“I know teachers never encouraged me in math, but they encouraged the males all the time,” Andrea Handevidt said, remembering her high school years in the 1980’s. Luckily, for Handevidt “that challenged me to stay in it and go ahead. ‘I know I can do better than those guys.’”
At Marquette University, Handevidt chose engineering because it combined science and math, two subjects she was good at. “I read the syllabus and said, ‘This is for me.’” Handevidt said, “There was a large portion of women in the engineering program.” She estimates that 40 percent of the engineering students were women.
Ultimately, she chose software engineering because, “You can sit down and solve a problem in a matter of just a couple of hours. You’re given a problem, and you can sit at a computer and figure it out.” That was an advantage over mechanical or civil engineering that require years of planning and building to show results.
Handevidt has spent most of her software engineering career in Java. “I’ve been a back-end developer. We’re behind the scenes working on the things you don’t see when you’re playing with a Web application. I’m not working with the buttons and the colors and the user interface. I’m working with the things to fetch the data. I’ve always liked that better,” she said.
“It’s more concrete. I always tease the front-end guys. ‘You make a button turn blue and everybody gets excited. I put in all the work so that when they hit the button it works,’” she said. “With back-end development, you can do more testing. I like having that. I do a lot of test-driven development,” she said.
Handevidt said the scarcity of women in software engineering is due in part to “imposter syndrome—they think they can’t do it, but I know they can. For this job, it’s definitely endurance and patience. Don’t give up on yourself.”
What would she tell young women who are considering a software engineering career? “Just don’t give up. Keep trying. It’s the problem-solving aspect of it all. Can you solve the problem? If you attack the problem from the wrong direction, you have to feel that. Figure out the big picture and attack it there.”
Above all, she said, “Let yourself fail. At some point, you’re going to fail.”
Q: What’s a ‘typical’ day for you?
I’m an early morning thinker. I like a couple hours of my own time to work on problem solving. Co-workers start to trickle in around 9:00. We use the Agile process so we have our stand-up meeting. We pick and choose tasks to work on. The rest of the day is coding and testing, checking in with each other.
We focus for an hour or two hours, then we click on something else to change it up a little bit. I think about the problem, then come back to it. You’re able to start over and solve something you couldn’t solve before. You think, “Oh, I just figured it out in my head.”
Q: Do you keep learning?
If you’re not learning, you’re dying in this field, for sure. Since I’ve been at BuzzFeed, I switched to Python. I wasn’t doing test-driven development until two years ago. It seems like every year you have to change how you work. I love it.
Q: Are there career ladders for you as a software developer?
Here there’s definitely a ladder for becoming an architect or taking your skills to a higher level. I am not closing any doors. I will not stop coding, for sure.
Q: You went into software engineering as a first career. Is it something people can switch to?
We have currently have one recent employee who was an astrophysicist. Our intern was in theater and now she’s interested in Web development. At least here at BuzzFeed, they would encourage it. At my level, you’re probably seeing more and more people with extra degrees. I already have an M.S.
Q: What are the challenges in the job?
There’s nothing I hate here. It’s all great. I think part of the reason I love it is it’s an office of only technical people and one project manager, so we all understand each other.