Stories of Women in STEM: Jane Hughes, Front End Developer
For our penultimate Women in STEM feature, I got to find out more about my colleague Jane, a front-end developer and one of our in-house accessibility gurus, whose interest in web dev began at 10! Some really useful advice on getting started on your own, and why going to university isn’t right for all!
Take us back, what were your interests as a child?
I’ve always enjoyed being creative and making things. I was lucky enough to have access to our family computer and that opened up a whole new world of digital creativity for me. When I was 10 or 11 I stumbled upon blogs for the first time and that really piqued my interest in web dev. Most of them were made by other teenagers, back in the pre-Wordpress days of LiveJournal and Greymatter. I spent the next 2-3 years delving into the world of code, creating my own designs, and endlessly dreaming of one day owning a domain (I was really cool). I spent lots of that time in online forums and AOL instant messenger learning from others, digging around in source code, mostly just breaking, fixing, and figuring things out along the way. It was easier back then to just ‘View source’ and get a good grasp of how a site was built.
None of my friends at school were interested in web design so it was really fun to chat with people in other countries with the same interests.
Did this influence your choices in higher education?
Like many others, I felt a lot of pressure to go to university, the ‘obvious’ (and seemingly only) next step after A-Levels. I applied to one course - mostly to appease my tutor - and deferred entry to give myself a year to figure things out. I’m very fortunate to have a supportive family who has always encouraged me to do what feels right for me.
I would’ve appreciated more guidance at this stage, to have the opportunity to explore or at least discuss different avenues I was interested in. I know I wasn’t alone in being uncertain about university and I think it often feels like the easier option, as it’s difficult to imagine what your future might look like without it - but degrees aren’t free and it’s worth considering other options, particularly in the creative and tech industries when a well-put-together portfolio of work (even self-motivated projects) can really set you apart from others - including those with a 3-year degree under their belt and not much else to show for it. Plus, I knew I could always go back and get a degree later if I wanted to!
There’s an abundance of resources available to learn any skill you can imagine, so unless you know a degree is required for your chosen industry, there are so many other options available!
Tell us about your career path so far
During my year out, I reached out to many people in the local area asking for opportunities and advice, while also re-learning a lot of front-end skills (things had changed so much in the last 4-5 years) and building a small portfolio for myself. In the meantime, my brother managed to get me some design work at the startup he worked for, which gave me some really good experience. A few months later I moved near London, where I felt I’d have more opportunities. Within a couple of months, I secured my first full-time job at a tiny design agency. It was an extremely full-on 3 years, doing huge amounts of work for peanuts, but it was an invaluable experience.
After those 3 years, I moved to London and got a job in a small web team at a digital marketing agency, where I gained a lot of experience with user testing and accessibility. It was my first experience making evidence-based design decisions and it really opened my eyes to how people interact with websites and what impact we can have when building for them.
This experience and following my own values lead me to pursue a career using my skills for the charity and not-for-profit space, where I could really feel a sense of purpose in the work I was doing.
Any challenges, learnings, things you might have done differently
My number one challenge since leaving sixth form has always been overcoming my own self-doubt. I regularly experienced imposter syndrome and constantly felt the need to prove myself, thinking that I was just lucky and didn’t really deserve where I was. I was only able to rely on my experience with no degree to prop me up, and coupled with my own high standards I always felt like I needed to work extra hard to show I could ‘do it’. The most mentally difficult time was when I went through a year of interviews & job rejections before securing my second job - that helped reinforce to me that while luck can help, sometimes you just have to keep trying.
My imposter syndrome still flares up pretty regularly, but these days I try to take this as a good sign that I’m in a place where I have so much to learn. I feel so lucky to be at Torchbox, I’ve never been so acutely aware of how little I actually do know (...in a good way) but I’m also surrounded by lovely people who are all extremely willing to help and share their experiences, which makes it an excellent place to learn!
If you’re ever experiencing self-doubt, try to remind yourself that it’s not a sign of weakness, but an excellent opportunity for learning and connecting with others.Jane's wise words
Any advice for others?
I find it really helpful to view asking for help as giving others the opportunity to help, rather than thinking of it as a personal failure (which, by the way, no one else is thinking) - people love to share knowledge, so let them!
For women (or anyone) wanting to get into web dev - go for it! It’s really fun, the industry is ever-changing so there’s always something new to learn, plus you can do it completely on your own, in your own time. The number of resources available can feel overwhelming, so just start with the basics and follow your interests from there. Find a website you like and see if you can dig into how it was built, or come up with an idea for a project and have a go at building it. Also, Google is your best friend - I don’t think I know a single developer who doesn’t use Google every day.
Some of my favourite resources to stick in your bookmarks:
- Stackoverflow.com - the developer’s bible - one of the most well-known and used developer communities. Any development question you could have, someone has already answered on stackoverflow (probably).
- Css-tricks.com - an excellent resource for frontend developers - I reference articles from this every week.
- Codepen.io - a development sandbox (read: playground) for testing snippets of code. Really useful for trying out ideas or finding inspiration from others.
- Wesbos.com - Wes Bos is a developer who offers a variety of training courses for front-end developers. I love his approach, they are really easy to follow and some of the beginner-level ones are free!
- Udemy.com - another excellent place for tutorials for all kinds of skills - they often have some great deals too.
- Discord - there are several development communities available on Discord, if you prefer using an online chat group to talk to people in real-time - this can be really helpful for meeting like-minded people!