Kathy Heffern

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How many years have you been in tech?

3

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

I grew up in the suburbs in a Catholic family. My mom volunteered my whole life as a breastfeeding educator, so I was raised in this community where mothering was seen as the most noble, important thing a woman could do. Every family had a stay at home mom, and working moms were judged harshly. I didn’t really have any families close to me where the women worked. My dad was actually a programmer at Boeing when I was a kid. Still, I never considered the possibility that *I* might grow up and work in tech. Honestly, I didn’t think too much about my long term career plans. I planned to spend most of my adulthood being a stay at home mom.

I went to a progressive, all-girls Catholic high school. It was a wonderful environment for me…we were told explicitly that we didn’t need men for ANYTHING. So much so that I brought my girlfriend to senior prom and the teachers encouraged me in that. I took all honors classes and graduated Salutatorian. I moved to NYC for college, actually 2 weeks before 9/11 (yikes!). I got a Bachelors of Social Work with a double major in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and did community organizing in the LGBT community on campus. I feel like my gender studies classes gave me an excellent background in understanding how systemic racism and sexism affect our lives in every way, including my own experience as a woman in tech. I stayed in NYC while I earned a Masters in Social Work, got married there, and had my daughters while I was living there. After having my daughters, I was a stay at home mom.

How were you exposed to tech?

I didn’t consider a career in tech until after I had become a parent. A big percentage of my stay-at-home-mom friends had partners who worked in tech, which made me think, this is a career that really can support a family with just one salary, even in NYC (where I lived at the time).

My marriage started out happy but turned a corner after my first daughter was born, in a way that completely took me by surprise. I tried to make it work for years, while also developing a back up plan. Tech was my back up plan. I knew I needed a job that would enable me to support my daughters, without having to go back to school. I started teaching myself programming (starting out from a CSS/responsive design entry point) when my second baby was born. I didn’t have any family in NYC who could help, and my ex-husband didn’t support my learning, so I found what time I could to learn. My gym had free childcare, so I put the kids in childcare every day while I sat in the lobby for the two hours I was allowed and read HTML for Dummies type books. I wrapped the baby on my back and bounced on a yoga ball until she fell asleep, and then used her nap times to hand code splash page sites for my friends. I read responsive design books at the playground while I nursed the baby in my lap. I made it work.

When my ex husband and I moved back to St. Louis, things in my marriage got much worse. I doubled down on learning so that I could get out as fast as I could. I took a C# class, and coded my first C# app locked in the bathroom with my laptop after the kids were in bed. I networked my way into a job (by going to meetups), and the week I got my first programming job, I told my ex husband I was leaving.

What is your current role?

I’m a software engineer at LaunchCode. I work on a team that builds the app candidates use to apply to our classes and apprenticeships, and that my coworkers use to match candidates into apprenticeships. I mainly work in Ruby and Javascript, and I consider myself the front-end/UX/CSS champion on the team.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I gave birth to a 10+ lb baby on my kitchen floor! I had homebirths with both my daughters, and those experiences were indescribable (though I’m happy to try and will talk your ear off about them!). That makes me feel SO strong, powerful, indestructible, and triumphant. I remind myself of my daughters’ births when I need to psych myself up for something. If I can do that, I can do anything!

What are you learning right now?

Linux and Elasticsearch

Who inspires you?

My single mom friends continually amaze and inspire me.

Contact Information

LinkedIn

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