Women in coding series: Billie Simmons

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.

Billie Simmons

Back in 1995, women made up 37% of the computing workforce. Recent numbers from Girls Who Code and Accenture suggest that this number has dropped to 24%… and it’s predicted to fall to 22% by 2025 if nothing is done to diversify tech’s talent pipeline.

The Computer Weekly Developer Network got the chance to talk to Billie Simmons about her experiences working in coding environments and, equally, working to champion the cause of women in technology.

Simmons works as a technical associate at Barclays Techstars, a fintech accelerator and she is an alumnus of the London campus of Flatiron School, a global coding education platform.

Proficient in a number of coding languages, Simmons has specialised her work in Ruby, JavaScript, SQL, HTML 5/CSS 3 and PHP — she has experience with the following frameworks: Ruby on Rails, React, Redux, Sinatra and ActiveRecord.

CW: What was your standout experience in coding school?

Billie Simmons: There are so many that come to mind! Key moments include the first time I fixed a bug that had stumped me for the majority of the day and the dopamine rush that occurred when I finally fixed it, and when I circulated a small questionnaire about my app idea to a few LGBT groups and received hundreds of positive responses; really highlighting for me the power of coding and using it to help people.

CW: What skills did you learn from the course?

Billie: Beyond the core curriculum, you get a tonne of more general skills like getting used to encountering code you haven’t written and understanding it, how to fix bugs in your code, how to plan apps. Flatiron really sets you up to work both independently and in parts of dev teams in the workplace.

CW: Tell us about the app you are now building/working on as a result of the school. (We note that it exists to help transgender people access safe public services via a reviewing system).  

Billie: In the final module at Flatiron, you build an idea all the way to MVP in three weeks. My idea was an app that helps transgender people access safe services through a reviewing system, allowing you to essentially review any place where being transgender has affected your experience. The app still in early alpha but I’m hoping to have a beta version for the trans community to test in late 2019. The feedback from the LGBT community has been really encouraging and I hope to eventually launch it for everyone to benefit from.

CW: What programming tools, languages etc. have you learned?

Billie: We learn full stack development with Ruby and JavaScript as the core languages and Rails and React as the core frameworks at Flatiron. We also learn HTML/CSS. After the course, I’ve been teaching myself Node.JS as well as Solidity to help with projects I’m working on at Barclays Techstars.

CW: For you, what are the practicalities of, and creativity involved with, learning code?

Billie: I think a lot of people think coding isn’t creative, but to me it’s super creative! I liken it to trying to write a very efficient, beautiful poem — and then rewriting that poem again because you got the grammar wrong.

From a practicalities perspective, it’s the sort of career where you have to constantly be learning new things, so figuring out how you learn best should be your first priority.

CW: What doors it has opened?

Billie: It’s opened so many doors, in terms of jobs and my employability, but also how empowered I feel to build the apps I want to see in the world. It’s also introduced me to an amazing community of developers and tech enthusiasts that has been super welcoming.

CW: What does code fluency means mean to you?

Billie: Code fluency to me means a skillset that is flexible and transferable across industries; meaning I can use my skills for social good, which I’m already doing with Out in Tech and their Digital Corps. It also means I can work across a wide range of companies because every company is a tech company in 2019. At Barclays Techstars, I’m working with a diverse range of startups and helping them with their apps, dashboards and websites.

The Flatiron School was created to help those who haven’t been able to kick-start their career in STEM, to begin now. Once Billie received an Out in Tech scholarship (a not-for-profit uniting the LGBTQ+ tech community), she enrolled in Flatiron School’s signature 15-week Software Engineering Immersive at the London campus.

Since 2012, Flatiron School has provided over US$10 million in scholarships to expand access to coding education for those underrepresented in tech, including women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ and low-income students. Flatiron School online programs student body has been near or at gender parity since 2017.

As of 2017, the majority of students in Flatiron School’s online program are women.

< class="wp-caption-text">Billie Simmons: on a mission to code like poetry.



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