Developer 30 Under 30 rolled out its latest crop of promising young software developers this year. The event, judged by over 45 Canadian CTOs and CIOs, chose 30 developers from over 500 nominees.
This year’s developers included coder-entrepreneurs, like the creator of the blockchain-based Bounties Network and the co-founder of BlynkStyle, an app that was acquired by Kik. It featured students, such as the head of NeuroGate, an AI-based system for detecting the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, and security experts like Justin Bull, the developer who discovered Heartbleed vulnerability in the CRA’s website in 2014.
Developers had to be nominated for consideration in the Developer 30 Under 30 award, and then had to undergo two rounds of questioning; a 45-minute getting-to-know-you session and a two-hour technical deep dive. One hundred were selected for the shortlist, and judges looked at a combination of expertise and skill set, innovation and impact. Participation in non-developer-related activities was also a factor.
Beyond coding to volunteering and writing
Leigha Mitchell must have scored highly in all these areas. The platform engineer at Hubba, a Toronto-based company that creates online software for wholesalers and brands, is adept at back-end programming, but her involvement in the tech community also goes far beyond her coding skills. She writes regularly about her experience as a woman in the tech space and involves herself heavily in volunteer work.
Mitchell got into software development two years ago via a circuitous route. She’d been an educational co-ordinator before joining a technology company as a tech support engineer. It got her closer to technology, but still didn’t involve her with programming.
“I had a lot of startup knowledge already, which helped me when applying for jobs,” she says. Her experience in the commercial coding space gave her contacts at Hubba, which helped land her a job there after her studies.
The days of pursuing a three or four-year computer science degree to become a developer are long gone, Mitchell says. Those courses teach the kind of underlying knowledge such as algorithm theory that you don’t usually get in coding bootcamps, but she argues that this wasn’t important for her career.
“I am a back-end developer. I rarely use bubble sorts and algorithms,” she says, adding that employers taking on developers from bootcamps understand that they are juniors. If they need to bolster an employee’s knowledge in a specific area, then they will send them on a training course.
Being a woman in a still largely male-dominated field has given Mitchell a strong cause to fight for in the tech industry. She is a strong advocate for diversity in coding, and volunteers with groups including Ladies Learning Code, a program operated by Canada Learning Code, which is a digital education program focusing on helping traditionally underrepresented workers to learn programming skills. She also volunteers for Community Living Ontario’s Student Links program, helping young people with autism to learn more about technology and the career possibilities it provides.
When not volunteering, Mitchell writes about diversity and tech employment issues on Medium. “In tech there are a large group of people that have the same backgrounds,” she says, adding that it can lead to a closeted mindset that doesn’t consider alternative perspectives from people with different demographics.
The Canadian tech industry’s lack of diversity is a problem, according to an analysis of 933 tech companies from Toronto-based organization #MoveTheDial. The survey, co-authored by PwC Canada and MaRS, found that only five per cent of Canadian tech companies have a solo female founder, and that women comprise just 13 per cent of the average tech company’s executive team north of the border. Developer 30 Under 30’s figures were more promising; nine (30 per cent) of the event’s awards went to women.
Mitchell has spent the last year or so heavily networking to help make a name for herself in the space. This year, she has been concentrating on bolstering her technical knowledge, she says. Her next move is upwards. “What I am looking for next is for more of a developer advocate/relations role,” she says, adding that she’d like to be an evangelist for developers both at her company and on the conference circuit.
The first step will be her talking slot at MongoDB World later this month, where she will discuss versioning techniques for the popular document-based database.
When choosing a developer job, be picky
What advice does she have for others trying to get into the software development world from other careers? Beware of which company you work for in a young industry filled with fast-moving companies and young managers.
“Startups are all over the map, and it’s hard to tell which are good and bad,” she says. “Do your research.” She recommends job search sites like Glassdoor and personal networking to find out more about the companies you are interviewing with. This was the basis for one of her most popular Medium posts, about why she turned down more than 20 startups when choosing where to work.
Mitchell’s achievement in snapping up an exclusive award two years into her coding career highlights an opportunity for quick progression in a fast-moving industry. By writing, advocating, and volunteering on the side, coders can boost their profile and prepare themselves to move further along the career ladder.