Ynote_hk / exploration Par Fanny Cheung

The day I knew I was a front-end developer

A sparkling candle on a dark blue background
Crédits : Cristian Escobar

This article was originally published in French on the KissKissBankBank tech blog. As I am a good procrastinator, I decided to translate it in English a year later. Happy reading!


There are times you can clearly remember. Those that left their mark on you and shaped your personality. For me, it was these three amazing days in San Francisco in 2014 when I attended, for the first time, an international tech conference.

My name is Fanny. I’m a web developer, mainly a front-end developer, at KissKissBankBank. I have been coding for almost 8 years.

One day, I found out that I belonged to the tech world. It’s amusing to think that, because, by then I’d already been coding for 4 years.

Dessin manga d'une femme avec une cape de l'imposteur

I started my engineering career writing HTML and CSS at Dailymotion, in the department that was in charge of the advertising and the event-focused landing pages. I learned on the job, with very talented developers. And after two years, I joined the front-end developers team. I was the only woman of this team.

In 2014, I was in the squad that worked on user experience through social networks. With two of my co-workers, Sébastien and Tristan, I had the great opportunity to attend the F8 conference that year.

From wonder to realisation

Welcome hall of 2014 F8 conference
2014 F8 conference, at breakfast, just before the first talks.

The F8, for someone who has never attended a tech conference, is like going to an amusement park. There are candy, sandwiches, drinks, music, and all kinds of stuff going on… People showing obscure technologies (I’m referring here to talks on performance and server infrastructure that I didn’t understand) or revolutionary ones (React was open-sourced the year before and they were explaining its origins). Enthusiastic speakers and others not so enthusiastic. Lots of goodies (I love goodies, especially t-shirts and stickers). But, mainly, it’s full of developers from all over the world and with different backgrounds.

I talked to many people at this conference. That’s when I realised I belonged there.

I love that world

I love coding. I love reading articles about new shiny technologies (hello Hype Driven Development?). About patterns that solve some issues but not others. About system architectures that have ended up bitter failures. On those tutorials teaching how to grow plants with their Arduino. On the incredible breakthrough in virtual reality. I love all this stuff and it’s natural for me to talk about it and to go into it.

Talking with people of this industry opened my eyes to my insatiable appetite for tech. I met enthusiastic people. Sometimes, they were beginners, but, oh so curious. Sometimes, they were experienced, with very good teaching skills. Everyone has their own story, funny or disappointing. In other words, they were people like me.

Fanny Cheung in front of the wall of fame of 2014 F8 conference
A wall full of all F8 attendees’ Facebook profile pictures. Sometimes, it’s the small things that make you happy :)

Recognition of my peers

At the F8, I talked, for the first time, without the beginner facade or the one of the junior newbie who just shows up in a team. Here, I was like everyone. A developer, curious and motivated. I asked questions, sometimes very basic, without wondering what people would think about me. And people answered without judging me. Sometimes, I even had something interesting to add to the discussion.

I almost tried out Google Glasses at this conference. I was chatting with a developer and he wanted to show me how revolutionary they were. Me, little Fanny with hardly any experience, incredible right? Unfortunately, their batteries ran out and I merely tasted their power through a Simpsons’ episode later after that.

Above all, what I felt at that time, it was the sense of being an active part of a community and contributing to it with my work, my passion and my skills.

Mansplaining

In every tech conference, as a woman, there is often this awkward moment, sometimes short, something awfully long, when someone speaks to you as if you were totally dumb (or as if you didn’t belong there).

This moment was very brief for me at the F8. I was on the Instagram stand — the social media recently joined Facebook — where one of their developers was explaining to me how he coded the mosaic he was presenting for the F8. Another developer, next to us, was half listening. I asked a question on how the pictures were fetched, clearly indicating that I had no idea at all of how the backend could work. The other developer, who was merely following the conversation, sniped at me:

“Maybe, you should learn some algorithmic.”

I remember how shocked I was by his totally inappropriate comment in the discussion. The developer I was talking to ignored him and kept going with his explanation. The other one went away.

I clearly knew that he shouldn’t have talked to me like this. That I was allowed to ask questions without being an idiot. Even if I was an idiot, I should be allowed to consider this information interesting and fascinating. Yes, I belonged there.

Randall Munroe comic on Time Travel Thesis
Crédits : Randall Munroe

I came back from this trip, full of ideas, motivation and self-confidence. I was brave enough to prepare an internal talk for my co-workers to report our journey. From that moment on, I knew I would be able to introduce myself everywhere as a web developer without any embarrassment — at tech conferences, job interviews or with other developers.

The real lesson to be learned

Actually, this wonder, this motivation, this confidence — I should have found it before. With my team, at meetups or by myself.

Attitudes, and especially my mindset at that time, shaped me so that I thought that I didn’t belong there.

I considered writing this article five years ago, when I came back from this trip. I’m only writing it now. There is no bad timing, just times where you are a little less afraid to go for it. I want to tell this story to all those, especially the women and the girls, who think they don’t belong in tech.

The female voice

To belong somewhere, above all, means to know why you are in this industry and at least, enjoy it. You don’t need to be the best or to be extra-skilled. Just to be curious enough to learn and ask questions. To be confident enough to teach the little that you learned.

I like to remind myself that I’m allowed and I have the legitimacy:

But, also:

Contributing and being a part of it as a woman

There are many caring places. Where you can meet beginners, professionals, people who are changing career paths, mentors. Where you can code with a complete peace of mind. Where you can learn to write a loop and build an hash. Where you can set up your project on a framework without having written a line of code before. Where you can have this wonder and this confidence that I had far too late. Nobody should have to go to San Francisco to know that she is a developer!

Women pair-programming next to a computer screen
Crédits : ITU Pictures

Today, I work in a team of approximately about fifteen developers — five of us are women. Diversity (and not only gender) is not only a matter of quota, but also a matter of personal contribution. Our differences make for richer experiences and we are in a field where our strength lies in collaboration.

I want more women in tech to help create a vibrant, more inspiring web, to make more sophisticated and wacky robots, to spread more open-minded and welcoming ways of thinking.

My current vision

I remember to be wary of biased speeches, of the tendency to mansplain, or worse — of workplace harassment.

I thoroughly support all initiatives that are set up for women in tech. I think about the words we have to learn and spread and to the caring behaviour we have to teach.

And I smile when I think of the day we’ll stop saying “women in tech”.


Among the nice actions for women in tech (in Paris): Women on Rails, Ladies of code, Duchess. And inclusive places like ParisRb which I praise for their code of conduct.

Special thanks to Sunny Ripert and Hinerangi Courtenay for the re-reading and their amazing support!