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Judith Klein

Judith Klein is an iOS developer at Cactuslab, a mobile and web development company in Auckland.

JudithWhat do you do on an average work day? 
We make websites and iOS apps for many different clients so I might spend an entire day on one project or jumping between them. Within that, I will be implementing feature requests, fixing bugs, upgrading apps for new versions of the operating system or new hardware, or sometimes even evaluating the scope of a new project.

As a programmer, you actually don’t spend the whole day literally just writing code. Sometimes there’s research and discussions on the best way to implement something. Bug fixes will often have you doing testing and troubleshooting to figure out what’s causing it and where it’s happening in what are often very large and complex code bases.

As a junior developer and recent graduate, there’s also a lot of asking for help! If there’s a feature or functionality that’s new or one I haven’t worked with before, often there’s time spent looking up documentation. 

It’s safe to say no two days are the same (unless there’s a particularly difficult bug) and there’s more to being a programmer than just programming! There’s a lot of problem solving and that’s what I love about it.

What did you study at school? And after high school? 
As soon as we were allowed subject choices at high school, I was torn between the ‘academic’ subjects and the ‘fun’ subjects. By the end of high school, I was taking calculus, photography, design, art history and media studies. Despite my interest in the arts, I was always trying to find a way to combine my interests in the creative and technical disciplines. So when I heard about a degree at AUT University called the Bachelor of Creative Technologies, it was the perfect progression. 

Was your study directly related to what you do now? 
The Bachelor of Creative Technologies was a practice based, heavily self directed course which aimed to combine elements of computer science, engineering, visual arts and communications. Being ambivalent about what I wanted to be when I grow up, it gave the flexibility to initially try things out without committing to any one direction.

It was during my second year that tablets were really starting to emerge and I became interested in developing mobile apps so I began learning iOS development, which the degree gave me the flexibility to do through my self-directed projects. By the time I was doing my masters, it was integral to my research, work and life. However, because I was largely a self taught programmer, I started attending local and international programming conferences which helped me make the connections that got me the job I have now. 

I would say my study was directly related to what I do know because it let me find out what it was that I actually wanted to do. A standard three year degree is a long time to commit to something, especially straight out of high school: you as a person and the world can both be very different in three years.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? 
Remember that you are your own harshest critic. I spent a lot of time thinking that one day everyone would figure out that I knew nothing about programming. Starting a job as a programmer was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done because people would actually be seeing and using the code I wrote. These feelings are normal but you shouldn't let them define your career choices. 

Don’t wait for someone to shoulder tap you - put yourself forward for opportunities, apply for scholarships, offer to help out  at events, propose talks for conferences and attend meetups to talk to people in the industry you’re interest in. Especially in New Zealand where everyone knows everyone by two degrees of separation, networking is incredibly important.

The most valuable bit of advice I was given was to do what I enjoyed, and I’ve taken that to heart. For a long time I didn’t even notice the lack of women in my chosen field because I just saw it as being amongst likeminded people. Now, not only do I get to work doing what I love, but I get to work amongst people who are passionate about the same things I am.

Judith presenting

What are some of your career highlights so far? 
When I was still at university, I got to go four years in a row to Apple's World Wide Developer Conference on a student scholarship. I got an internship at Prezi, a tech startup, at their office in Budapest. Every conference I present at is a highlight because people come along to hear what I have to say. I've had some fantastic opportunities 

Landing a job at Cactuslab was a huge boost as it was the chance to work doing what I was passionate about. It let me overcome a lot of my fears and ‘imposter syndrome’ around whether I actually belonged in the industry because suddenly every day I was having to write code and solve problems and just do it with no time for self doubt. The best thing is being in an environment of likeminded people who are just as passionate about the same technologies.

Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand? 
New Zealand has always been good at being innovative and ahead of the curve - we’re known for our can-do attitude and number 8 wire mentality. In many other industries we’ve constantly shown that despite our small size and geographic isolation, we can punch well above our weight. There are already some great technology companies coming out of New Zealand whose names are becoming known beyond our shores. Ultimately, this is one area we can’t afford to fall behind in.

Why is is important to have more women working in STEM? 
Unfortunately it’s a vicious cycle - there’s not a lot of women in STEM because there aren’t a lot of women in STEM. Therefore - if we have more women working in STEM, it will continue to attract more women to STEM. I worry that the focus on the doom and gloom has the opposite affect - by constantly focusing on the imbalance, I feel it drives women away. We need to focus on the highlighting role models, women making a positive impact in STEM. 

From a software development perspective, often it’s easy to forget that you are not the end user of your product. Your own personal bias can influence and shape a product as you’re making it. It’s good design to understand your user, and when you have a male-dominated software development team, you end up designing from the perspective of only half the world’s population. 

Judith Klein is an iOS developer at Cactuslab, a mobile and web development company in Auckland.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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