Helena Converse

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How many years have you been in tech?

10

Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

Growing up, I was always interested in STEM and the arts. My dad was in the hospital a lot so I made the decision early on that I wanted to help people, so I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a nurse. Knowing my personality, they were very surprised that I wanted to be a nurse and when they asked me why I very plainly told them “because men are doctors and women are nurses.” Once they informed me that women could be doctors too I did a prompt 180 and decided that I wanted to be a doctor, and drove forward with that decision strongly until college when I found out that I enjoyed the computer science curriculum much more than my biochemistry track.

How were you exposed to tech?

Growing up, my dad was a Software Engineer and is a feminist, so I was exposed to a lot of things he as interested in, including the old DOS computer and operating system he built for me so I could play computer games. One of the games I really remembered was one was a MUD where you had to instruct a robot how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and since it took things exceedingly literally (as any logical robot would) it taught me a lot about logic and skills that would turn out to be extremely helpful once I grew up.

What is your current role?

At work, I had been a technical lead for a little over four years doing ruby development but recently made the switch to being a developer on a predominantly Node.js project. Despite the work change, I also am still mentor at Coder Girl, a retrospective facilitator, and a leader at my company.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

A lot of my proudest accomplishments have been pushing other people outside their normal comfort zones to achieve something they didn’t think possible: standing up for themselves more in awkward situations, applying for and getting that awesome job, switching fields, learning something new. Every time I can influence someone to make a change that they were really happy with, I see that as myself accomplishing something great as a leader.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Tell us about a time that this applied to you.

This actually hit me hard in college. I started out as pre-med, and my second semester I failed biology and chemistry and was put on academic probation. Since I couldn’t take any natural sciences classes, I took the first computer science class and LOVED IT. When I told my parents I was going to switch to computer science, I actually got a huge lecture from my dad, who had to struggle for work during the tech crash, that the software industry was highly unstable and that I would not be able to keep a job. I wound up taking that as a challenge to keep learning and always keep my skills up to date so that there was always something new to move to. If all else failed, I could just learn COBOL, since we all know that’s never going away.

What are you learning right now?

I’d always put off really learning Javascript since I could always get away with not really needing much as a Ruby on Rails developer, but since my new team is using Node.js and we’ll be doing more with React, I’m finally picking that learning back up. I’m also working on being able to better explain “why” in various situations between working with new developers and getting in higher level architecture and security discussions at work.

Describe a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. For example, did something in your personal life trigger a solution to a problem at work?

I had a complete dichotomy in how I wound up approaching STEM and art. In STEM, it was always “learn things then prove you know it,” while in art it as “fake it til you make it” with music and on stage, and “done, not finished” when it came to physical mediums. With all the talk about Impostor Syndrome a few years back, I tried taking my on-stage mask and artist’s hat with me to work and it did wonders for me. In the span of a couple of months, people at work really noticed and I got my first tech lead position.

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?

The last fear that I faced was pushing my own boundaries and speaking on technical topics outside my company. Submitting my first conference talk was a huge step for me and I almost didn’t do it for fear that it would get accepted, but it paved the way for me to start writing about technical topics on my blog, talking at meetups, and coming up with more talks that I can submit to more conferences. I’ll deal with the fear of actually giving my first conference talk once one finally gets accepted, which I think I fear less now…

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?

There’s been push from a few fronts lately that it’s not just STEM but STEAM, where Art really has a place in this field and it truly is applicable. I had a real separation in my brain between lessons I had learned in the arts and what I learned in STEM. Just like in art, you can never truly be finished learning or preparing, and you can really excel in this field without truly being done learning since it’s truly an ongoing process.

What are your hobbies?

I play Taiko and sometimes cello with St. Louis Osuwa Taiko. I knit, sew, make jewelry, play Black Mage on FFXIV, and will even go outside when it’s so cold my face hurts to play Pokemon GO.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

I grew up here and really love how so many cultures have come together to live in one place and keep their roots. People are overall honest and open and there’s so much to do here.

Who inspires you?

Coming into the field graduating from college, the women at Coder Girl really inspire me to keep bettering myself and keep learning.

Contact Information

Twitter

One thought on “Helena Converse

  1. Helena, you really inspired me! In my write up I talked about how you helped me overcome one of my biggest fears. In doing that it has inspired me to take on more challenging and technical positions. Thank you and keep inspiring other to go beyond their comfort zone, you are really good at that.

    Keisha

    Like

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