Women in code series: Jane Silber of Diffblue

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 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.

Jane Silber, executive chair at Diffblue

Diffblue CEO Professor Daniel Kroening is the inventor of CBMC, a now open sourced framework for interpreting the meaning of code, which is now included in the kernel for the Linux operating system.

CW: Why did you decide to start a career in coding?

Jane Silber: I got into coding somewhat accidentally when I tried coding for the first time in high-school. That’s when I discovered I loved the creativity and problem-solving that comes with writing code. I decided to continue in the field throughout university before kick-starting my career as a developer at a startup in the US.

Following my first developer role, I continued my studies at graduate school before moving to Japan to work as a developer. When I came back to the US, I joined a software company in Virginia where I stayed for 8-years. During this time my role evolved from being a developer to eventually running and selling the company. This gave me the skills to delve into other management roles such as being on the board of the Sensible Code Company and most recently, CEO of Canonical.

Last year, I joined Diffblue — a spin out of the University of Oxford founded in 2016 — which is an AI for coding platform that is changing the way code is developed, it’s an exciting place to work! By generating an infinite number of unit tests for Java code, Diffblue removes the ‘grunt work’ for developers and enables them to be more creative and ambitious… and ultimately solve the problems their code is trying to fix, more quickly.

CW: What were the biggest challenges in your career?

JS: I have experienced a number of challenges during their career, from dealing with difficult managers to being stuck in roles with limited progression. I believe the key to dealing with these challenges is to figure out when obstacles can be addressed and overcome but also fundamentally, realising when it’s time to move on. I have been fortunate to find many opportunities for my personal career development, and have been given all kinds of different roles, allowing me to stretch myself and consistently feel challenged at work.

However, large changes in my life, such as moving countries (from US to Japan) or to different domains (healthcare, defence, IT infrastructure, developer tools) have also played a key role in reinvigorating me throughout. Navigating these challenges hasn’t always been easy but it’s been educational, interesting and very rewarding.

CW: Why did you decide to move to Diffblue?

JS: My move to Diffblue stemmed from the belief that the company and its technology had the ability to make a truly significant difference to software developers’ lives. For me, the company, which was founded by a leading professor from Oxford University, differentiated itself from other start-ups by using AI in a completely different way by automating the writing of code for unit testing.

Despite it being a highly critical part of product development, unit testing is often considered too time consuming and strenuous. In fact, software developers spend between 30% and 40% of their time writing test code instead of creating new product features.

As such, I was excited by the prospect that I can help build something that will automate the writing of test code and genuinely make a difference in the life of software developers. This gave me confidence that the company had spotted a key opportunity in the market that hasn’t been addressed with existing technology.

By giving developers the freedom to pursue their creativity and passion for problem-solving, this technology can help accelerate software development without compromising on the quality of the code.

< class="wp-caption-text">Silber: I want to make a difference… to unit testing… and then world peace too.


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