) with my coworkers the most. We try to have as few meetings as possible and to make the meetings we do have meaningful (so they’re normally pretty short – no more than an hour), but I like to be in person for them regardless. Our team also likes to do pair programming and group sketch sessions/whiteboarding, so those often take place in person. As a whole, though, the majority of my days and time are spent in Sketch, iTerm and Atom working on mock ups and code.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
After working for a couple of years in IT Consulting, I decided to foray into the startup world. I’m an entrepreneurial minded person, and I wanted to nurse that part of me while getting involved in Cincinnati’s ever-expanding tech scene. While the startup wasn’t necessarily a “project,” it was our own product – i.e. we weren’t working on someone else’s thing. It was the co-founders’ baby, so I saw myself as the product’s cool aunt (my actual title was UX/UI Design Lead). All that to say that the year I spent at the startup taught me a lot about ownership, collaboration, the art of wearing many hats, passion, and failure. And that’s pretty cool.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
I hate to do this because I know people are probably tired of me talking about him but Lin Manuel Miranda. I’m obviously currently obsessed with Hamilton the Musical. My friend and I listened to it for the first time back in July while on a cross country road trip and neither of us have stopped. I’m even traveling to San Francisco to see it this summer (thankful for friends who have ticket hook ups!). The fact that he wrote the play, the music, the lyrics, and performed in it blows my mind. His dedication truly manifested into something amazing. I find that inspirational. Not to mention I’m a Disney freak and am also super into Moana. Thank you, Lin.

Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
I love that there is always something else to learn. If I find myself becoming complacent, I can dive into something new and challenging. I enjoy solving tough problems, and in tech there’s never a shortage of things to sink your teeth into. Oh, and the ability to work from anywhere is a major plus!

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I have a BS in Digital Design. So… kind of? The course work was a pretty broad blend (coding, web and game design, animation, typography, digital photography, technical drawing…). The program I went through required 18 months of internships over the course of 5 years. Getting a year and a half of real world experience was definitely what taught me the most and prepared me to work in the professional world. It enabled me to clarify what I wanted (and didn’t want) to focus on post-graduation.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
That you can. I know that it can seem daunting (and to be honest, it kind of is sometimes), but I truly believe that you can do it! There are a lot of roles in the tech world – it’s not just coding (though I think that’s a great path to take). Business development, branding and more “traditional” design, UX/UI design, marketing, customer success, project management… many tech companies are in need of all of these things.

Extra question from LydiaDo you feel the Tech market in inclusive enough?
That’s a great question. In the US, there are currently slightly more women than men taking AP tests, getting bachelor’s degrees and working in the professional world. But when we look at the numbers for women in tech, that percentage gets more than halved (around 25% of the computing workforce). The percentage is even smaller for women of color (5% or less). So, the stats tell us that the market is not inclusive, yet there are varying opinions as to why. 

 

I think young girls are less encouraged than young boys to pursue computer-related or “tinkering” hobbies as kids. I struggled with math in high school and was told by multiple adults that anything math or science related was probably not for me. I realized later on that I simply learned differently than how I was being taught, and that I wasn’t actually bad at math. I’ve heard this story from many other women. We are generally more encouraged to go into nurturing or “people-person” professions. And while there is nothing wrong with those professions, I think the gender bias should be removed on both ends. For example, if a young woman is interested in computer science, don’t discourage her for any reason. If a young man is interested in nursing, don’t discourage him for any reason. Both are valid and needed and can be done well by women and men alike. 

 

When it comes to hiring, there are stereotypes and biases that prevent women from getting and/or keeping tech jobs – one of them being that women in tech are less competent than men in tech. I’ve seen these biases in my own professional life and I’ve heard about them from countless women. We hear a lot of “Wow, I’ve never met a woman who knows her stuff this well. You’re just like one of the guys!” or “Are you sure you want to pursue this career path? It’s hard and you probably want to start a family soon.” When it’s not commented, it’s being ignored in meetings even after saying that we have feedback we’d like to share or seeing someone else taking the credit for your work. This isn’t to say these are all biases perpetrated by men – there’s a lot of girl on girl crime in the tech world. It’s fairly common for one woman to rise to C level and then kick the ladder out from under her. It sucks, it can be exhausting, and it sometimes results in women leaving before they have the opportunity to advance. 

 

All that to say that no, it’s not inclusive enough – though I do think it’s slowly getting better. Things that will help it continue to get better:

  • computer science education opportunities need to be available to all children, whether that’s in their schools or in their community
  • girls should be encouraged to tinker, hack, and build with the same voracity as boys
  • girls should more often be asked what they’re learning opposed to what they’re wearing (this is a general comment that applies everywhere, not just tech – but I had to get it in)
  • colleges and work places should be welcoming places for women interested in tech or working in tech – put simply, don’t alienate women by making your place of learning or business a “boys’ club”
  • women should advocate for women – there’s room for all of us here