We all know the importance of diversity in technology. It enables unbiased AI, safer and more relevant product innovation and collaboration that embraces different viewpoints and experiences. Diversity comes in many shapes and forms, including gender. While women continue to be under-represented in many tech fields as compared to men, that is beginning to change. According to the National Science Foundation, more women are earning STEM degrees now than they did in the past.
In this Wovenware Women in Tech Spotlight Series, we’re shining a light on female tech leaders at Wovenware, our customers and partners, in order to hear about their opportunities, challenges, experiences and success stories.
In this inaugural spotlight, we sat down with Leslie de Jesus, Director of Engineering for Wovenware. In her role, Leslie is responsible for leading and nurturing the Wovenware data science team, supporting girls in STEM and evangelizing about the use of AI in a variety of markets. Prior to her current position, Leslie held senior-level software engineering and data science positions with Wovenware for more than 12 years. Before that, she was a senior software architect and director for a technology startup, and also has worked in National Labs.
Tell us how and when you first knew you were interested in tech?
I have always had an interest in understanding how things work. My earliest recollection is unscrewing a radio in my grandparents’ home to see the insides, how it works and then I put it back together again. Also sci-fi movies that showcase computers and people writing fast code have always given me a rush. I got my first computer when I was about 14 years old and proceeded to write the code for a game that I copied from a magazine. I spent endless hours until the game worked! From a very young age I knew I wanted to have a career in technology.
Tech is a big and wide category – what areas did you find most interesting?
In my teen years, I loved to program just about anything and I could spend hours doing this. Later in college, I became very interested in understanding how technology could be applied to improving daily life, and more specifically, to science, such as particle accelerators for physics, or understanding the universe and the human genome project and its impacts on healthcare and life span.
Was there someone who most inspired you along your career path?
There have been many people who have inspired me, such as math and chemistry teachers in high school, computer science and physics professors in the university and various mentors throughout my career who I remember and cherish dearly. The key was that their enthusiasm was contagious, especially when a mentor was doing really interesting R&D in the Berkeley Labs for solutions that would benefit the science community.
Tell us about your first job(s) in the field?
My first programming task in Berkeley Labs was to create a command recall function for a custom operating system version that was used in the Real Time Systems Lab. I created the program in Fortran which was a language commonly used in the scientific community and then was translated to a shell version. I applied a stack algorithm following a last-in, first-out approach. I was doing software programming in Berkeley Labs for two years in a unit working on particle accelerators.
Tell us how you came to join Wovenware?
I joined Wovenware by accident. I first met Carlos Melendez in a previous startup. Later, after he founded Wovenware, I was introduced to Christian Gonzalez. They asked me if I could help them to kickstart a big project they were going to have for a telecom company. They needed an architect to help with the design. I was first going to help them for three months, then it became a year and at some point, I joined full time. I got really engaged in the project and enjoyed working as a team, as well as the whole challenge of being in the early stages of a software development firm.
What are the responsibilities of your role as Director of Engineering?
As director of engineering I drive disruptive strategies and solutions for our clients. It involves lots of creative problem-solving, along with technical software and data science expertise.
I am extremely involved in people-focused tasks such as recruiting, mentoring and career path development. On the compliance side, I have led the creation of best practices, policies & procedures and guides to regulate how we write software and make sure it complies with the standards and regulations of our customers and it follows our software manifesto playbook.
What do you find to be the most exciting part of your role?
Definitely contributing to the growth of young minds in the field and technology challenges. I love to simplify things, such as processes and complex, manual ways of doing things. Additionally, I love working with the team. Getting teams together. Understanding what goes with what and who plays with whom.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your role?
Wovenware has grown tremendously since I first started, with 200 employees now and major clients across key markets. As we grow, communication is critical, so making sure everyone is on the same page, understanding expectations and rowing in the same direction can be quite challenging.
What are some of the key ways that software engineering has changed since you first entered the field?
When I started out, software development was a mysterious process that took place in the lab. Today software is everywhere and everyone understands it to some degree. Even children have access to the tools to write a program on an inexpensive tablet or a phone.
Additionally, the time it takes to build and release software has reduced exponentially. An enterprise software feature that took months in the past, now can be developed in days, despite the fact that enterprise software has gotten more complex because of regulatory requirements and security. Additionally, open source has changed the playing field not only from a cost advantage but also its accessibility to millions of developers.
What trends do you see driving the next chapter in software and AI development?
The cloud will continue to become the key delivery platform for companies everywhere. And, low code/no-code tools will empower non-programmers with what they need to create solutions. In addition, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will gain even greater prominence, as we see the benefits it has delivered in automating tedious tasks. The incremental use of synthetic data will enable and accelerate the creation of AI prediction models that today are difficult to train because of the lack of data. What I am really looking forward to access to quantum computing and its uses.
What challenges have there been for women entering the tech field?
To be honest, I don’t recall ever really feeling unheard or excluded. I was able to always find an ally and I made sure my voice was heard. I understand, however, that’s not the situation for many women in the field. Through my involvement in the Microsoft Girls Steam Challenge, I’m encouraged about the next-generation of women in tech. The Steam challenge brings together girls from public and private schools across Puerto Rico in grades six through twelve, who develop STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) projects. Events like this are helping girls recognize the impact they can have on society by being part of the new generation of female technology innovators.
What advice would you give to rising female software engineers or data scientists?
I would tell them to not consider themselves any different from their male counterparts. To just be themselves and insist that they’re heard. If one person doesn’t wish to hear you, there is always another who will. Look for the person that will hear you and gain their trust. Finally, be outstanding. Once people get to know you, they will come to you trusting and appreciating your insights.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I love to explore and discover new things. I love nature and have a particular interest in geology, observing how seasons impact everything around us, I enjoy traveling, learning about other cultures and how civilizations have evolved. Lately I have been reading about high-performing teams, organizational growth, mentoring and leadership.
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