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Growing the software application development world from a woman's view

Freelance developer Kathryn Rotondo discusses what it's like working in IT and how the industry needs to evolve in order to attract and retain women.

The path to a software development career isn't a beaten one for women. Cultural and workload issues often cause females who venture down the road to take a detour. It's a problem that needs to be solved says Kathryn Rotondo, who knows from experience. The freelance developer has been working on her own for just over a year, but spent a good chunk of time working for various companies to get her career established.

Kathryn RotondoKathryn Rotondo

Rotondo became involved with software application development because she was interested in working with Flash and being able to make things move around a screen. "Flash was the perfect marriage of getting to do something visual, but using my analytical skills as well," she said.

Over the years, her desire to work with Flash has evolved somewhat and her career has switched gears. That being said, she still enjoys the satisfaction of being able to create something that can operate on a tablet. Furthermore, the development community is still full of interesting, smart people she enjoys being with.

Calling for a change in the workplace

While Rotondo enjoys the software application development community, it isn't a perfect one. Even though strides are being made to get more females involved in software application development, the camps and clinics geared toward engaging girls with the craft isn't enough. "Getting girls to want to do it is one thing and then helping make sure they won't be socially ostracized for the rest of their lives for doing it is another," Rotondo said.

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There needs to be a shift in mindset and knowledge of what it means to be a developer, especially as teens begin selecting college majors and careers. "If you look at the stereotype of a programmer and you think, 'I'm going to be in a cave all day,' that matters," Rotondo said. "You might decide to pick a field where you feel like you'll be in a more social environment."

Once women decide to pursue a career in computer science, the work isn't done. The male-dominated industry needs to focus on retaining women as they segue into mid-career professionals. "I think the next big chunk of work that we have to do is make sure the culture in a company that you work in once you've done all the school is welcoming," Rotondo said.

Perfecting software development skills

There are lessons Rotondo has learned over the years that have helped her become a better developer. She recalls struggling with an assignment, and after two days of laboring over code, she asked her boss if she could talk the problem over with him. He obliged, and working together, she was able to gain a grasp of what needed to be done. Then he told her to go back and delete all the code she wrote and to start over.

Her boss wasn't telling her all the time and effort she put in up to that point was down the drain, but rather was enforcing a different perspective. "The work I did for two days was understanding the problem and getting my head clear, but the code I had written was [a] useless artifact," Rotondo said. "It was OK to throw it away like scrap paper in a trash bin."

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In addition to firsthand experience, Rotondo has gained knowledge by reading books and listening to podcasts. One particular book she found helpful was Design Is a Job, by Mike Monteiro. Even if you aren't a designer, it's relevant to developers, Rotondo said, who noted the book offers sound advice for how to set up a relationship with a client.

Having a positive, forward-thinking outlook is one Rotondo is taking toward her current venture. Along with two other developers, Rotondo is developing an iOS application, "Monkey SEE, Monkey DO." Inspired by a game that utilizes pictures, paper and Velcro to teach children scheduling patterns, she plans to modernize the tool and bring it to wireless devices.

While it is unclear what the future will hold for Rotondo, she plans on getting the word out on the differences between software development for applications geared toward children versus adults and the importance of keeping female developers in an organization after they start a family.

Maxine Giza is the associate site editor for SearchSOA.com and can be reached at mgiza@techtarget.com.

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