Episode 22: Presenting a More Inclusive Narrative for DC Tech

Hello and welcome back to another episode of Tech Forward! For this week’s episode, I’m thrilled to share my conversation with Jessica Bell. Jessica works as a web developer for The Washington Post, primarily on front end and Javascript projects. She is also highly active in the DC tech community: she’s the Chair of DC ACM, as well as an active member of  DCFemTech and Women Who Code DC. Throughout the year, she helps people learn the basics of coding in web development by teaching at General Assembly. As if all that weren’t enough, she also hosts and produces a podcast, DC Tech Stories, which features local tech workers. We’ll discuss her unique journey into the world of tech, her experience at the Post — which has been recognized for its inclusive engineering team — and how she’s making her mark in the DC tech scene.

Jessica came to DC after completing a degree in International Relations from San Francisco State University. After hitting a plateau in self-teaching, she enrolled in the General Assembly bootcamp, and began her first full-time developer role afterwards. Of her work at the Post, she says, “I have both the mission of working in a news environment, and the culture of diversity. The Post has done a good job of opening up their recruiting pipeline in an intentional way.”

Jessica attributes the success of diversity and inclusion at the Post to small, but significant differences. The recruiting team works hard to ensure the Post’s social media takeovers are reflective of diversity, and highlight all the voices within the organization. They have also examined their hiring requirements and the language they use in their job postings, in an effort to stop qualified people from self-selecting out prior to the application itself. The interview process for engineers has been reworked as well, such that bootcamp graduates — not just computer science graduates from traditional universities — can display their skills. All of these steps, along with strong partnerships with advocacy groups, have helped to get diverse talent in the door.

While many San Francisco graduates might have been inclined to remain in the Bay area, Jessica is quick to sing the praises of the DC tech scene. “I have met so many people — men, women, black, white, people who are queer, every identity you can think of — who all care so deeply about the other people in this scene. And that gives you a lot of hope and strength. I think that is a little bit unique about DC. It’s a great place to get started because it’s such a diverse city. It isn’t perfect, but you can come here and see smart, ambitious people from all backgrounds being recognized for their accomplishments.”

She is similarly quick to decry the traditional narratives of the tech world, which inspired her to start the DC Tech Stories podcast. Having met so many examples of developers who didn’t fit the narrow tech narrative, she’s passionate about opening up that story to the “cool, different, inclusive, and interesting” reality of tech. You can listen to DC Tech Stories wherever you listen to podcasts, or just check out the website.

Jessica, thank you so much for coming onto the show, and for all the work you’re doing here in DC and beyond. Thank you, also, to all of you out there listening. See you next week!

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