Women in code series: Cécile Tran

The Computer Weekly Developer Network and Open Source Insider team want to talk code and coding.

But more than that, we want to talk coding across the diversity spectrum… so let’s get the tough part out of the way and talk about the problem.

If all were fair and good in the world, it wouldn’t be an issue of needing to promote the interests of women who code — instead, it should and would be a question of promoting the interests of people who code, some of whom are women.

However, as we stand two decades after the millennium, there is still a gender imbalance in terms of people already working as software engineers and in terms of those going into the profession. So then, we’re going to talk about it and interview a selection of women who are driving forward in the industry.

Cécile Tran

Cécile Tran is a graduate software engineer working at Freetrade, a company that describes itself  as a ‘challenger stockbroker’ that has brought commission-free investing to the UK. The organisation is preparing to launch in Europe in early 2020.

CWDN: What inspired you to get into software development in the first place?

Tran: At a young age, I knew I wanted a career that was ever-changing and constantly challenged me to think outside of the box. I had taken a few basic programming courses in undergrad at EPF, an Engineering School in Sceaux, France. I loved the idea of being able to build and code my own games. After all, there aren’t many careers where you can say playing and building video games is advancing your technical skills. Upon realising how enjoyable coding and programming was, I decided to apply and attend CentraleSupélec, where I specialised in machine learning and robotics. While there I started to enjoy software development even more!

CWDN: When did you realise that this was going to be a full-blown career choice for you?

Tran: I started to realise software engineering was the right choice for me when I interned with Volkswagen’s ERL team in California. While interning I was able to build out and develop core tools for research purposes. As time went on, I was given even more responsibility and had the opportunity to build a mobile application that collected data to help develop a predictive algorithm. I was so excited by the idea that my work would contribute to something bigger and would eventually be used in Volkswagen cars globally. To me, this made the work more meaningful and exciting. I also realised that software engineering could give me the financial stability to work and live abroad, which not every job can provide.

CWDN: What languages, platforms and tools have you gravitated towards and why?

Tran: I’ve mostly been a full-stack developer leaning more towards front-end development. I’ve also developed Java EE applications on Unix based platforms. At Freetrade, I now work around more modern technologies/languages hosted with GCP, using Firebase functions and real-time database. The backend is written in TypeScript and our client apps are written in Swift (iOS) and Kotlin (Android). Currently, I’m leading the development around ISA subscriptions for Android. It’s been a great challenge and learning experience for me!

CWDN: How important do you think it is for us to have diversity (not just gender, but all forms) in software teams in terms of cultivating a collective mindset that is capable of solving diversified problems?

Tran: I believe diversity is a fundamental part of solving problems. Without a variety of diverse team members, skills and backgrounds, problems wouldn’t be solved and we wouldn’t be able to evolve our product offerings. The most enriching environments come with diversity!

CWDN: What has been your greatest software application development challenge and how have you overcome it?

Tran: One of the biggest challenges in my career was when I worked in a consulting firm with clients that used legacy infrastructure that was outdated and rigid. My team and I had to convince the client that despite the cost of the new tools, migrating to a new tech stack would benefit the business in the long-term. After numerous discussions, demos and proof of concept, we were able to change their minds about the major advancements new technology could have for their business.

CWDN: Are we on the road to a 50:50 gender balance in software engineering, or will there always be a mismatch?

Tran: I think we’re definitely on the way to better gender balance, but still a long way off from a 50:50 gender split. I don’t think we should fixate on the balance, instead, we should ensure that the same opportunities are available and can help a person, regardless of gender, grow and succeed in their career. As a female engineer, I can see that there’s still quite a lot of work to be done to change mentalities around women in the tech industry, especially in senior-level roles. While we still have a long way to go, I do think we’re starting to see a shift thanks to ambitious and hard-working women in this industry. I look forward to seeing what the next 5, 10 and 15 years will look like.

CWDN: What role can men take in terms of helping to promote women’s interests in the industry?

Tran: I believe there should be an ongoing effort from everyone to remain open-minded and inclusive in every work setting. This means considering women’s work as equal to their male counterparts, removing any gender-bias. As much as I would love to have more women mentors, I’ve never felt that my gender has prevented me from carrying out my projects or achieving my career goals.

CWDN: If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then what languages or methodologies separate the two (basic) sexes?
Tran: This is an interesting one. I don’t really think any of the languages or methodologies are specific for either gender. I view each language as a way to learn and master my programming skills. I think over the next few years we’ll see an even greater shift in women and men mastering a variety of languages.

CWDN: If you could give your 21-year old self one piece of advice for success, what would it be?

Tran: As I’m just a few years older now, I would simply tell my younger self to continue to be open to new challenges, learn as much as I can and be open to meeting amazing people through work. I’d like to remind myself to enjoy every success, overcome obstacles and save some time for myself.

Tran: It’s crucial to remain open-minded and inclusive in every work setting

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