During my stay in Kuala Lumpur I met the team behind Women Who Code KL an international initiative dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers.
We had dinner in a nice Malay restaurant, a perfect place to discover Malaysian food, share our experiences as developers and talk about the IT ecosystem in Malaysia and France.
I let you discover below some insights about IT with Lydia, Jecelyn and Chee, all Malaysian software developers working in Kuala Lumpur.
Ludwine. Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
Chee. I have been in Tech since Day 1 of my tertiary studies. I took Computing foundation right after I graduated from high school and proceeded to CS degree thereafter. I am now an Initiative Manager in an Australian software billing company called Ezypay. I still code, or at least I make sure that I still do, in my day-to-day job. Currently, I am coding in Java with Spring 4.0 as back-end and AngularJS on the front-end.
I was blessed to have good mentors throughout different phases of my life. My mentor who was a self-taught programmer himself is the one who introduced me to C programming even before I completed high school. I didn’t look back from then onward, it is Tech all the way till this day.
Jecelyn. Jecelyn here! I am a senior software engineer in Ezypay and currently leading the front-end development of our cloud billing product. I was not actually from a CS background, but one in E-Business Technology & Management. It’s a 50% business 50% IT course. I started my coding life by chance, I mean got a job. I love it ever since then. I love its simple yet complex nature. I enjoy solving business problems through technology. I enjoy being viewed differently (not many female coders).
Lydia. I’m currently a Tech Lead working at Monster Technologies Malaysia. Technology is something I have been interested in since High School. It was at that time that I was first introduced to a computer. So I was pretty much a “geek” since and making decision about my study wasn’t difficult.
we have reached the age where programming skills are highly regarded
In France people used to think that a developer is a man, always on his computer, shy, someone who don’t communicate with other people a lot. It doesn’t appear to be a creative and fun job. Furthermore developers are often regarded only as subordinate. How do people view the job of developer?
Chee. I think stereotypes have become increasingly irrelevant as there are more techy people who venture into entrepreneurship. Take for example the guys in MyTeksi/GrabCar (the local Uber-like business model in Malaysia). Those people are setting a good example that tech can have a huge impact to the community and it is considered as a necessity in this day and age. In fact, I think we have reached the age where programming skills are highly regarded.
Having said that, I did experience or hear that developers are under-appreciated by employers compared to IT consultants. Consultants are also paid better than developers who seem to be the ones who do all the implementation work. I would agree to a certain extent but I believe one has got to add value to a company before one is valued. Perhaps, developers themselves need to have some business acumen to think about how to grow the business through the skills that they have.
Jecelyn. There are 2 points of view that I have encountered before. Some said, “Wow, you are a developer. Programming is complicated. How can you spend so much time in front of PC without feeling bored?”. Whereas, the other side said, “Programming is easy. Business ideas come first. I could pay for any developer to work on the idea. Developers are just like coding robots.”
Personally, I have quite a number of developer friends, all of them have different characters sporty, talkative, shy, silent, like anyone else in other industries. Probably that is the traditional view that people used to have, but it is not anymore. I think that the rise of some famous tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg is the key of shifting mindsets – people who are programming and yet in the public eye.
Most people tend to judge a book by its cover and as far as developers are concerned, the cover isn’t very interesting. It is just screens, a keyboard and a mouse.
Lydia. I think that it is the perception of people who do not have enough knowledge or understand the industry or the job. You cannot appreciate a developer if you don’t understand technology. Most people tend to judge a book by its cover and as far as developers are concerned, the cover isn’t very interesting. It is just screens, a keyboard and a mouse. It is only when people look past that cover that they stop and notice things – like what is actually on the screen. People who don’t just walk on by. Thus the perception depends on how much you understand the subject and your awareness of it.
It does not move away from the fact that developers do spend a lot of time in front of screens. But same goes for people who work “behind the scenes” and it is not limited to the technology field. Developers are just one of those people. We magically make things work behind scenes and it can’t be done alone.
A lot of initiatives to learn code are emerging in France. Now people with different backgrounds and without any particular knowledge in computer science can learn to code. Some people starts coding after 30 to start a new career in IT. What is the situation in Malaysia?
Chee. Personally, I do not have friends who have attempted to change their job for coding job. However, I do know there are many who wants to learn programming, mostly web/mobile app development skills, especially those who aspires to be entrepreneur. I know some WomenWhoCode kl members who paid quite a hefty sum (i.e. RM300 – RM1k) to learn Ruby/node.js /AngularJS through some boot camp for a few weeks. Again, I am not sure about the success rate – those that able to continue on their own after the workshop. There is a huge need for people to learn how to be self-driven/motivated.
The last few years as well there has never been as many events and workshops about coding in Malaysia
Lydia. I think there are couple of contributors. The language has evolved a lot. It has become easier to understand and get started on programming and there are local communities that you can reach out to. The last few years as well there has never been as many events and workshops about coding in Malaysia. It used to be rather expensive if one were to attend a training for it. Because of these availability, something that wasn’t a viable option has now became easier for anyone to take up coding if they want. Startups are also one of the driving forces to this change.
The french government has just launched a special program, called “L’école numérique” to democratize code learning.“Digital world” has become a very important topic. What about Malaysia?
Chee. In Malaysia, the most prominent or well-known initiative from the government is MaGIC. It is mainly to encourage startup and entrepreneurship, and they have recognized that technology is a crucial tool. Hence, they have been many events such as workshops and programming crash-course for beginners that aims at unskilled people.
Jecelyn. MDec (Multimedia Development Corporation, Government funded initiative) launched online course focussing on Big data. There is @CAT as well, an accelerator for creative, analytics and technology.
We have been talking a lot about Big Data and Machine Learning over the past few years in France. Data Scientist and Data engineer are very trendy jobs. What are the trends and challenges for developers in Malaysia?
Chee. The tech trend in Malaysia is quite saturated. As much as we know that Big Data and IoT are trending internationally, we are still not quite there yet. I noticed that companies are still hiring people with Java/C# .Net knowledge which could mean that companies are just hiring people to maintain their legacy system. However, front-end development skills such as AngularJS, UX/UI, or node.js, automation testers like Selenium, and DevOps with Cloud and CI experience (puppet, chef tools) are getting more in demand.
The situation of women in tech in Malaysia seems to be similar to the one in France, since few women are software developers in Malaysia either. You founded the Malaysian branch of Women Who Code. Can you tell us more about this initiative? Can men join these groups? Do men support this initiative?
Chee. It is really a coincidence and there’s a simple reason for starting WWC KL – there simply isn’t any platform for ladies in the Tech industry to meet and share knowledge and experiences. We do not explicitly turn guys away if they express interest to join. In fact, most of our events have 60-70% guys compared to ladies. We do get discouraged by the number but we are going to continue to give more priority to ladies for all our events. We try to allocate 80% seats to ladies, 20% to guys.
The guys have been really supportive of us although they themselves find it hard to bring a female techie friend. Our target is to grow to double the number of ladies to join the leadership team, currently we are 4, then we will start to do more – engage with community work like teaching kids/schools/uni, partnering with different tech meetups… As of now, we will focus to reach out to ladies working in the tech field. We hope to grab their attention via specific tech skills workshops, monthly tech career path talks/lightning talks.
the purpose of Women Who Code is simple: contributing back to society and connect with other like-minded tech ladies
Jecelyn. For me, the purpose is simple: contributing back to society and connect with other like-minded tech ladies. We do welcome men to join the events we hold, and we are happier if men bring along female developers and spread the word to female co-workers. Men have been very supportive for our event, initiative wise. We do have a few male developer friends who are very helpful in giving event ideas and preparation.
Lydia.We don’t have many female software developers and there aren’t many communities that bring female developers together. WWCode-KL is one community that try to bridge that gap. I had wanted to contribute back and to meet, to learn from and be inspired by other like minded female developers so had agreed on getting aboard which has been quite a fun experience. I think having good diversity is one of the key reasons why we need more women developers.
And the last question! What does being a developer means for you?
Chee. I think we are essentially “Designers and Thinkers”
Jecelyn. It is where my passion lies. It’s how I can build something from nothing. It’s my job.
Lydia. Built with love
Thank you to Chee, Jecelyn and Lydia!