Women in Technology: My Life in Software Development at Drexel’s Goodwin College

Audrey Troutt talks about what her day is like in Software Development in the Higher Education industry.

by Audrey Troutt, SEAS ’07

My Day

I work at Goodwin College at Drexel University, heading up the software development team in IT. I am usually one of the first to arrive over there in the morning and I take advantage of the quiet mornings to review my emails and task list. I live by my to do list. During the day I check on the status of each of my projects. This includes projects like the Math Forum Problems of the Week , the Math Forum blogs , and projects for Goodwin College marketing like the content management system and new mobile website. Responsibility for these projects falls under my role as supervisor of software development for GIST. I manage these projects and make sure that things are getting done on time and that implementation decisions are made in line with our best practices. Often times I am also the developer responsible for implementing or configuring the software, other times I work with my colleagues and student programmers. There are about a dozen people in IT, half of which work in software development, systems and applications. I keep track of our projects on a wiki so that anyone can look there to find out what is planned and what has been done. If we are ready for a demo or need to brainstorm or make some decisions about a project I will set up a meeting with our internal customers. Over the years I have worked with employees from almost every part of the college, from part-time faculty to executives and the dean. I love that I have an opportunity to work with so many different people at Goodwin.

A lot of my time is spent programming. This week I am finishing up a new version of the Math Forum Problems of the Week app suite that includes important new features for teaching teachers how to effectively mentor students as they work on Math Forum problems. There is also a bug that I need to fix with our easy account setup wizard. When we learn about a bug like this I like to add an automated test for the software first so that when the code is changed in the future we can be confident that this problem hasn’t come back and everything still works the way we expect it to. We currently have 191 automated tests like this for the Math Forum store software, about 651 for all of the Math Forum apps together, and these are run each time a change is made to the code. That may sound like a lot of tests, but I actually wish we had a lot more! Programming takes time and concentration so I like to carve out a good chunk of my day without meetings or emails so that I can focus on it.

For lunch I used to go to the Drexel gym for some swimming, cycling or weights, but these days I head home to have lunch with my husband and five month old son, Felix. It’s nice to be only a few minutes away from home! I find it refreshing to get away from my desk for lunch and some fresh air–I come up with some of my best solutions when I take a step away from my computer.

Some days, like today, I need to do a deployment of a new version of an application. I have just wrapped up a new version of a custom application for event registration and I need to deploy it to one of our test servers so that it can be tested before I can demo it to my stakeholders at Goodwin. I always like to make sure that someone other than the person who made the changes to the software tests it. It is really hard to find errors in your own code–have you ever tried to copy edit your own writing and overlooked an an obvious typo? It’s the same with the software that you create. Our automated tests take care of things like obvious typos, but a fresh pair of eyes can also catch errors and also double check that what was implemented matches what was requested. My testers are all ready to go, so I take the most recent automated build of the software, move it over to the test server, update the database and start it up before I let them know that it is ready.

Every afternoon we have a stand up meeting over here with the tech staff. A stand up meeting is supposed to be a meeting where you are standing up so that you are not tempted to let the meeting drag on too long, but we actually sit down sometimes so maybe we should start calling it a “status meeting”. This meeting is really important because it gives us an opportunity to hear what everyone is working on. Sometimes if one of us is stuck on a problem this meeting is a convenient place to ask for help. It’s also a good way to check on the status of a task you are waiting for from someone else. We spend most of our time working alone, but we depend on each other to carry out different tasks and offer ideas and perspective on our work. After the meeting I might sit with someone to talk about a project. I really enjoy working with these guys!

My Background

So, I am not your traditional programmer. I didn’t study CS as an undergrad; I was actually a dual major in Physics and Music at a tiny innovative liberal arts college, New College of Florida. It took me two years of travel after that to figure out that I wanted to learn how software works. I went to the MCIT program at UPenn (graduated Dec ’07) to help me quickly build my skills and break in to software development. I was hired for my first fantastic job months before I even graduated. I think part of the reason I was so successful is that I aggressively sought out opportunities outside of my classes to get more experience programming. While at SEAS I networked my way over to the School of Education at UPenn where I found a willing collaborator in one of the faculty members and spent the summer building a web search tool she had envisioned. I even tried my hand at the PennVention competition. I was not always successful (as with PennVention—my project was an overly-ambitious failure), but I was hungry for experience and I was driven to create tools that people would actually use. I still am, and that is one of my secrets to success.

My Advice

For anyone out there who is interested in a similar career path, especially my fellow female geeks, I would recommend diving in to code and getting your hands dirty. Get as much experience as you can. Look for local, free events like hackathons , code camps and code retreats where developers get together for an intense weekend of coding for a good cause and good practice. You will learn more than any class at school, I guarantee it. Attend local tech user group meetings to learn about what people are actually doing and thinking about. There’s always free food and you might even get a job—it happens. For women, there are wonderful, very active local groups like Girl Develop It , Girl Geek Dinners  and Web Start Women that bring together women of all experience levels in the Philly tech community and provide friendly environment for asking questions and learning.

There is a vibrant, diverse and rapidly growing tech community in Philadelphia and they are actively looking for students to join the fun. They are trying to find you, mentor you, and get you started in a tech career, so don’t be shy!

Want to know more? Ask me on twitter @auditty

Technology Careers 101: A Whole World Beyond Google, Facebook, and Apple Awaits You

by Brandi Durkac

Social media, cloud computing, and mobile devices… oh my!  Just by reading this blog, you have already demonstrated expertise and interest in using social media (what a blog is), the cloud (where the blog sits in cyberspace), and mobile devices (most likely how you accessed the blog).  If you are an avid user of technology and are interested in exploring careers in the technology sector, you may have a great predisposition to thrive in the fast-paced, ever-changing, and potentially lucrative world of technology.

Although there are a myriad of opportunities for programmers and coders, you don’t need to be a computer science major to work at a technology company.  Nor do you need to limit your search to only brand-named giants like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple.  Some of the fastest-growing tech companies are not household names but are shaping emerging technologies in the cloud computing, biotechnology, solar energy, nanotechnology, software security, and social media.  Check out Forbes latest annual report on the 25 fastest-growing tech companies.

Helpful Tips:

1) Where to Start:  There are pros and cons to working in medium-to-large companies versus in smaller, start-up environments.  Industry-leading Silicon Valley companies like Google, Apple, Oracle, Cisco, Genentech, and Salesforce.com, as well as established goliaths like IBM, Dell, Microsoft, and Amazon.com, have formal college recruiting targeted towards undergraduates.  In addition to product development, some of these companies also offer internships in sales & business development, marketing, and customer support as a great way to get in the door.  These larger companies often provide excellent training programs and opportunities for lateral and upward mobility in the organization.  However, if an enormous corporate setting isn’t for you, there are also start-ups and smaller, fast-growing companies that are eager to find talented, motivated young people to help them build their company.  Emerging enterprise social software companies like Lithium Technologies, Jive Software, LivePerson, Mzinga, and Drupal offer exciting opportunities in a fun, more intimate work environments that may be better suited for you.

2) Getting in the Door:  There is no better way to get into technology companies than to use technology!  A great place to start is with the Penn alumni network on LinkedIn and QuakerNet.  See if you can find an alumnus/alumna working at these companies who would be willing to schedule an informational interview with you.  If they think you would be a good fit and can help you, the good news is that you may also help them.  Many companies offer referral bonuses to current employees that help recruit talented individuals to join the organization.  Do your homework ahead of time to learn about what the company does and what jobs might be available on these companies’ websites.

3) Finding Your Niche:  Remember that where you start is not likely where you will end up.  The goal is to get in the door at a company that is financially stable and can offer you room to grow.  The technology world is constantly changing – remember how quickly MySpace went from hot to not? – which will always present new and exciting opportunities for you.  The more exposure you can get to different departments and functions within the company, the better off you will be.  You will need to decide which side of the company you are better suited for:  internal-facing operations and product development or external-facing sales, marketing, and support.  I found sales to be a great first career for me to gain exposure to many departments in a company, to learn how companies make decisions, and to build a strong foundation of transferrable business skills that will be useful in any career, including working in higher education.

4) How To Learn More:    You may be wondering about the best way to start learning technology jargon and industry lingo.  I would recommend a combination of YouTube videos, industry publications, and helpful websites, such as Inc., Wired, Fast Company, and InfoWorld to bring you up to speed.  Salesforce.com has published several excellent YouTube videos on cloud computing, which provide an easy-to-understand definition of “the stack” – the hardware infrastructure, database servers, application servers, web servers, user interfaces, and application interfaces upon which any software application runs — and explain why most companies are moving towards cloud computing platforms.  100 Best Companies to Work For is another great resource to help focus your search.

The sky is the limit!  Reach for the clouds and you just may end up working in one.

About the author:  Brandi received a B.S. in Economics and Spanish from the University of Virginia.  She spent ten years working in Silicon Valley at Kana Software, Inc. and Salesforce.com, Inc. and is now completing her M.S.Ed. in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.