For an insight into December’s Scala eXchange brought to you by Skills Matter, we caught up with Rebecca Grenier, who’ll be speaking about Slick – a relational database mapping tool that brings Scala’s features to database interactions. Until recently a Software Developer for EatingWell Magazine in Vermont where she used Slick to transition from a PHP website to Scala, Rebecca is now working her magic on the University of Vermont’s websites. She told us about the hunt for experienced Scala programmers in Vermont, eating well at EatingWell, and her efforts to make the image of women programmers a more normal one.
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What are the coolest things about (the relational database mapping tool) Slick?
Slick is a great showcase for Scala itself, using some of Scala’s best features to improve how programs can work with relational databases. These features include static type checking, the functional collection methods, and for expressions.
What have been the main challenges faced during EatingWell’s transition from a PHP website to Scala?
Here in Vermont the biggest challenge has been lack of any experienced Scala programmers to hire. I hear they are hard to find everywhere but here they do not exist (in our experience so far). Every single new hire needs to not only learn our specific systems but also the Scala programming language and often the whole functional programming paradigm as well. Recently we have found some expert Scala consulting companies located in the larger cities who are helping a lot.
What did you love most about working as a software developer for EatingWell Magazine?
I loved working with the EatingWell editors and food writers as I am a wanna-be healthy eater and home chef myself and their recipes and articles are hands-down the best anywhere. It was challenging working for a company who was so focused on print-media rather than digital, being in a support role and not a member of the core business.
You’ve taken a one-year term position at the University of Vermont to work on the Department websites. Do you see a dearth of females students focusing on tech-related subjects?
Well, my work at the Communications Department hasn’t led to a lot of involvement with the student body yet, but all the statistics I hear about women entering into STEM fields are not great. I believe the key is getting younger girls involved with programming and computers.
Tell me about Becky and The Hackettes?
Becky and the Hackettes was a dream I had ever since I first heard of the Vermont Hackathon. I wanted to see an all-women’s team compete. The first year I participated (which was the second year of the Vermont Hackathon), I did not know any other women programmers who could participate, so I joined a men’s team just to see what it was all about. It was fun but I was dismayed to see the low percentage of women, which only dropped further as the night got later and later. The next year I had met some other women programmers who were willing to join me and four of us competed as “Becky and the Hackettes”. Despite the fact that almost none of us used the same programming languages (if you want an all-women’s team you have to take what you can get), we worked together well, created a great application and took home second place.
Any other initiatives you’re involved in to encourage women to get involved in tech and coding?
I have also been very involved with GirlDevelopIt, which is an initiative that offers low-cost introductory tech classes to women to try and get more of them into the field. I have been a Teacher Assistant to many classes, taught a few, and created a totally new class on “How to get your first job in tech”, which actually did lead to at least one person getting their first job in the tech world. I also frequently am asked to serve on panels that want to ask questions to programmers, which I try to do whenever possible to hopefully make the image of women programmers a more normal one.
You’ve been a web programmer in Vermont for more than decade – why there, rather than a tech centre like San Francisco or New York?
I stay in Vermont because this is where my family is and because I love it here. I love the seasons, I love our brave and independent politics, our Senator (the only Independent in congress) Bernie Sanders. I love our rural rednecks and “city” hipsters, and that they are only a 30-minute drive from each other. One of these winters I’m going to take up skiing, too.
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