Malaysia Tech beyond borders

Let’s meet Jellene, a developer “Building Digital Skyscrapers” in Malaysia

January 5, 2016

Finding developers communities in Malaysia was not so easy, and especially women communities. There are some, like Women Who Code, Rails Girls and also Gorgeous Geeks. So I was very happy to meet Jellene.

I met Jellene, a Ruby developer living in Petaling Jaya near Kuala Lumpur, at the bar of my youth hostel in KL. I didn’t know what to expect, since even after exchanging a few emails before my arrival in Malaysia, her avatar on gmail and twitter was a kind of pixelized woman warrior, out of video games from the 80’s.

In real life, Jellene doesn’t carry any weapons and armor but she is the kind of woman who definitively inspires you: determined, involved and passionate, but also an artist and musician in a band. A nowadays woman warrior.

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Ludwine. Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I am Jellene, an acid spewing dragon who grew up in the Malaysia in the late-80s. I am growing older faster than I should be, and already screaming at kids to get off my lawn.

My younger years were spent daydreaming, drawing and painting my imaginations. My dad worked at Hewlett Packard, so we had a computer at home, which was not very common at that time (good ol’ Windows 3.1). I spent way too much time playing games, which fed my imagination even more. Computer games were something I felt and still feel very strongly about. I guess I wasn’t very popular with the kids in school.

In college I got a degree in Music instead. It was not a very well thought plan, more like a spur of the moment decision. Evidently, I am a girl with too many passions. I love my music, my art, and my computer. And during the college years I decided that I wanted to make games — which encompasses everything I love.

Several years after college, I managed to get a job making music for games. Music was all nice and cute, but I wanted to build the game, not just the music. So I started learning programming with game development in mind. In hindsight, that was a very hard task, graphics programming is really really hard! Fast forward a few years, I moved on to a game designer position in the company. That was my first job that involved production “coding” (it was mostly scripts).

Now I am a web developer. I try to apply gamification to my projects whenever I can. Probably one day I will have my own game company to make my own games. I just need more women to join me 🙂

I think the geek male identity is largely an american cultural influence

In France people used to think that a developer is a man who is always on his computer, shy, who don’t communicate with other people a lot, who used to play video games. What is the actual view on the job of developer in Malaysia? Do people have some clichés or bias?

There is a certain patriarchal bias. Programmers are thought to be geeks and a bit weird, and almost always male. Even though there are women in tech, older men are still thought of as the “expert” in the field regardless of experience.

But it was not always like this. When I was growing up, computers were not common in Malaysia, we were never told that IT was a gendered occupation. The general perception was that IT is an administrative job that involved a computer. I think the geek male identity is largely an american cultural influence.

Many women are still expected to quit their jobs and be a housewife when they’re 30+ years old. Many young girls these days are also led to believe that it is “not cool” to be a female programmer

I have often heard in France that there were many women in tech in Malaysia, around 40-50%. But it seems that it is not the case in software engineering. So what in the situation of women in Malaysia?

The number seems very high. I believe the reason they say it is 40% is because there are many women who works at call centers as Tech Support Representatives. There are also many women that are managers in tech companies. They are all women in tech, but not necessarily software engineers.

More and more women in Malaysia is taking an interest to programming and software engineering, but we still have a long way to go. Many women are still expected to quit their jobs and be a housewife when they’re 30+ years old. Many young girls these days are also led to believe that it is “not cool” to be a female programmer. Job opportunities offered to women are also mostly UI/UX design instead of server side business logic and optimizations, because they think that women are less capable in low-level programming. The combined problems and the lack of female role models in programming becomes a huge obstacle to overcome before Malaysia can be more welcoming to women in tech.

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You have organized a RailsGirls event in December. It was the second time such event occurred in KL. Why are you involved in women in tech and why do you think it is important to organize these events?

I am very involved with the women’s rights movement in Malaysia. As the in-house geek, I used to run many cyber security workshops and manage most of the technology side of things for organizations. I wanted to reach out to other women who share my interest and passion in computers. Sher Minn organized the first ever Rails Girls in KL last year, and it was the first time I know of an event in KL that focuses on empowering women with programming. So it was very natural for me to bring together my resources and experience from organizing human rights empowerment workshops, and bring it to Rails Girls. With the help of other equally passionate people, we finally revived Rails Girls KL.

Being a woman in tech can be very lonely. Most of my other jobs in tech, I was the only woman in the team. Events such as Rails Girls, Pyladies, Ladies who Code, gives space for women to share their unique view on technology, and also be inspired by other great women in tech.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Yes! Well, I try to make games. Games are part storytelling, part puzzles, part art, part music. But I am not very good at making software yet, I am still learning as much as I can.

I don’t have a coolest project yet. I have never had time to spend on my own things, most of my time is either spent at work or studying software engineering concepts deeper. At work, I love everything that I have built. I guess the coolest project would be my first published game as a game designer — Emberwing: Lost Legacy. I worked very hard on it, and I am very proud of what I have done.

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What mobile application you could not live without?

Hmmmm… This is hard. Despite being a self-proclaimed geek, I don’t use my phone a lot. All I have on my phone are messaging apps (Whatsapp, Wechat etc), apps for booking (cinema tickets, taxi etc), and 1 or 2 games when I am bored. If I don’t have my computer I will read a book or draw.

Can you say in three word, what being a developer means for you?

Building Digital Skyscrapers

 

Thank you Jellene! You can follow her on twitter and her blog.

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