women.code(be) Member Spotlight #3

Janique-ka John

Software Engineer

Community Founder Women in Tech Caribbean

For this month we had the pleasure to interview Janique-ka, who moved all the way from St. Vincent and Grenadines! She is a software engineer at MEDIAGENIX and founder of the Women in Tech Caribbean community.

You can find Janique-ka on Twitter and Instagram as @JaniquekaJohn

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?

My name is Janique-ka! I am from a country in the Caribbean called St. Vincent and Grenadines (Drink a glass of water right now if you’ve never heard of it), but I’ve been living in Belgium for almost 5 years! I did a bachelor in Computer Science in Barbados at the University of the West Indies, then my Masters in Applied Computer Science at the VUB in Brussels!

What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?

I’m a software engineer at MEDIAGENIX in Dilbeek. My typical workday consists of implementing requirements for the customer and fixing bugs. I work primarily on the flagship software of the company but also.. the unavoidable… meetings! Not only project meetings and standups, but also as an active member of our internal self-organising groups.

How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?

When I’m not working, I mostly watch Youtube or listen to all sorts of podcasts! I also pin way too perfect houses on Pinterest!

I also started a new habit as of January, which is to read before bed. I used to read A LOT when I wasn’t working, and now I feel like I’ve lost that. Trying to get it back!

What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech? 

Definitely my father. He made an impact in tech in my home country and I quite literally grew up around technology and computers. Some of my earliest memories involve clicking around on a computer while my father taught classes in the early 90s! A time when people just started realising the importance of computer literacy, and when computers were not yet in every home. He set up what he called an Internet Cafe in my home country, the first of his kind a concept came across when researching new services to add to his business, but without serving any pastries and coffee. Funny enough, similar setups by other companies became known as internet cafes in my country despite no one actually serving food! (We didn’t really have a strong café culture in my country which makes it even funnier :))

I remember showing my father websites I built using tools like Weebly and he would say that’s great, but learn how to do it with code! and would then point me to Microsoft FrontPage.

I have to say though, despite being so exposed and having such a love for technology, it still took a while before I felt like this was a field for me. Although I loved it, I kept resisting, and even applied and got accepted to do a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in Barbados. Just a few weeks after I got my acceptance letter, I stopped fighting. I contacted the University and asked if I could apply for a change to Information Technology, which after I started I even changed to a Bachelor’s of Computer Science. There I got my first formal training in languages like Javascript, Java an C++ and fell even more in love! 

Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?

Right now Suz Hinton (@noopkat) is sort of a personal hero. I follow her twitch streams on Sundays, and she gets very candid about her path to tech, her struggles and triumphs. I always leave the stream feeling so encouraged. She has influenced me a lot in terms of the importance of open-source, and thinking about accessibility.

Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow? (f.e. certain podcasts, newsletters,…)

Right now my biggest resource is the @codebookclub community on Discord. We meet on weekends to discuss an assigned chapter of a book. (I finished Book 1 of You Don’t Know JS Yet thanks to this book club). 

I also listen to the JSParty Podcast, and Software Engineering Daily

What tool or short-cut do you find indispensable when coding?

Option-shift-f, which formats everything for me. I sometimes feel like I cannot read the code properly if it isn’t formatted.

What skill or ability do you think a developer should have but is rarely talked about?

Communication. It is so extremely important yet often overlooked in favour of <insert technical skill here>. The fact remains that often as a developer you work as part of a team, and you need to be able to express your ideas clearly in order for the project to progress smoothly. It’s also how other developers learn and grow, which means a stronger team!

What made you join the women.code(be) meetups?

I was looking for a community to learn more, but also to meet other women out there who are in the field! I always feel so comfortable at the meet-ups I attend. It was really a no-brainer.

You recently spoke at the International Women’s Day celebrations at Google UK in London. What was that like?

It was truly an amazing experience! The best part about speaking there was knowing that everyone in the audience was a woman in tech like myself who probably would have had similar experiences!! Plus it was 80% developers!

You also founded the Women in Tech Caribbean community. What inspired you to do so?

Honestly it was out of need. A lot of people started sending me scholarships and events, even job opportunities for Women In Tech, and I found myself wishing there was a way to make sure that every single Caribbean Woman in Tech was aware of these opportunities.

After a while I decided since I couldn’t find an easy way to reach us all at once, that I would try to connect us all.

The Women in Tech Caribbean community is using Slack to bring members together. Out of curiosity – as a fellow community organizer – do you think it works well?

I think it takes quite some habit breaking for many people. A lot of members don’t actively use Slack so it takes some reminding or even explanation to get them on.

I chose Slack because it’s becoming such an important tool in remote work these days, and it’s a small advantage if they are already familiar with it

We now also have a Twitter to keep more in the forefront of people’s minds

How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?

Outreach. A lot of people have this misconception that when you start advertising opportunities to women and minorities in tech that it means you’ve lowered the bar. No. The fact is that the voices of women and minorities are often drowned out and they might not have even had a fighting chance at being considered in the first place. 

Think of a giant room, and you are looking down on it from the top. It’s filled with 70% orange balls, mostly on the left and 30% green balls mostly on the right. The balls can move on their own. There’s a door on the left hand side of the room only, and only balls that pass a certain criteria can pass through. Even if an equal number of orange balls and green balls match this criteria, I am certain you can see how the orange balls might get to the door before the green balls do. Worse, think about if there’s only space for 20 criteria matching balls outside this room. 

Now imagine if you place a door with the same criteria on the right hand side. Again think about the same 20-ball limit. I am sure you can see how a more balanced number of criteria matching balls can make it outside. This door on the other side is outreach to women and minorities. We did not change the criteria, but we still achieved diversity by increasing accessibility to the door. 

Aside from outreach, a lot of people in our community talk about the difficulty to stay in the field: less career opportunities, unsupportive colleagues or boss, sometimes even less pay than their male counterparts. How do you feel about this? Do you have any ideas on how we can level the playing field?

This question hits home because I made close friends with my FEW classmates from my Bachelors in Computer Science and not one of them is in Computer Science anymore. They finished their course and everything but eventually went down different paths

Retainment is so tricky because I think everyone handles tough situations differently. I can speak for myself. What I personally do is look for community. That’s how I ended up being a community member of women.code(be).

It keeps me going when I meet other amazing women thriving in the space! And for those that aren’t I try to uplift them, because there are times I need uplifting myself .. sounds corny but it’s like one giant group hug.

If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?

To believe in myself! I can think of several situations where I’ve doubted that I could do something, big or small, only for it to be a success later! Also, very important to remember that everyone’s path is different. 

By Eva

I'm Eva, a freelance web designer and front-end developer from Antwerp. Before I started focusing on design & code I studied philosophy and film studies, laying the foundation for why I like to combine both abstract and visual thinking. Outside of work I make illustrations and enjoy (web)comics, animation and gaming.