Women in Tech: Jenn Creighton

Women in Tech: Jenn Creighton

I would say, there are times when you are going to feel like you are making zero progress. Where you feel you’re actually going backwards. But you are taking in a lot of information and things are changing. Write down everything you know now. You’ll see, you know much more than you think you do.

— Jenn Creighton


I interview leading women developers every week and showcase their history, opinions, and advice on the tech. In case you missed our previous interviews, check out the "She Inspires" series on Hashnode.
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Today, we will be interviewing Jenn Creighton 👩‍💻 .

Jenn is a frontend architect and conference speaker. She lives in New York with her two cats and maintains a Home for Abandoned Succulents, Mismanaged Plants and Otherwise Ailing Flora.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you venture into tech?

Jenn: Hi! I'm Jenn Creighton and I'm a Frontend Architect at The Wing. I transitioned into tech about 8 years ago, when I start re-teaching myself HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I had tinkered with those technologies when I was younger, like 14 years old, but didn't think much of making a career from it. So I built little websites and blogs and "borrowed" my dad's credit card to buy my first .com (sorry, Dad). Many, many years later, I started going back to the fundamentals and realized I wanted to do this programming thing for a job. I'm very proud to be a self-taught engineer.

Can you briefly tell us about your job title?

Jenn: About six months ago, I joined The Wing as a Frontend Architect. And for me, being in this role with a small product team means the day-to-day is never the same. At a high-level, what I'm tasked with is the health of our frontend codebase and creating a vision for the future of that codebase. Some days, I'm dedicated to an individual team to help spin up a project, ensuring the early architectural decisions feel right. Other days, like today, I'm working on re-working our test framework and documentation. I also spend a good deal of time pairing with fellow engineers on problems they're solving or running our Frontend Guild where we share knowledge and build consensus on technical decisions.

What difficulties have you faced on your way in tech? Have you ever felt like you were not treated as equal?

Jenn: First of all, getting into tech without a degree... it's hard. I sort of lucked into it. So if you are going through that now, trying to break into tech, I understand and keep your chin up -- you're going to make it happen. And then once you're in, it's easier to get your second job. Easier to get your third job and so on. It gets easier each time. But what is difficult (and I'm sorry but it stays difficult) is proving your worth over and over again. You are questioned about your abilities all the time. You are diminished often. You'll get job offers but you'll also be told, "Well, we couldn't consider you for the senior role."

If there’s a bias women face, why do you think it is still there, in the 21st century? What are some things people and organizations could do to change this?

Jenn: I think it's still here because it's been the norm for a long, long time. It's a bias that's coded into our surroundings. Organizations need to recognize that and actively pursue more voices (gender, race, backgrounds, and more) and EMPOWER those voices to speak up when the product, the application, the whatever is being built enforces biases.

You maintain a Home for Abandoned Succulents, Mismanaged Plants and Otherwise Ailing Flora. Can you briefly explain what you do here and what motivated you??

Jenn: Oh, hah! That's a small garden of succulents I take care of. We received these tiny succulents at work and most people forgot about them, so I started collecting the abandoned ones and caring for them.

You currently work as a frontend architect and conference speaker, how long did it take you to arrive here and what significant difficulties did you face along the way?

Jenn: Well, it took 8 years to become an architect. Conference speaking, I started 2 years ago. That's when I started officially submitted to CFPs but I wanted to do it earlier. I attended Write/Speak/Code where I learned the skills to write an abstract and dream up talk ideas. But I felt very insecure at the time. I was at a company that didn’t value me and it was difficult to think I then had anything to say to, you know, other engineers. Try standing up in front of 30 - 100 people to talk about something technical when you keep being dismissed at work as “not technical enough.” What really changed is I started working where I felt I was valued and that translated to me saying “This is the time to try out public speaking, let’s do it.”

We see that you work predominately in Front-end development, how did you decide to focus on this path?

Jenn: Frontend interested me because I’m visually-oriented. If you ever see one of my talks, I need them to look perfect and I get a real thrill out of taking a designer’s work and making it a reality. Also, frontend satisfies a lot of curiosity for me. I’m very, very curious and there is so much to explore and learn about frontend. It’s changed dramatically since I started 8 years ago. We’re in a completely different landscape, so I’m learning all the time.

What advice do you have for a newbie or intermediate who dreams to work as a Front-end Engineer?

Jenn: I would say, there are times when you are going to feel like you are making zero progress. Where you feel you’re actually going backwards. But you are taking in a lot of information and things are changing. Write down everything you know now. You’ll see, you know much more than you think you do.

How long have you been in tech and what word will describe your experience so far?

Jenn: 8 years. Metamorphosis.

You are passionate about building communities and currently organizing useReactNYC, why's this and what's your motivation?

Jenn: I’m super into React. Like a lot. So when me and some other lovely people formed useReactNYC our focus was creating a safe, inclusive space for other engineers that love React or want to learn about React or to meet people in the community. We’re also focused on providing content outside React - we recently hosted Rich Harris of Svelte - because we’re also part of a larger ecosystem. Inclusive means we also value outside perspectives.

We see that you speak and teach at software conferences, how did you get into public speaking and how has it affected your career?

Jenn: I’ve already written about how I got into it so I’ll answer the how it’s impacted my career part. First, I’ve met the most amazing people, made the coolest friends, etc. by speaking at conferences. Second, it’s been easier to interview. Public speaking is a skill, and being able to present on a technical concept well is valued by employers.

What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to speaking at meetups and/ or conferences?

Jenn: Reach out to people who speak often and ask them to critique your abstracts. I had some lovely people help me out in the early stages of writing abstracts and it made a huge difference (also, I’ve got open DMs on Twitter if you want me to be that person.)

What do you think needs to be done to encourage beginner developers to learn programming languages and continue learning?

Jenn: Less judgement. From your peers, from those more advanced in the field, from yourself. No one should look down on your because of what you don’t know.

Imposter syndrome is one problem developers face especially newbies, what is your experience with imposter syndrome, how did you manage yours and what advice do you have for anyone facing this currently?

Jenn: My advice here is always:

  • This is normal and you are not alone and
  • It…never goes away. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. It’ll diminish over time but it never fully goes away. Now that I’ve been in this career longer, I sometimes feel it around not knowing something. I think that’s the trigger for a lot of engineers. When that happens, I try to reframe it as “You get to learn something new! How awesome is that? The sky is the limit!”

Rejection emails is another thing that motivates imposter syndrome and depression amongst developers especially intermediates. How did you manage this effectively during your "job-hunting" days?

Jenn: This is something I’ve struggled with. Rejection hurts. And it hurts more when you thought you did a good job. But remember that hiring in tech is non-deterministic. You can perform super well and still be rejected. You can perform not-so-well and get an offer. Understand that interviewing in tech is broken. It doesn’t create equal outcomes. Interview as well as you can — that’s the part of this that’s under your control.

What advice would you give to aspiring programmers who look forward to working for companies like Google or Facebook?

Jenn: Don’t ignore the value in small startups and companies. I’ve never worked for a big tech company!

Which of your projects are you most proud of? Can you briefly introduce us to it and why you built it?

Jenn: Personal: My Tamagotchi game! I built it in JavaScript and it’s not finished…yet. But I’m proud of it because it uses generators for the animations! At the time, I wanted to build something fun and nostalgic so I chose a Tamagotchi game. I loved that toy growing up. But I had trouble with the animations. Around the same time, I was also trying to understand generators. And one day, I realized I could solve the animation problem with generators! I’ve since turned this coding adventure into a talk, which I’ve given around the world (JSConf Hawaii, JSConf Korea + others). You can watch it here:

What is the best advice someone has given you that has helped you in your career?

Jenn: Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is how to prep for asking technical questions. That is, what steps to take before you ask the question and how to present it so you give as much context to the person you’re asking. A lot of talking technical — when you need to debug something or aren’t sure how something is working — can frustrate both parties so there are steps you can take as the askee to start the conversation off right. As an example with debugging, do some research (Google is your friend) and try out various fixes. Make sure you document what you tried and what it resulted in. Make sure you are stuck before asking someone else to help. Write down the exact steps to recreate the issue. Make sure you provide that plus your debugging attempts to whoever is helping you — it’ll go a long way!

What are your favorite programming tools?

Jenn: VSCode, React Devtools

Finally, what would be your message to women trying to get into technology?

Jenn: Build a supportive network and use that network. You’ll want a safe space to vent, to ask for advice, etc. Also, CELEBRATE YOUR WINS! Do not forget to look at how far you’ve come and take some time to feel GOOD.

Thanks for taking out time to read this interview. 👋

This series is all about talking to the awesome women in tech, understanding the current health of the tech industry and inspiring other women to become better. If you want to share your story, please reach out to me on Hashnode.

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See you next time and keep trailblazing 💙💙