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.
Her zeal for her craft brightens the room. I call it “her craft”, because programming is more than writing lines of code — it’s a form of art.
“There’s an exact moment I can recount that made me want to be a programmer,” she explains. “We were learning about if statements, and the professor assigned us a task. ‘Remove the middle two letters of a word if it’s even, and the one middle letter if it’s odd’. I finished it, but one student kept asking questions. ‘What if I use a different method to determine if it’s even or odd? What if I use a different method to remove the letters?’ The point of the assignment was just to write an if statement, but this guy wasn’t getting it. So I raised my hand and ask the professor, ‘What if I remove the if statement?’ He replied, ‘I don’t think you can do that.’ I showed him that by subtracting the remainder from the number of letters you want to remove, you could. He asked me if I was an IT major. I said no. He said ‘You should be’. That moment changed my life.”
Rachael Wright secured her first position in tech via an internship at Macy’s Systems & Technology, after graduation from Georgia Gwinnett College. “My mentor, Sunira, went to the manager and told them to hire me part-time.”
For someone who up until college had never imagined she would excel in the world of tech, Rachael has since found herself to be a natural creator in a world often stereotyped as cold, calculative, and driven by revenue. “One of my favorite things about programming is the way it blends art and science. It’s one of the most human things you can do. It takes math, science, and language created by humans and solves human problems.”
Being all things at once can be challenging in a male-dominated space. Rachael recalls how her bright temperament has worked against her in the past. “I try to be friendly and open because I see how inspiring that can be. But sometimes someone who has presented a more closed-off, masculine persona has been chosen over me. That’s why I appreciate being at CallRail, because I can be a great programmer and be who I am. I thankfully have not experienced sexual harassment, but I have experienced not being chosen for a job because of who I was.”
Rachael’s passion for intersectionality in tech is apparent as she continues: “I think women and minorities in tech are absolutely vital. Tech is changing and deciding our future. If we don’t have diversity and inclusion in tech, we will have a vision of the future that isn’t representative of what most people look like. You have hand sensors that don’t recognize black skin and you have voice assistants that are almost always female. There’s so much discrimination that’s not intentional. If these development teams are entirely comprised of white men, they just don’t see another perspective. The more we have intersectional groups, the more their voices will be heard.”
When it comes to progress in leadership diversity, Rachael is paving the way in her own right. Earlier this year, she was promoted to engineering team lead of a development team she calls “Don’t Lose.”
“Don’t Lose is all about getting opportunities. We pick up projects the company needs done urgently or that would slow other teams down. We usually only pick up projects that can be done in six weeks, and often much less. We want to be able to move focus quickly. Examples of the types of projects we would take would be things like building features for large clients, adding support for additional countries, or our recent GDS integration.”
To manage these projects, Rachael utilizes full scrum sprint planning. This involves analyzing the whole feature and breaking everything into smaller chunks. Once she’s portioned out tasks, Rachael solicits feedback from her team before assigning anything. “I strongly feel that the people who are doing the work are the best ones to solve the problem. If I decide everything myself, I’m missing opportunities to learn from others.” Once the team gives feedback, they use a point system to assign value to how complex a task is. They then assign tasks into sprints based on number of points.
The project to which Rachael has most recently applied this prioritization method is the customer invoicing feature: “I had previously worked on our international numbers expansion, which required a lot of work on billing, so I knew a lot about that side of things. It made our team a natural choice for customer invoicing.”
Although Don’t Lose faced challenges ensuring all the pieces were moving together in the right direction due to the product owner being part of a different team, Rachael led them skillfully to success. “There’s a trend called servant leadership, where instead of telling people what to do, you help them be more successful. I try to model my leadership out of that. I still give people tasks, but instead of focusing on what tasks they need to do for me, I focus on helping them do better. I trust my team. CallRail hires some amazing, brilliant, talented people, so all I need to do is ensure they have what they need to be successful. “
Rachael keeps herself sharp and ready to lead others by attending professional development events like RailsConf, Women Who Code, the We RISE Women in Tech conference, and Grace Hopper Celebration. She’d encourage other women starting out in tech to make time to attend these events, and even join local meet-ups like RailsGirls, which have proved invaluable to her own advancement as a software engineer.
Rachael’s love for programming spills over into her everyday life: “I pick up a new hobby every few weeks. I do enough just to be good at it, and then I move on. I love to read – I have a collection of fantasy and professional books. Off to be the Wizard is one of the best depictions of programming in a fictional setting that I’ve ever seen, even though it’s in a fantasy book. The main character travels to medieval England and becomes a wizard. He finds a file that controls the universe, and he writes small scripts to modify things. It’s very accurate to what a programmer would actually do.”
Multi-talented and ever curious, Rachael Wright is clearly a woman to watch within the evolving tech space we see today: “I paint, crochet, and when I was really young I wanted to be a writer. I try to bring that sense of aesthetic and balance to my code. I don’t want it to just be functional, I want it to be clear and beautiful.”