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Women in Tech Recap: Jen Refat of Refinery29

Written by Mandie Williams on July 09, 2015 in Events

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NYCDA’s Women in Tech lecture series is part of our effort to teach people from diverse backgrounds how to code. Last night’s event featured a talk by Jen Refat, Senior Front End developer at lifestyle site Refinery29. We joined Jen and a full house of attendees in WeWork’s Financial District location for an evening of career advice, tips for coding beginners, and cupcakes.

Jen works at Refinery29 as a full stack engineer, meaning she works with both front and back end programming languages. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, data, PHP, Python, and MySql are all in her portfolio. Her broad area of expertise is unsurprising when you consider just how long Jen has been immersed in tech. Curious and interested in building from an early age, Jen knew by high school that she wanted to work in computer science. She went on to major in computer science at NYU, and attend grad school at ITP Art and Tech.

Refinery29 offers a supportive, friendly workplace with a large number of women that isn't exactly the norm in tech. Only 25% of developers are women, and a minuscule 3% are Latina. Jen admits that it’s tough for female and minority developers to find peers in the workplace, and that female developers are sure to face the occasional jerk even as women continue to make up a greater part of the workforce. Communication and persistence are key to building a supportive work environment.

Her personal advice? Be true to yourself, and don’t change your image to conform to what a developer is “supposed” to look like.

Jen also shared guidance for aspiring developers that apply to any gender. When asked tips for growing as a developer and getting hired, her advice was the same. Jen stresses the importance of side projects at all phases of a developer’s career. Side projects are the best way to learn new technology, experiment with ideas, gain practical experience, and keep up with industry standards and styles. For programmers just starting out, side projects also help you learn in what language you prefer to work. “You won’t know if you’re front or back end until you try everything!” Jen says.

An optimal side project is challenging but not overwhelming, with a clear objective and reasonable timeline. Jen’s Should I Wear Pants Today app is a perfect example of a successful side project.

Jen also recommends code challenges and Github exploration for beginner developers, and stepping away from the computer from time to time to find inspiration. You’re never to advanced (or too new!) to make the most of online resources. Learn to love Stack Overflow and Google, digest and cite any code snippets used in your code, and be open to criticism. Release your work even if you think it's not perfect, and realize that the most gifted developers are always still learning.

Lastly, we'd like to send a huge thank you to all our attendees, our hosts at WeWork FiDi, ADP Innovation Lab for the delicious treats, and Jen Refat!

Find out about more upcoming NYCDA events here.

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