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How a young developer cut her teeth in coding

Xenia Kim’s knack for solving problems and fixing software bugs eventually landed her a career in software development

When Xenia Kim was pursuing a diploma in 3D animation at Singapore’s Temasek Polytechnic, little did she know that the knowledge she picked up in web programming and databases would pave the way for her career in enterprise software development.

Kim, a developer at backup and cyber protection software supplier Acronis, is part of a development team in Singapore that builds capabilities used across Acronis products. Her job entails designing databases and implementing application programming interfaces (APIs), among other areas.

Although Kim is early in her career, she picked up valuable experience that landed her a job at Acronis. Before she enrolled in the DigiPen Institute of Technology, where she earned a degree in computer science and game design after completing her diploma programme, she worked full-time for 10 months at a digital agency that builds custom applications for clients.

“I was fixing bugs at first and that led to bigger projects like developing apps using visual programming,” said Kim. “I have knowledge in user interface and user experience design, so I was asked to code the apps.”

Software developers are often motivated by different goals, whether it is creating something useful for businesses and consumers, or the thrill of fixing problems. For Kim, who graduated from DigiPen in 2020, it is the latter: “I like to solve problems and come up with innovative solutions for different projects, and programming allows me to do this,” she said. “In school, if my friends can’t solve a problem, I’ll teach them how to fix it.”

Besides technical skills, software developers should also have good communications skills as software development is a team sport, particularly for organisations that embrace DevOps. While Kim is not part of a DevOps team, she said developers need to communicate with others and ask for help if they are lost.

“Some people are quite quiet, so they will try to figure things out and get by without asking people,” said Kim, who is well versed in programming languages such as Go, Python and Java. “You may not be a good coder, but you need to be a good communicator.”

As one of three women in her team of 14 developers, the gender gap in her team is evident, but Kim, a member of the Ladies in Cyber charter at the Association of Information Security Professionals, said she has not faced any discrimination at work. In fact, in some cases, she gets faster responses to her questions from co-workers than do others in her team.

Still, she acknowledges that some women may be put off by male-dominated development teams and that more can be done to grow the talent pool of women coders by introducing girls to programming at a young age. “Parents or schools can expose them to coding and see if they like it,” she said.

While some organisations have organised hackathons to promote coding among women, Kim does not think they are effective because “a lot of girls don’t even want to take the first step”, adding: “It’s more important to expose them to programming first because those who participate in hackathons already have the skills.”

For companies that are striving to improve gender diversity in their development teams, Kim said they could train women in other tech roles on activities such as software quality assurance, which tends to have a higher representation of women. “From there, they can progress into software development,” she said.

Asked about what it takes to succeed as a female developer, Kim said you should be open to criticism. “Sometimes when people say something about your code, you may take it personally and think that it’s because you are a woman, but that’s not the case as it’s really about the work,” she said.

Kim is now at a stage of her career where she has to decide if she wants to pursue a managerial role or continue with the specialist path as a developer. “We have to decide whether we want to be a specialist or a group leader, but I’m still undecided as I’ll get to code less as a manager,” she said.

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