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Dana Iti

Dana is a Front-end Developer at Abletech, a Wellington-based company that creates website and mobile apps.

Dana ItiWhat do you do on an average work day?

Basically, I sit on my butt and listen to jamming tracks on Spotify while writing code. Lots of code!

My job is to develop websites and apps for well-known, large-scale companies, both local and global, to an exacting standard. The challenge is to make sure the sites are perfectly functional, fast, great to look at and easy to use. This is called Front-end. It’s a very specialised role that enjoys great demand in today’s marketplace. My toolbox includes HTML, CSS and Javascript. I also program in PHP and Ruby.

Outside of work, I help mentor new Developers and students.

What did you study at school? And after high school?

As a young kid, I was quite nerdy, hanging out at the library and bringing home good grades. But a real turning point came when I was 8 years old and my father bought a Commodore 64. I immediately set out to learn about programming, as did my older brother. Before long, he and I were coding sprites and making adventure games.

But then came high school. It offered little in the way of things I was interested in, but more importantly, I never felt very comfortable there. That’s partly due to the bullying I endured. I was a gawky girl; having bushy eyebrows, speech problems, wearing hearing aids and being darker skinned than my peers, made me an easy target.

As a result, I became an avid believer in self-teaching, which has often involved coding crazy hours into the early morning. I feel certain that anyone can achieve whatever they put their minds to. Constantly learning and keeping a positive attitude have helped me get to where I am now.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Yes, I earned a Web Development Diploma by completing a 10-month course at Yoobee School of Design back in 2013. However, prior to starting the course, I was already self-taught. Attending this course did, however, give me the confirmation I sought and the confidence I lacked to enter the industry.

Coding was a hobby for 7 years then turned into building applications for a business I ran at home. I learned everything I needed online and still do today.

I had some uncertainty about my ability when I started (imposter syndrome, anyone?), so I didn’t really go full force into the industry until I was almost 30. Prior to becoming a full-time Developer, I freelanced, developing websites and apps, all from home.

I don’t want to hold out a false hope that anyone can learn to program. It requires intense focus, total dedication – plus a certain degree of flair – to stay in this career for the long term.

To put it in a nutshell: if you love solving problems, enjoy solving puzzles or strategy games, and if you can recognise patterns quickly, being a Developer is an option you should definitely consider. If you’re like me, you’ll find it extremely enjoyable, and, as with anything, when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

Dana with training colleagues

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Time is your most valuable currency – don’t waste it!

When you’re young, it’s easy to think you have all the time in the world. If I had started my career earlier, I’d be way more proficient than I am now. But in this life anything can happen.

When I was pregnant with my second child at age 23, complications suddenly developed, and I found myself bedridden. My world was turned completely upside down. I couldn’t even walk properly for the longest time. However, by being resilient, I was able to overcome this obstacle and others. These experiences taught me how valuable time really is. So, please don’t waste it. The earlier you figure out what you want to do, the more time you will have to perfect your craft.

I also encourage you to explore the many resources readily available, both online and at tech meet-ups (which are free!). You can learn a lot just by showing up and paying attention. If you dedicate yourself and consistently put in plenty of hours, you’ll achieve your goals a lot faster than those who invest less.

As a minority who never completed high school, never got to go to university and had two children at an early age, I can tell you that it is indeed possible to achieve your dreams no matter what life throws at you. Dedication to your craft pays off in the end, so believe in yourself and draw upon your innate drive to succeed.

Even though I am an introverted type, I surprise myself by often participating in meetings at work. That’s simply because I have things I need to say and questions I need to ask. If you also tend to be introverted, I encourage you to just go for it and speak up. Believe me, you don’t need to be eloquent to thrive in the world of tech. Your passion and desire to learn are the main things. 

Dana and kids

What are some of your career highlights so far?

I’ve been very fortunate to work with and learn from many highly intelligent people in tech. Tech companies generally treat their employees well since skilled Developers can be hard to come by. At my current workplace, Abletech, we’re treated with team lunches, in-house barista coffee, fresh fruit, tech talks and awesome company events. I also get a yearly tech allowance, so I can buy that new phone if I want to!

I get to attend top-of-the-field training (at cool locations) and just recently finished a four-day training course. I was accompanied by the Dev team at TradeMe and taught by Thomas Burleson, who is the Team Lead for Angular at Google.

I was invited to speak at New Zealand’s first Javascript Conference in May… got selected to participate at the first WWGSD event... became a founding member of SuperDIVERSE Women… and I’m being interviewed for Curious Minds! [You're reading it! -- Editor]

As a mother of two boys, I feel tremendous satisfaction that being a Developer enables me to provide them with greater security and more opportunities. That’s on top of all the skills and knowledge I gain every day, thanks to being in this great profession. It makes me feel truly blessed.

Another source of great fulfillment has come from being a tutor at Yoobee School of Design. I did that part-time while working full-time as a Developer. It allowed me to teach my students in a way that I wish I had been taught in high school.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

It’s more than important – it’s vital.

That’s because technology is our future. It constantly impacts our lives for the better. I encourage you to think of being in a STEM profession in human-species terms, not just in how much money you can make. It’s about our survivability as a species. That’s why, as a person born in the 1980s, I feel a sense of responsibility in making sure entry into STEM is easily accessible for many generations to come.

Also, the cool thing about tech is that you can do other things besides code. So if you think coding may not be for you, check out other tech roles that are equally important and worthwhile: Project Management, Business Analysis, Product Development, Copy Writing, Designing or even Social Media and Company Culture roles. And lastly, there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own tech business.

Dana talking on a Javascript panel

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

Women bring a diverse way of thinking to the mix. We’re more emotionally driven, and this has proven to be critical to creating new innovations.

That said, tech is still very much a male-dominated world. The more that women join this world, though, the more that other women will be inspired to participate, too – plain and simple. When I started at Abletech there were only three female developers total, now there are seven! Abletech is a sponsor for Rails Girls in Wellington. Check it out and apply for the next event!

Besides women in general, there aren’t enough Māori women Developers in this industry, either. I personally only know one other than myself. This must – and will – change in a major way!

By the way, did you know the first programmer was a female? Her name was Ada Lovelace. She was a mathematician and is known as the Founder of Scientific Computing. We can all follow in her footsteps and achieve greatness of our own. By actively supporting each other, there’s nothing we can’t do!

Dana Iti is a Front-end Developer at Abletech, a Welllington-based company that creates website and mobile apps. Follow Dana on Twitter: @itidana.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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