Blog Article

Women Building in Blockchain: A Spotlight on SDF's Technical Talent


Caroline Young

Publishing date




In celebration of the upcoming International Women’s Day, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the female technical talent within the Stellar Development Foundation. Coming to SDF from a wide array of backgrounds, our programmers and technical program managers chatted with us about their experiences working on exciting products and projects, navigating their careers (with many pivots!), and entering the blockchain industry.

Big thanks to:

  • Iveta L., a Frontend Engineer working on the Nebula team;
  • Jeesun K., a Frontend Engineer working on the Vibrant team;
  • Jordyn C., a Sr. Frontend Engineer working on the Vibrant team;
  • Karen C., our VP of Engineering who leads the engineering org;
  • Lucy B., a Technical Program Manager supporting the Partner Engineering team;
  • Lydia W., a Technical Program Manager supporting the Partner Engineering team;
  • Marta L., a Software Engineer working on Stellar Core;
  • and Shannon R., a Sr. Technical Program Manager supporting the Nebula team

for their contributions to this post. Thank you for all the great work you do at SDF!

What advice would you give to people who want to pursue a career in programming?‍

Iveta: Learning how to program is like building blocks. You learn the basics and then you keep growing. Front-end engineering is such a broad field and you can do so much. You can branch out into design or experiment with different approaches and frameworks.

There’s so many flavors to engineering in general, so my advice is to get exposed to tech as soon as possible and not give up. At the first chance, just try to stick through it. If you take a course, just finish it and see if you like it, because that’s one of the things I’ve learned— that you don’t stop learning.

Shannon: If you’re transitioning into tech, it helps to dig down and be strong to face things you don’t know. Being able to find that place where it helps you through that process of change, finding that group or people that will give you that support— my partner and friends helped me a lot to understand the tech industry and that amount of change in my career.

There’s tons of practice programming sites out there that you can do on your own. But, at least for women looking to pivot, there’s things like Women Who Code, Chicks Who Code, the ADA Institute.

What qualities or hard/soft skills do you find most important for people looking to pursue a career track like yours?‍

Jee: I’ve been a front-end developer since the beginning of my career, so I mostly work with JavaScript. JavaScript and front-end are inseparable, and JavaScript has evolved so much in the past five years. I’m always teaching myself something new about the programming language.

You also learn how to use different libraries like Backbone, jQuery, Angular, and React JS — if something’s really being picked up by the public, it’s always going to evolve. And we have to make sure to stay up-to-date, which usually involves a lot of side projects. At my last agency job, I built a movie voting app in React on the weekends. 

Jordyn: It’s a good indicator that you might enjoy programming if you enjoy employing logic for problem-solving. If you don’t mind being stuck on a problem for a while and running through all the possible scenarios and solutions in your mind, then I think you would enjoy coding and engineering in general.

Another quality that would help is being able to think from the user’s perspective, which may be more on the product or design side. But you may work at a company where it’s small, so you have to do a lot of these jobs at once. 

Lydia: I didn’t have a computer science background. I have a degree in biology. So, curiosity is what helped me the most when I was getting into tech. There are so many resources out there on the Web and you can easily inspect source code.

Tenacity is also crucial when you’re figuring out how something works. You go to Stack Overflow and ask a question, or you’re on this forum from five years ago, trying to solve this problem you’re having with your LAMP stack.

This is a skill I hope I show every day — being able to clearly communicate your questions, opinions, and feedback.

How did you end up in blockchain?‍

Marta: I did not have a lot of experience with blockchain in general, though I was interested in consensus protocols and distributed systems — because that's what I liked when I was in college. I was approached by SDF's recruiter, and got to learn about the Stellar Consensus Protocol and David [Mazieres]' fascinating work, which stood out to me. Over the years, as I've worked at Stellar and got to understand the real-world use cases of blockchain better, it became a perfect combination for me: this really cool, interesting piece of tech that can actually be used to solve real issues.

Karen: I was a huge skeptic of crypto before I joined. Actually, when SDF reached out to me, my immediate response was, “No, thank you. I don’t think crypto’s for me.” It was only through the persistence of the recruiter that she somehow got me on the phone. You know, I picked up the phone probably thinking it was an Amazon delivery. And you know, I feel very empathetic to people and their different experiences, so I feel bad for recruiters.

The hook for me was the fact that SDF was led by a female leader. I’ve been in the tech industry for a long time, so it is very rare for me to meet other female leaders. We have to admit, just being female or having a shared identity isn’t sufficient to say we have shared values. But I liked the fact that Denelle worked at Mozilla, and she came from an open-source world. That was very different from my experience, but my fundamental kind of interest has always been in social justice, independent of where I was in my career.

It was just my natural curiosity. I was skeptical of crypto, but I needed to talk to this female leader — I wanted to make that connection. I was also curious about the open-source nature of this company as well. Then, out of all the conversations I had with people at Stellar, the desire for representation and inclusion was very clear to me from the beginning.

A month ago, before I started talking to SDF, I felt a little bit intimidated through the process to be quite honest. I knew nothing about crypto. But everyone made me feel very comfortable about my background and lack of experience. It wasn’t a mitigating factor. There was no shade thrown. In fact, people were telling me, “Yes, we’re looking for people like you — who have this other domain of experience that’s more standard to financial engineering and technology and can bring something new to the conversation.”

I was just very impressed by how open-minded, inclusive, and really smart everyone was. That plus the mission at Stellar is kind of how I got here.

For you, why does representation matter in blockchain and tech? ‍

Lucy: If you see someone who’s like you that’s successful in the industry, then that means there is a way and you can see yourself following their path. When I grew up, I didn’t feel like I was part of the tech industry for a while. But after I got out of college and joined my last company, there were a lot of different resource groups reaching out to people and introducing them to the tech industry. When I was in college, people from different companies would come onto campus and talk to us about having a career in the IT industry. I thought that was very important.

The funny thing is, I joined the Veterans Resource Group at my previous company and eventually became the VP of my chapter. And in a veteran’s group, you never see a face like mine to be part of that. It was empowering for me to be part of that group. It was a great way for me to represent people in the military who looked like me.

Marta: The global purpose of tech, in my opinion, is to solve problems of different groups of people, including underrepresented groups. It's this tool that we can use to help all kinds of communities in all countries.

So then, I go back to the tech world as it is today and ask myself, 'If tech is supposed to solve the problems of all these different people, then why should it be developed by homogeneous teams?' The choices they make will affect the end product and features — and maybe that's not what the groups they were targeting actually wanted.

This is very applicable to blockchain as well. Blockchain has global impact across different regions. It's important to have a group of people representative of those regions contribute their unique perspectives and experiences on these topics so we can reach the best solution.

Speaking of careers, what was your dream job as a kid?‍

Jordyn: Before I knew about coding, I wanted to be an architect. I was actually set on being an architect until I found out that basically you would just use CAD, the computer-aided drafting program. In my mind, I wanted to be an architect from way back in the day, when you’re drawing everything by hand. There was something romantic, artistic, and even meditative about it.

I took some drafting classes where we did full plans by hand for houses and I just loved it. Ironically, I thought that the computers took the art out of it for me and I didn’t want to do it anymore. Then I ended up doing a job that was completely computers.

Jee: I wanted to be a vet. But as soon as I learned that meant treating animals other than dogs, I thought it sounded very complicated. I also auditioned to be a K-pop star!

Shannon: That’s a funny one. I wanted to be a dentist. I have no clue why — I guess I liked going to the dentist as a kid. Later on, I really got into film and video. I wanted to be a film director, so that’s the career path I went on before I joined tech.

Marta: I actually wanted to be an artist. Back in my hometown in Belarus, I was part of an art group for about ten years. My main specialization was batik — a Southeast Asian art technique of wax-resisting dyeing, usually applied to a piece of cloth. That was my life for many years, so I actually got to make a lot of paintings.

Last question! What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?‍

Lucy: Besides paying attention to world innovations, I also watch and perform Beijing opera!

Lydia: I like reading. I like a really strong cup of coffee in the morning. In San Francisco, it’s fantastic to be near all this nature. So I go for a walk every morning to these beautiful parks near my apartment. Or sometimes I take a farther trip out to go hiking! 

Karen: Hiking and eating street food go hand-in-hand with my love for international travel. I also enjoy discussing philosophy and the visual arts.

Iveta: I often code in my free time or try different UI techniques. Outside of that, I like reading, photography, and sports. Basketball is my favorite — I’m a Spurs fan! 

Want to hear more from women at SDF? Watch the “Women Building in Blockchain: Unique Perspectives on Developing Products and Businesses” video below! SDF CEO Denelle Dixon will be hosting a roundtable where participants share their unique experiences and perspectives on building products, businesses, and teams in blockchain.