According to Girls Who Code, 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields but only 26% of computing jobs are held by women. In our Women in Tech series, we dig into what drives some of our most driven employees to lead successful tech careers.
Melinda Weathers sits across the table from me wearing a blue CallRail t-shirt, a common choice of apparel in the development department’s section of the open office floor plan. She sips from her coffee mug as we settle back into our chairs. Our conversation easily turns to how she first became interested in tech.
“I’ve always gravitated toward it. I played with electronics and construction toys as a kid and even experimented with BASIC programming. In school I was really interested in math, leading me to join the math team. I enjoyed that type of problem-solving, although at the time I didn’t know programming was where I would end up.”
Melinda attended Georgia Tech where she obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering. “As soon as I graduated I realized all the jobs I was applying for I didn’t want to do. I wanted to do programming. I did extra computer science classes in school and was a TA for one of those classes. It’s hard to tell before you have a job what you want your job to be.”
Melinda is soft-spoken, so you may not guess that she once competed as a member of Georgia Tech’s sailing club, or performed clarinet with the Georgia State Orchestra. We talk about her first job at a software company in the energy industry where she did Java programming for energy applications. While their programming was oriented toward engineering, she was able to write software, which posed a welcome challenge and propelled her forward in the arena of computer science.
“When I was interviewing for jobs, I met with a mechanical engineering firm and they told me about the software they used. I realized then that I didn’t want to use that software, I wanted to write that software. I really couldn’t imagine working in engineering at this point. I never regretted going into computer science professionally instead.”
Melinda describes a second pivotal moment in her career as the time she decided to make the change from writing Java to Ruby on Rails. “I was using Java working on internal projects for energy companies that no one could see, but with Rails, I started working on public-facing Facebook apps, so that was a big shift. The Java programming I was doing required me to stay a few versions behind the latest release. With Rails, I was always able to use the latest and greatest. Rails has a great community around it, and I enjoy doing something using technologies that people are talking about right now.”
After ten years programming for the energy sector, Melinda made the jump to the startup world and later co-founded a software consulting company. After four years of wearing multiple hats as a business owner, she decided to return to focusing on writing software and joined CallRail as a Principal Software Engineer. Never one to stop pursuing higher knowledge of her field, Melinda is about to complete her Master’s in Computer Science with a specialization in Machine Learning from Georgia Tech. “When I graduated from Georgia Tech with my Bachelor’s degree, I was accepted as a grad student for mechanical engineering, but because I wasn’t super excited about that path, I got a job instead. Ever since then I wanted to get a degree in computer science, but I never wanted to quit my job and lose momentum in my career.”
After taking multiple online classes while working full-time, Melinda started pursuing her degree with Georgia Tech online four years ago through the OMSCS program. “It’s rewarding to have a rigorous program. It’s led me into the field of machine learning, which isn’t something I would have felt qualified to do without taking classes in it. That’s been interesting because I’ve been able to use some of that at CallRail.”
She’s talking about CallScore, a feature that applies machine learning to call transcriptions to extract specific words, analyze the data, and automate the lead qualification process. “We created a dataset of 100,000 calls classified by humans as either a lead or not a lead. I trained a machine learning model on this dataset that can classify calls based on their transcripts and other properties. I then built a service that wraps this model and classifies new calls that go through CallRail.”
Despite these impressive achievements, Melinda observes that a rapidly evolving career in programming can come with its own set of challenges for a woman. “Social situations can sometimes be awkward. At conferences, there’s this assumption that you’re a beginner programmer as a woman, and even that is a recent change from the assumption that you aren’t a programmer. I’ve had uncomfortable things happen at conferences. But thankfully among people I work with I don’t feel like I’ve had many issues.”
We talk about the movement to get more women into STEM careers. “I think diversity is good for any company that pursues it. It will impact the industry positively. You think if you’ve been a developer for over 15 years you would feel comfortable at a conference, but if I look at the speakers and they’re all photos of guys, that subconsciously tells me that’s not a conference for me. But I’ve been seeing a change in the speakers at conferences; they’re making an effort to have a more diverse set of presenters that include women. I saw it at a recent machine learning conference I attended. CallRail has done a great job hiring women also.”
Melinda didn’t let her first degree confine her to one industry, but instead sought out experience that allowed her to carve her own path in tech. When asked how she would encourage other individuals looking for direction on how to do the same, she offers some valuable advice. “Take free online courses and read books in your area of interest. There’s so much good content available now for people who are interested. I think conferences are great to get a feel for the current thinking. There you’re able to look at the content you’ve read and see if people in the field are actually talking about it. When you get that confirmation, you can take it and do it yourself.”
Melinda continues to put her machine learning expertise to work with improvements to CallRail’s latest feature release, Keyword Spotting, as part of their Conversation Intelligence offerings. But if history is any indication, where Melinda is concerned, the possibilities are boundless.