Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Hi! My name is Imane. I am a digital artist and web developer based in Antwerp. I graduated in 2017 with my masters in graphic design and since then I have been calling myself a designer. Since february 2021, I have been part of Code Studio at Sint Lucas Antwerp, where I work as a “freelance” developer and designer. I put freelance between quotation marks because it’s more of a payrolling status than an actual freelancer. The only difference is in the administration part. I am slowly trying to build up some good projects to attract more clients so I can transition to a proper freelancer status.
Besides my job titles I am also part of a collective of young artists who share knowledge and support for sustainable, inclusive and grateful practices. The collective is called “We Cannot Work Like This“. We get together in order to be moved by each other and by new encounters. We focus on collective work and on imagining a future of more inclusive art education and practices.
It sounds very abstract so let me give some examples:
We are currently working on a summerschool where we will be doing some small projects to tacke the very problematic eurocentric gaze that most non-white students have to work in. Therefore, we are inviting students to talk about their awesome projects and collectively map and archive their valid experiences through different activities.
I am also part of another ‘safe space’ inside the institution where we come together every week with students for about 2 hours. This moment has been a truly humbling experience, seeing how something so small can have a huge impact on non-white students. We check in with each other every week and talk about a specific subject or about whatever might be going on during that specific week.
Does the collective organise any exhibits and which are the ways people can support We Cannot Work Like This?
What is your job and what does a typical workday look like for you?
My job is then to assess the difficulty of the skill and the will and knowledge of the student. Then I can guide them and show them the different approaches they can take to achieve their goal. It is pretty fun and exciting. Now that I am taking more responsibility for the braver spaces I’ve spoken about, I am also pouring quite some time in those.
How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
When I am not working I tend to watch movies, draw, sleep and take extra long showers. I am looking into some lessons so I can learn to swim, I think it is about time I get that done. I also like to sing although I really don’t have the skill for it. It really boosts my mood and helps me when I am feeling down.
Don’t be fooled by this list, I do enjoy doing nothing as much as any person, especially after a full work week. You can find me in my bed, ignoring all my responsibilities and dissociating as much as I can.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
Well, it really came from a lack of coding lessons in my previous studies.
During my graphic design studies, I really found myself thinking about solutions to problems and oftentimes, those solutions involved some kind of coding. We learned some P5js but that was not a good way to kickstart a coding career. I was so confused and didn’t understand anything! But I thought it was so cool and I guess it triggered something. I took many attempts to learn from youtube tutorials. I found myself doing your typical ‘introduction to HTML and CSS’ but it didn’t really stick, mostly because there are so many ways to code and I wasn’t able to keep a constant structure to learn in. One other confusing thing was the fact that code has a tendency to rapidly evolve so some things I was using were just too old. So I kind of gave up on it.
After a few years I found myself graduated but not really in the mood to kickstart my career, so that’s when I came across a free web development bootcamp. Didn’t think much of it in the beginning but it really changed my life. I am really happy I did that.
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
As cliche as it sounds, do not give up and keep trying. I made so many stupid mistakes and it was so overwhelming in the beginning that at times i was ready to quit, but the discipline and structure that the bootcamp gave me really tought me to be stubborn and not give up when I run into a problem. It was difficult for me to do it on my own, so being in a bootcamp with people that were going through the same was really helpful for me.
Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?
I think Simone Giertz was a very cool person that I still look up to. She really puts the importance of the creative process and having fun before anything else.
But let’s not forget that the entire tech world has been pioneered by women, think of the first computer programmer (Ada Lovelace) and all the women in history who have been in the STEM world.
It’s a shame that many still think that it is a world for men. But, the person that inspired me the most was actually my teacher, even though he is a man he was a very good mentor and I am happy that I can work with him right now.
What’s your favorite project by Simone?
It is funny but her scissor lamp is really iconic.
Also her musical instrument with fake dentures was a whole vibe! just imagine such an instrument but with actual musical notes.
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?
I have found a podcast called Darknet Diaries by Jack Rhysider. It tells stories of some creepy and interesting stuff that is happening around us.
Some other things I love to watch are the videos of the coding train by Daniel Shiffman, but then again, I am pretty sure every programmer knows about him already. The YouTube channel “Network chuck” is also pretty fun.
I recently bought a book called “Code as Creative Medium”. I haven’t read it yet but it seems like the perfect book because it can be used as a good resource with real life examples and experiences of other educators that try to teach creative coding.
Do you have any (side)projects where you create or generate art with code?
Actually, yes. It is a very old project in which I made a pattern generator. This was back when I was a student so it is really not a public project. It was about my Amazigh roots and trying to preserve/revive the tattooing culture of my people. While doing my research I found that it was very difficult to find a solid archive of the symbols used, so I made one myself ( a website that is now offline).
Next to that I wanted people to be able to interact with the symbols as well, so I thought of a way to make people choose the symbols they’d identify themselves with and create patterns with it. It was a very messy project as I made the pattern generator with a nodejs based platform ( https://nodebox.live/ ), and I understood nothing due to my lack of knowledge in programming. This really sparked my interest in coding.
Although it was a simple archive of symbols, in the end many fellow Amazigh people reached out and thanked me for creating such a thing, as it really helped them understand more of this part of their heritage. I am looking forward to finishing it one day and making it accessible again.
Another project was a platform for children which was essentially very much based on any building block’s game u can imagine, but a virtual version of it, i won’t say much about it, but i will leave you with some images:
Who’s your favourite character in a book and why? (question from Anna)
I can’t really think of a specific character of a book, I guess I really forget what i read very easily. I was reading a book about Audre Lorde (sister outsider) And i really loved how she combines her critical thinking and her thoughts in the diary-like chapter. She is a real life character, but I love how she refuses to water herself down. She presents herself with all her intersections and I admire that.
What has been your biggest personal change since last year?
This is a very deep question just because of the fact that we are really going through it with this pandemic. I believe it has hit everyone in different ways. But aside from that I am trying to learn more about the intersections of care and how to actually take care of yourself and others in a more sustainable way. I am not a fan of what is happening now in terms of self care and self love.
Companies are really exploiting this concept and it is being capitalized in such a way that it is causing more harm than good. It hasn’t been the best year for my mental health to be honest, my anxiety has reached new peak levels and I feel like I am taking way too many responsibilities. I am very very bad at respecting my own boundaries and end up exploiting myself. So recognizing that has been a whole journey in itself and I now hope I can work around a solution for it.
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
Nothing specific really, I am a woman of course and it is always nice to be involved in places that celebrate part of my identity. I believe in spaces like this that actively try to provide a ‘safe space’.
Notice how I use the word in quotation marks, simply because there is no space that can be 100% safe for every individual. But that is very normal as we cannot put everyone in boxes, so being aware of this fluidity is very important and I think women.code really embraces that.
How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?
I think the industry, just like many other industries and the world in general, need to drop this act of performative diversity and be very honest with themselves. Change is slow, that’s a given. What is sad to see is that most companies are run by white men and most decision makers are also white men. This gives a very biased way of decision making.
What usually happens is that companies will create some kind of diversity project and hire a non-white person to do the job and carry the ‘burden’ of everything that has to do with the subject. It might look like a good thing, but in reality we are just exploiting that person. We ask companies to REALLY listen to our demands and work past the guilt and shame that comes with conversations around inclusive work. I am not going to mention any specific steps, because frankly, there are many many resources around this topic already, so stop thinking and start acting.
With that being said, I would like to speak from my own point of view. As a woman of color who is visibly muslim it is very important for me to work in a healthy environment where i dont’ have to face stupid micro agressions like ‘oh can you do that with you scarf’ or ‘oh, are you allowed to be here this late’ or ‘yeah let the men handle that’.
Because of that my choices have always been very narrow. I am very glad that I could find places to work where I was not coined as the diversity lead or treated any different from my white male co-workers. We really just ask for the bare minimum and my white colleagues are living examples of how easy that can be. I am aware of how rare that is and I hope people will catch up to this reality soon.