A Quick Word With: Molly Struve

Today is an exciting moment for me. This is my first article in a new series, were we have exclusive interviews with some of the greats, from their fields: Web Development, Programming, and Security/Ethical Hacking.

It gets even more exciting because we are kicking my series off with Molly Struve, and if you don’t know who she is, I encourage you to follow her on Twitter and check her blog out. Coding and horses are both a huge part of her life, and she is a conference speaker, and very active in the development community also. Molly is just a cool person to get a chance to pick her brain and I appreciate the opportunity to interview her.

General Questions

At what age did you get into coding and what got you into it?

I started coding when I was a Junior in high school. My school offered an AP Computer Science class where you got to build things like a clock and games which sounded like fun to me so I took it. I had always been good at math and science so exploring coding in high school seemed like the natural progression of that.

What was the thing that was most helpful to you learning code?

I learned to code Java when I was in high school and college. Since they were structured classes I got all the support I needed to learn them. When I decided to change careers and go into Software Development full-time, I taught myself Ruby. When I was teaching myself, the most useful trait I had was ambition. I was not afraid to dive head first into the code and figure it out. When you are starting out it can be really intimidating because there is so much you don’t know. You have to put that aside and take it one step at a time. 

What types of activities or hobbies do you participate in?

Besides coding, I have a fierce passion for riding horses. I have 5-6 horses that I ride 4-5 times a week and that I compete on regularly. I do Hunters/Jumpers and I compete all over the United States.  Last year I placed 4th at Nationals in my division. 

Who is the most influential person to you as a developer?

In terms of my professional career, there isn’t really one person that stands out as the most influential. I have been incredibly lucky to have worked with lots of amazing people over the years, many who I look up to. I think the most influential person in my life in general, including my journey as a developer, has been my husband. He supported me wholeheartedly when I made the choice to change careers and is always my biggest cheerleader. There are times when I don’t even think I can do something but he is there always telling me I can.  

What was one of the biggest things you had to deal with and solve during your time as an aspiring developer?

When I was first starting out, just learning how to code Ruby and do web development was a huge hurdle for me. I was lucky that I had a good general programming foundation from high school and college, but Java and web development are very different. 

Do you still ever have imposter syndrome or were you able to get over it? What do you do to deal with it? 

I am a firm believer that no matter how much experience you have or how good you get, you always have a little bit of self doubt or imposter syndrome. I think that little bit is what helps keep us humble and keeps us hungry to learn more. I am an expert in a couple of areas, but I am a complete beginner in many more. Any time I have to learn a new tool or framework, I immediately go back to feeling completely incompetent like when I first started. Sometimes I think it’s hard to learn new things once you have gained a lot of experience because you are so comfortable knowing everything.  To jump into something new you know nothing about is uncomfortable and hard.  

In order to deal with imposter syndrome, I make sure to remind myself that everyone goes through it and that it is normal. One thing that comes with experience is knowing that your feelings of insecurity aren’t because you know nothing. They are because you are outside of your comfort zone. I also do a lot of mental work to help keep my thoughts focused and positive. Because I am so competitive with my riding, I have read a lot of sports psychology books, which give advice that can be applied not only to sports, but to your career. It might sound kind of silly, but the same way you have to exercise a muscle, you can exercise your brain. Positive, confident thoughts don’t come naturally to  many people, including myself.  It is something I have to practice and work on. One exercise that I do a lot is I envision myself succeeding. I got this exercise from a book I read called “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence“. The book has a lot of great suggestions for helping you train your mind.

What resources do you find helpful to coders?

When I am learning something new, like a coding language or a tool, my favorite resource is always the docs and the source code. If I can’t find something in the docs, then usually I like to go digging in the source code to try and figure out how it works. When it comes to career and other soft skill advice I have recently become a big fan of the blogging website dev.to. There are so many great articles from all different view points on there that it’s nearly impossible to not find what you are looking for. As for resources for those who are new to the industry, I actually wrote a blog post that collects all my favorites: “If You Are a New Developer, Start Here!“.

What cool projects are you working on?

I honestly do not code much outside of work unless I have a reason too. For example, a few years ago I built a website, https://www.remindmehoney.com/, which I use solely to remind my husband to do things. I built it because we would constantly get in arguments over him forgetting to do stuff. This way I don’t have to nag him and he gets the reminders he needs. 

As for projects at work, one that I am really excited about is upgrading our Elasticsearch cluster. Elasticsearch is what propelled my career into Site Reliability Engineering and this upgrade is a big one for us. We will be going from 5.x to 6.x, which requires a lot of changes and I am hoping those changes will come with a lot of performance improvements. Orchestrating the whole thing has been a big challenge and I am enjoying trying to put all the pieces together. 

I know you have some experience with talks, do you feel that this helps you personally and if you do how?

I started speaking last fall and I have fallen in love with it. What I like best about speaking is that it has really helped me come out of my shell and get more involved in the tech community. When I started speaking, I also started using Twitter and blogging.  All of those things together were a great way to get more involved in the online tech community. I have met a lot of really incredible people through all of these social media platforms. 

Another benefit I have experienced from speaking is a boost in my own confidence. It takes a lot of courage to get up and speak and I believe doing that over and over again has really solidified in my mind that I can do this. It is a good reminder that I am pretty good at my job and what I do. I get almost a sense of validation from doing it. 

Ok, now let’s start with the good stuff!

To give our readers a better understanding of inclusivity can you give a quick definition in your own words, of what inclusivity is in our lives and in the workplace?

Inclusivity is the mindset that you accept a person and all that they bring to the table. You embrace everything about them no matter how different or similar it is to yourself or what you know. Inclusivity starts with the individual. Building an inclusive workplace starts with ensuring that those in the workplace are inclusive and then ensuring that all policies and environments are inclusive as well. An inclusive environment is one where every individual’s needs are met by the environment and they feel safe, secure, and supported.

During your time in the field what has been your personal experience as far as inclusivity or the lack there of? Has it become better or worse?

I have been incredibly lucky to have been apart of multiple inclusive teams. I have been apart of 3 different dev teams during my career and every time I was the first woman to join the team. Despite this, I never felt like I was treated any differently because of my gender or because I was the only girl. Because I had such great mentors and examples set for me from the beginning, I have really gravitated towards championing the idea of inclusivity. It is also what inspired me to write my blog post. I want people to understand the difference between inclusivity and diversity so that the tech industry can become more diverse. 

Would you say that there are specific groups that are receiving less inclusion as far as the total numbers go?

I am going to be honest, I don’t know specific numbers off the top of my head, but I can say with 100% certainty, we are not there yet in terms of diversity in the tech world. With the rise of coding bootcamps, the tech world is quickly becoming more accessible to everyone. This means we are seeing all different kinds of people now trying to break in. This scares a lot of people in the industry because it goes against what the industry was built on, guys with CS degrees. Being scared of new and different is human instinct because we are not sure what it could bring. Everyone needs to set aside that fear and embrace the new and different. The tech world is only going to get stronger and better as it becomes more diverse.

As a woman in tech have you had a warm welcoming environment or has there been a steeper mountain to climb than normal?

All the companies that I have worked for have had warm and welcoming environments. I never felt like I had any additional barriers working my way up at any of them. However, outside of my workplaces, such as on social media, I have definitely seen gatekeeping, as well as those who simply discount a woman’s ability to code because she is a woman. Comments such as “You are too pretty to be a coder” might seem harmless, but you are implying that you can’t be a beautiful feminine girl and a coder at the same time, which is so far from true its ridiculous. 

What would you tell yourself back when you were just trying to start in this field if time travel was possible?

I am really happy with the path I have taken to get to where I am. There is not much I would want to change about it. During the beginning I was just naive enough to protect myself from some of the self doubt that comes with seeing the entire picture. I credit a lot of my early career success to my “blind ambition”. However, there is one piece of advice I would give my past self and that is to not take feedback personally when it comes to code reviews. I am a perfectionist at heart and when you are writing code it is naturally an iterative process. This was hard for me to get used to at first. Any time I got feedback on my code I felt like I had failed in some way because it wasn’t perfect the first time. This led to a lot of stress and anxiety early on which could have been avoided if I had learned to embrace the iterative coding processes sooner.

What advice or plans would you give companies or individuals, to practice having a more inclusive environment?

First and foremost, they need to hire inclusive people. You need people who are open minded and aware of their own bias. Bias training for current employees can help those who are open minded become more aware of their own bias. By becoming aware of bias you can better prevent yourself from acting on that bias. 

Understanding that different is good is also a must. Most people are scared of different, but once they learn to embrace it, then they will start to seek it out rather than shy away from it. We can learn so much from those who are different from ourselves, more so than we can learn from those who are similar. 

Having inclusive people is a great start to building an inclusive environment, but the company as a whole has to be inclusive as well. This means drafting policies that are inclusive, fair, and supportive for everyone. It means building a physical environment(if you have an office) for employees that meets everyone’s needs. If a company has inclusive people and has built an inclusive environment then they will attract all kinds of new and diverse talent. 

I kind of feel like lack of inclusivity is synonymous with discrimination, and I know in environments that have that kind of toxic feel, sometimes it’s not that people agree with it. It’s that sometimes people don’t know what to do. So, what advice would you give to people that witness discrimination and want to do something about it? What is the best way of going about kind of stopping it?
And if you are facing this instead of just seeing this happen what is a good route to go?

Regardless if this is happening to you or if you witness discrimination, you HAVE to call it out. The only way people are going to change is if they are made aware that they have crossed a line. Hopefully, you are in a situation where your concern is received with respect and acknowledged. If you are not at a place where you concern is acknowledged then it might be time to consider your options. If you get push back and are made to feel like you are in the wrong then that is another sign it is probably time to leave. 

One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to my mentees who are underrepresented minorities is to find your person. This is a person you can confide in and who will stand up for you if they ever see you being treated unfairly or in a disrespectful way. Hopefully, with a growing number of supportive allies paired with new diverse talent, we can continue to shift our industry away from discrimination and towards inclusion. 

I know we tend to focus on worrying more about race, or gender, or other physically defining diversity. would you say that different thinKing is something we should focus on to create both better inclusion and diversity? For example if we have a group and thEy problem solve differently than each other is that beneficial, and do you see a trend to focus more on physical traits in our attempt at inclusion, or is it pretty well balanced with trying to get critical thinkers verses more creative thinkers and other more mental differences?

Inclusion is inclusion. It doesn’t matter what your differences are. If you are an inclusive person you welcome everyone and all their attributes from mind to body. Having a diverse set of minds and approaches in a healthy culture is always beneficial.  Different ways of thinking only lead to better problem solving because you get a lot of different ideas. The more ideas you have, the more likely you will end up with not just a good one but a great one!

In an article you wrote for your blog you covered how there is a difference between inclusivity and diversity, I’ll include the link for the article for our readers: “Diversity vs Inclusivity: Understanding the Difference“, but can you give us a brief breakdown of the difference and how just because we have a diverse group our environment may not be that inclusive, and how kind of stereotyping a group due to diversity is a quick way to make a bad assumption sometimes?

Diversity is the state of being diverse or having a large variety. Inclusivity is the practice or policy of including everyone. Inclusivity is a mindset and it starts with the individual. Diversity is more the who or what is in your group. A group can be diverse but still have poor inclusivity. For example, say you have a team of 5 people. Let’s say 2 of them are men, 3 are women, and they are all different nationalities. To someone who is just looking for diversity, that team looks pretty great. However, once you sit down and talk to them you find out they all come from top universities with CS degrees and they don’t value anyone unless they have a CS degree of their own. Suddenly that diverse team is not seeming so great. They may be diverse in their outward appearance, but they are certainly not inclusive if they discriminate based on educational background. 

Lots of companies want to check that diversity box so they will bring in and hire who they think “looks” good to have on their team. This is why it is so important when you are evaluating a team that you sit down and talk to the people on that team. Are they supportive? Are they allies? Do they embrace differences instead of fearing them? Inclusivity is what we need to be focusing to help grow diversity.  

In theory would you agree that if we focus more on being inclusive that our environment created from that will bring a diverse group?

If an environment is inclusive then I wholeheartedly believe it will become diverse. I have seen it happen and it is wonderful when it does. When I was hired at my current company I was the first woman on an all male dev team. But that never mattered, everyone embraced me and all my quirks and idiosyncrasies! Now our dev team is widely diverse with people from all different educational backgrounds and genders and nationalities. If we can learn to embrace each other and value the differences everyone brings to the table then we will be well on our way to creating a tech world that is more diverse and therefore much stronger. 

Huge thank you to my editor Sveto for letting me take a shot at this project idea, and Molly Struve for giving me her time for an interview.


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