Growing up, Jessica Watson was an A+ student, and excelled in math and science. Jessica didn’t really know what she wanted to do in university, but engineering seemed like a smart choice. One of her first faculty impressions formed during orientation tours at the University of Manitoba. A group of young students were chanting and drinking beer in the lobby.
“It looked like a typical bro thing,” she says, “I just remember feeling like I don’t really belong here.”
That feeling persisted when classes started. Most of her professors were older men she didn’t relate to and none of her friends were taking similar classes. As a course requirement, Jessica took a computer science class and loved it. The students were quieter and less intimidating, and her first instructor was a younger woman in her late-thirties.
“She was a phenomenal instructor,” Jessica recollects. “She made it really approachable and easy.”
In a predominately male faculty, it was hard to find role models. By the time she graduated in 2012, she could count the number of female students in one hand. After graduation, Jessica started working for IQ Metrix. She worked as a software developer for three-and-a-half years before transitioning to the People and Culture Team. Jessica liked the positive work culture and the people, but thought she wasn’t contributing enough as a developer.
“I started to feel like there were other people in the room that were more suited to answer these questions or write this code,” Jessica says.
Jessica started to defer to her co-workers and stopped trusting her own abilities. She still enjoyed the work, but by prioritizing other’s opinions, she started to lose her confidence.
“I wasn’t really contributing anything, so I felt like I didn’t care about it,” Jessica says.
Instead, she started organizing things that helped the team bond over coding. Jessica had a lot of leadership and team-building experience from the synchronized skating team she had been a part of since Junior High. The transition from developer to the People and Culture team was natural. Although Jessica enjoyed helping people, it still wasn’t the career she imagined.
In 2016, she left her job and took a month-long intensive life-coaching program with Erickson Coaching International in Vancouver. When Jessica quit, she cut her connections to tech. She stopped volunteering for Canadian non-profit Ladies Learning Code (now Canada Learning Code), finished her freelance commitments and didn’t develop her life-coaching website.
“I didn’t even want to touch it,” she says. “There was so much stress associated with it. I didn’t want to do it.”
Recently, Jessica’s started to rediscover why she loves technology. Becoming a life coach and helping others find empowerment has helped regain her confidence. She just completed teaching a six-week fall program called Girls in Tech. The program is geared towards girls between grades 7-12. It’s organized by CanU and sponsored by ICTAM.
Jessica is also interested in developing code that combines passions like yoga and mindfulness with technology. By learning to explore her own ideas, she’s starting to regain trust in herself. Because women are a minority in tech fields, Jessica thinks it’s important for them to be a leader and bring forward their perspectives.
“Not deferring to others like I did is really important,” she says. “If this isn’t how it’s done but if this is how you want to do it, then why would that be wrong?”
Jessica’s hopeful about the future and sees changes in the industry. She says people are recognizing the importance of empathy and soft skills and it’s filtering into training for students and employees. There is still some stress about going back to work as a developer. Jessica says part of her worries that she’ll start to feel anxious about spending all day coding. But another part of her says she needs to try again, from a different perspective.