June Ladies of Code meetup @ Thoughtworks, City Tower, Manchester

I went to a fantastic talk last night hosted by Ladies of Code, Thoughtworks and Sage. We hear from software engineers Chi-chi Ekweozor and Clare Sudbery about the products they’ve invented, and why.

Chi-chi Ekweozor, Assenty founder and software engineer

Chi-chi Ekweozor went from electronical engineering graduate to software engineer. She had a stint as a social media marketer, before she went back to being a front-end developer and software engineer.

“I had to learn to code on the job,” Chi-chi says. “Even though I had a technical background, programming had not been part of our course.”

When Chi-chi’s contract work came to an end, she took the opportunity to develop her own app. She realised how hard it was to manage audience questions during the Q&A at public speaking events, and she wished there was an app that could do it for you.

Chi-chi came up with Assenty, an interactive platform for asking and answering questions in real-time. She wrote it in the Elixir programming language and Phoenix web framework. It’s still a work in progress, as the emphasis was on getting it to market as quickly as possible.

Image: Me at Ladies of Code meetup

Be prepared to iterate

With Assenty, participants can log in with twitter via a link, and then post their question. A moderator can manage the questions, answer them online, and questions can be upvoted.

Chi-chi emphasises the importance of testing, and involving multiple stakeholders from the very beginning of the process.

“Your app doesn’t have any substance until people start using it,” Chi-chi says. That means your app could be totally different in reality to how you imagine it first in your mind. And that’s no bad thing.

But what about the difficulties of making your own app? Chi-chi admits to wondering if anyone would care about Assenty, but was pleasantly surprised.

“Product creators now are more influential than they were 6 or 7 years ago. Now is a game-changing time for female founders.”

Clare Sudbery, Thoughtworks senior consultant developer and novelist

Clare has an interesting career history, going from IT worker, to software engineer, to attempted full-time author, to maths teacher, and back to software engineer.

These diverse experiences led to Clare’s latest idea, which is experimenting with writing a novel via unit tests and C# code. She is a published novelist as well as an experienced software developer, and has really enjoyed combining her two favourite occupations in a new form of creativity.

Clare has taken the difficult path of combining being a mother to her son, Oscar, and also pursuing her career goals, but it hasn’t stopped her from being very successful. “Of course, time is always the issue for me,” Clare says. “I have so many ideas, and not enough time for them all!”

Clare left IT to work as a full-time novelist, but the stress of the publishing process led her to seeking an alternative path. “I could not persuade stroppy teenages that maths was fun,” says Clare, of her brief stint at being a maths teacher. She then turned to coding.

“I’d never been able to get anyone to give me the work that most interested me in IT,” Clare says. “But when I retrained as a software engineer, I deliberately got a job at entry level. I was so excited to get the opportunity to learn again.”

The test-driven novel

Clare views writing novels in the same way as coding because they are both different ways of expressing her creativity. She came up with the idea of the test-driven novel because she has trouble keeping track of her plots during the writing process.

Clare mentions Robert Mckee’s well-known screenwriting book Story, containing advice for writers on how to structure plot. According to Mckee, each chapter should have a turning point for your character that results in them changing state, and this subsequently reveals something about them.

Her program catches errors during the writing process, such as a lack of turning point in each chapter, and is available on Github as open source for people to play around with themselves.

Check out Clare’s blog on medium, A Woman in Technology.

Final remarks

As usual, Thoughtworks provided delicious food, including halloumi wraps and falafel wraps. The event took place in their office on the 26th floor of City Tower, which affords amazing views of Manchester. Their events are always welcoming and informal, and I enjoyed chatting with other attendees. Sometimes it can be really intimidating, but not this time!

It was really great to hear from two talented women working in software engineering as I am a big fan of role models. It was even better when the talk got more technical as I’m usually at events that focus more on the technology industry at large.

It was really interesting when the speakers and the audience discussed how the different kinds of skills are related, from maths and philosophy, to software engineering and language. We often speak of ‘technical’ and ‘creative’ skills as though they are opposed, when in reality, these distinct types of skills feed into each other. Everyone has the potential to be both technical and creative.

Ladies of Code host regular meetups, and Thoughtworks put on regular events around the world! Sage is a well-established, north west technology company and they do great work supporting groups like Ladies of Code.

If you enjoyed this article, you can commission me to write posts for your company blog. Contact catherine@awaywithwords.co to find out how we can work together.

Main image: Chi-chi delivering her talk about Assenty

About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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