Jennifer Wadella

Jennifer is Founder of Kansas City Women in Technology and Web Developer at VML. Her love of tech started at age nine with the family computer and she never looked back. She also runs CoderDojoKC, is a Minddrive mentor, sits on the Shawnee Mission CTE Advisory board, and participates in KC Girls STEM Committee. To top it off, she somehow finds time to compete in west coast swing dancing. I’m exhausted just listing it out. Let’s see how she tackles it all.

Jennifer Wadella

Serious question: Do you sleep?

Actually, I do. I’m envious of some of my developer friends who can operate on less than 3 hours – I need at least 7 or I am completely worthless, and no amount of coffee will help. I have to cut out things like video games to compensate, but I like to think life might eventually slow down enough for me to do everything I want.

What’s the common thread between your work with women in tech and kids in tech?

Both are at an a place where they aren’t encouraged to do anything tech-wise because they’re women, or because they’re too young. With women it’s much more difficult, they’re fighting 20+ years of societal perceptions which largely attribute to impostor syndrome highlighted in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

Impostor Syndrome

This is why I think it’s vital to work with kids, especially girls, and catch their interest before society tells them that math and science aren’t for them and they should focus on ‘softer’ areas instead. I’m always shocked when I’m promoting CoderDojoKC somewhere and a parent tells me “oh, my son is too young” or “my daughter wouldn’t be interested in that sort of thing”. In July we’ll be launching a series called “Coding & Cupcakes,” a session where moms and daughters will learn to code and build websites together … and eat cupcakes.

What advice would you give to parents introducing technology? For instance, my 6-year-old daughter and I have fun goofing around with video and audio software. The Raspberry Pi might be cool to tinker with soon. What’s your take?

Start early and take a montessori approach – let your child explore. Expose them to any technology you can, and encourage their attempts. Buy legos, ardunios, Raspberry Pi’s – there are even kickstarters for board games that teach programming concepts. I started a CoderDojo chapter to help with this – parents are starting to realize how vital technical knowledge is, but aren’t technical or have no idea how to engage their kids with technology. CoderDojo allows their kids access to developers, engineers, and programmers who live and breathe technology. I was born an engineer. I played with Barbies but I spent a large amount of that time constructing elaborate lego houses for them, was constantly hacking computer games to do what I wanted, yet no adult in my life ever suggested engineering as a possible career path, which makes solving this problem very personal for me.

What’s happening in our industry now that keeps you optimistic?

Culture change. Employers are realizing how scarce technology talent is, and the forecasts right now aren’t good either. They’re placing importance on creating inviting work environments, allowing employees to uses tools and technologies they’re interested in, and understanding they need to interact with the community more to engage potential employees. I think making these workplace changes will draw more women into the field, as well as encourage kids to want to work at that really cool place with the marker boards and nerf guns. (Of course that’s not what really makes a culture as a professional, but to a 10 year old, it’s pretty sweet.)

What is your latest epiphany?

Farmhouse ales are delicious. If you want a technology-related epiphany, Angular.js really is worth the hype. We did a student hackathon a month ago, and I mentored a team of all girls while learning Angular from the ground up with them to help build their app. It was easy to implement and easy for me to explain concepts to the girls and get them building basic SPA functionality.