Karen Howell Demands her Seat at the Table

You wake up around 8:30 a.m. to start your day. Before you even get out of bed, you’re checking emails from clients to make sure nothing urgent needs to be handled. Once you’ve showered, dressed, and eaten, you’re climbing into the car and heading to the office. As soon as you get settled, you look at the time on your laptop screen. It’s already 10:15 a.m. Now it’s time to make a to-do list of all your responsibilities for the day. You might have to update some code on a site and record a screen capture so your client can understand the changes you’ve made. Your phone vibrates. It’s time to go to a meeting. After that you have two back-to-back conference calls. Between all these meetings, you’re communicating with clients through various project management systems. It’s a good thing work ends at 5 p.m. However, learning doesn’t.  Later on tonight you’ll be attending a class for a new programming language. This is the everyday life of a web developer.

Originally from Los Angeles, Seattle-based web developer Karen Howell was eager to express her love for her profession. She is a freelance web developer, designer, and digital media strategist with a background in sales and management. This isn’t uncommon considering that the top majors developers have degrees in are computer and information sciences, visual and performing arts, and business, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some of her specialties include WordPress, Squarespace and ConvertKit. She leverages this expertise to work with small businesses to build their online presence. After a decade-long career in sales, she realized she needed more of a challenge. Sales didn’t allow her to be as creative as she would’ve liked to be. With her already-established online community through beauty blogging, she started dabbling with code by customizing her WordPress website templates. After talking to people she already knew in the web development field, she transitioned into web development and design.

When asked what the biggest challenge was a newcomer to the developing world, she said with a laugh, “Definitely JavaScript. I had a pretty good handle on HTML and CSS, but I didn’t feel like I was really getting somewhere until I got over that hump of JavaScript. I almost quit about three times.” Although she now has years under belt, she stressed that the learning never stops. The technology field is constantly evolving, so web developers have the challenge of keeping up with it. This fast-growing field also calls for curious minds who genuinely enjoy figuring out how to solve problems. “As a developer, you have to be willing to look at the bigger picture in order to break problems into smaller steps. In addition, you have to comfortable and confident enough to assert that you can offer your client the solutions they need,” Howell stresses.

The web development field can be especially challenging to navigate when you are working with people who don’t look like you. Karen offered some perspective on the disparities she has seen first-hand. She shared, “A lot of times I am the only female and the only black person in the room. Sometimes when I’m in a room full of men, especially older developers, there’s a bit of an ego problem.” She said she’s even had to endure being talked over during a presentation. Situations like this could easily make someone want to shrink back but Karen has a more positive outlook. “I think it’s important that I continue to show up. Just because we’re not there in high numbers doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be there.” The numbers are less than progressive. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60 percent of web developers are male. 77.4 percent of developers are white, while African-Americans make up around only 6 percent. When asked why the lack of diversity still exists in 2018, she pointed out the overall education gap. “It’s hard to learn how to get into the industry and who to speak to, especially when all communities don’t have the same resources.”

Despite the statistics, Karen encourages those interested in web development to take full advantage of all the free resources available online. The industry is becoming more accessible to all communities with groups such as Black Girls Code, Women Who Code, MotherCoders, and AllStarCode. Even Google has recognized the importance of inclusion, and now has a tech lab in their New York office for Black Girls Code. It is also important to note that this industry is booming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the growth rate for developers is 7.4 percent faster than the national average over a 10-year span of employment. As the industry grows, we can only hope that the diversity rates will parallel these rates.

 

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