The Creators Series: Women in Tech - Judy Hamilton
It’s needless to say that computers are a necessity and popular tool used for many communication outlets. It’s also becoming important to understand the language behind web development now and will continue to become an essential skill.
For the second post in the ‘Women in Tech’ feature, we are highlighting Judy Hamilton. Here’s Judy’s story on how she worked in technology before the hype, her thoughts on gender roles in the tech industry, and how she used her extensive experience in computer systems technology and data communication programming to create her own company, TerraTap Technologies Inc.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Computer Systems Technology graduate from BCIT who took the bold step of specializing in data communication programming over 20 years ago when it was really in it’s infancy. This was before common email, websites, and Google and certainly before mobile. After BCIT, I worked at several leading edge startups specializing in UNIX systems development but finally ended up at a large engineering corporation designing global TCP/IP networks - a dream job for a DataComm grad. However, it didn’t take long for a mentor to recognize my management skills and with his encouragement and help, I quickly progressed to senior management. It has been an amazing experience being involved in technology development over the last 20 years and being part of one of the most extraordinary shifts in human communication since the development of the printing press.
2. What is TerraTap Technologies and what gave you the inspiration to start it?
I was the Director of IT, the senior technology position, and many would say that I had made it. But something was missing. Then, Apple released their first iPhone. I took one look at it and realized “this changes everything” and I wanted in. So I quit, enrolled at Douglas College’s Self Employment Program and started TerraTap Technologies Inc. The learning process you go through as a startup is almost indescribable, but at the same time, the thrill of pushing the limits everyday was exactly what I had been missing. We are now a team of six, with a gender diversity ratio of 50:50, and have released our flagship product neartuit.com, which is a SaaS content management system for creating and managing mobile content via iBeacons for museum and gallery curators. Our free app automatically displays fresh, personalized content directly on visitor-owned smartphones as they move through the exhibits, letting visitors create their own experience by choosing their own path at their own pace.
3. What has given you the greatest satisfaction as a result from TerraTap Technologies?
The journey, and roller coaster ride, that starting your own company puts you through is intense. The pivots, the failures, the financial terror, all make the taste of finally achieving success that much sweeter, and is very satisfying! However, I think my greatest satisfaction has actually come from giving back. I have been a guest speaker at events and graduations, mentored at startup events, and am now actually mentoring other women. I’m now providing the same support and encouragement that was shown to me by numerous people on my journey.
4. Have you faced any challenges or barriers working in technology based on your gender?
Choosing the field of data communications placed me right in the middle of the gender gap from the start as 99% of those I trained with and worked with were male. I was, more often than not, one of only a handful of women at technology events with hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of participants. The challenges that I faced though, rarely came from my peers. The misconceptions, oversights, and sometimes complete catastrophes, I experienced as a woman in tech always came from the suppliers and manufacturers that had gathered us all together for the events. I was always vocal with them about it and they were generally apologetic but, honestly, I still see it happening.5. Have you seen any differences/improvements in women's involvement in the tech industry?
Unfortunately, I have seen a huge decline in the number of women in most areas of technology, especially over the last 10 years. However, on an up-note, in the last three or so, I have seen the incredible growth of organizations trying to understand and rectify this issue. One of the areas I have seen the most promise in is getting women and girls interested in coding. It's important to note though, with my own experience as an example, good mentoring is needed to support and guide them through the process to really make a long lasting difference.
6. Why should everyone learn the basics of coding?
Coding is just learning to use a logical process to solve problems. Whether you decide to become a developer or not, it is a valuable skill to learn. But, I see an even more important reason to learn. It’s hard to think of an industry that is not touched by computers today. This means that chances are, whatever you choose to do, there will be developers involved at some point. The ability to be able to successfully communicate your needs to them has always been a path to success. With computers being a necessity for pretty much every industry now, being able to properly communicate with, and understand, the language of development will be an essential tool for anyone today and in the future.
7. What do you think is the biggest misconception about coding?
I think the biggest misconception about coding is that it is not creative. I still hear so many people say, “oh, that looks fun, but I’m more of a creative person”. I think there are two reasons for this misconception. One, coding obviously still has a bit of an identity crisis. The visual of Mark Zuckerberg is still the first things that come to peoples’ minds when they think of coders. However, there is really no standard visual of a coder anymore. You honestly could not pick out who is the coder, who is a musician, or who is an artist in a room. Two, the creative level of coding doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn the basics of logic structure and syntax before you can become a really creative coder. But, traditional creative arts are the same. It takes time to learn the techniques, tools and materials needed to become a really great painter. It takes time to learn proper grammar and the methods of good storytelling before you can become a great writer.8. Do you have any advice for aspiring coders/young women wanting to get involved in tech?
First off, don’t be intimidated. As I said earlier, the support and acceptance I received from my peers was very strong, especially in school. I think a huge part of this was due to an introductory course I took before I started at BCIT that was part prep and part self-discovery. What this did was take the edge off that first day and help me realize all of the other strengths I had that would make me valuable to a team. Being able to easily say you can write really well, or you’re really organized, gives you confidence to jump in. In the workplace, find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be someone in the company you’re working for - just someone in the industry who you respect. You might think it’s hard to find one, but many of us are more than happy to give back. Just be clear about your expectations. Finally, get involved. I wish when I was starting out that I’d had access to the amazing meet-ups, hackathons, and code jams that there are today! Be brave and join one.
9. Anything else that we missed and that you would like to share?
Although I chose not to follow a pure coding path early on in my career, my training and experience has never failed to benefit my effectiveness. The teams I have both worked with and managed have always included developers and my ability to effectively and efficiently communicate with them can be directly attributed to this experience. So even if you don’t end up being a coder, the knowledge you gain will never be wasted.
10. How is coding/technology involved with your creative process?
My role at TerraTap is focused on strategy and business development, so I am in constant contact with our customers and partners who are a continual source of development ideas. It’s my extensive background in coding and technology that not only helps me easily communicate what customers are asking for to our developers, but also allows me to direct our customers towards new ideas and concepts that our team is constantly investigating together. Because I am a technologist, this is a much more efficient process, and we are able to maintain our image of an agile, creative company that our customers and partners enjoy working with.