Developer Heroes: Meet Rachel a.k.a the Wonder Woman

Who? Rachel Bilski

Where? Brighton, UK.

What? Web developer, agency-side

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 Hello! Tell us about your role and what you do:

 I mainly work as a web developer, both front- and back-end. I do a lot of CMS work, with existing CMS platforms, and I also build content management systems from scratch, mainly working with PHP.

What kind of languages do you work with?

In the front-end, I use the standards – HTML, CSS, JavaScript. I also dabble with things like Python, Ruby on Rails. And of course PHP.

How did you get started?

Well the real story is that, when I was 13, I liked going to fan sites for Buffy the Vampire Slayer – so I learned how to build my own fan site through Lissa Explains it All. Which some developers may remember from back in the olden days!

Can we see that site on the Wayback Machine?

Can you see it? No, you cannot! But, the legit explanation of how I became a web developer is that I originally worked games development, then in QA which I didn’t really enjoy, so I moved to web development.

You’re agency-side. How do you think that compares with in-house development?

I like to say in-house is a little more straightforward, only because you get to work on a project for a long time, for years potentially. But in agencies, there’s usually a wider variety of work, and you have to be pretty flexible.  

What are clients asking for right now?

We get a lot of requests for emerging technologies now, but clients are not necessarily sure what to do with them. They’ll say: “we want to do something with VR or AR” or “we want to do 3D, 360 video or 3D worlds” or whatever. We have to guide them through the options.

How helpful do you find developer surveys?

If you’re a developer who works in an agency or a freelance developer, it’s easy to forget about the business side of things. And maybe you’re not a natural sales person. I mean it’s taken me a number of years to become more commercially minded, which helps me get involved in more business-related decisions about the tech we use and why.

Do you think developers sometimes undersell themselves?

Yeah, I would say so.

Have you found any challenges working in a male-dominated industry?

I’ve had both good and bad experiences. I work in a predominantly female developer team, which has been nothing but positive.

I also go to events for women in technology, because I like to talk to other women who are in my field. But, I’ve also experienced some negative things. Not always outright, but you do pick up on – to use a buzzword – microaggressions.

People can be dismissive. You know, sometimes if I go to a meeting with a male colleague, people will talk to him and ignore me even though on a technical front we’re at the same level. Which is another reason why I like to go to women’s groups because they don’t automatically assume you don’t know what you’re talking about.

You think things are changing?

I think some things are changing. There’s a lot more diversity programmes, not just for women but for LGBT groups and other minority groups.  

But, I think that until there’s a bigger culture change… it’s not that women don’t want to go into tech, it’s just they don’t want to go into this tech environment. They don’t want to go somewhere where they’re not wanted.

So where do you go to get tech-related news?

Well, Twitter. But there are also loads of developers on Reddit, though I rarely comment. But I do have a male-sounding handle on Reddit for when I do comment.

Has that actually helped?

Yeah, people take you far more seriously. In fact, a lot of women do the same thing. That’s sadly the way it has to be sometimes!

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What’s going up and what’s going down in the software industry?

There’s been a lot of focus on how people are using messaging applications more at the moment and generalised open social media is a bit more in the decline, which is leading to a lot more of things such as chatbots which are really interesting, and artificial intelligence (or ‘fake’ artificial intelligence) which I personally find really interesting. From finance, to health, to learning, I think it’s a great way to make these products and campaigns more helpful and user-friendly, keeping up with how our use of technology is changing.

And there’s VR of course, that’s had a real surge over the last year or so as the kits become more affordable and more widespread, especially as use in business seems to be increasing.

Personally I think the use of (and requests for) mobile apps has really declined, as people have realised how much can be done with just the web alone, and more things are done using messaging platforms, people are realising you don’t need an app for every little thing – which is great, because it makes the web a little more open, you aren’t locked away in an app for each activity or company. Similarly, a couple of years ago, everyone wanted a Facebook application – you don’t see those anymore at all!

Are you working on the projects you would like to work on?

I am, I get to work on a real variety of projects which is great. I love the power of the web and what we can do with it now, so I love working on the more cutting edge projects we get to do sometimes, but even something as simple as building a website up from scratch – from just an idea and a goal to a fully formed website that helps people find what they need or helps get a message out there is wonderful. I love seeing our projects go from a quickly sketched wireframe to a real website.

I would definitely like to work with more artificial intelligence type stuff though – so I’m hoping we get some projects like that in soon!

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What super power  would you like to have and  what’s your favourite super hero ?

I don’t know!! I guess if I was a superhero I would like to have the ability to consume and understand huge amounts of information at a time…like a computer.

But it’s not a very good superpower.

My favourite superhero is Wonder Woman of course!

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