Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
My history is full of ups and downs. I grew up in a middle-class family in Turkey, where access to high quality education was very competitive and opportunities were not equal. Even as a kid I had understood that I had to work very hard to survive the system. And thanks to that hard work, I always found my way to the best schools with (merit based) scholarships.
For university, I was accepted to the industrial engineering department of one of the most prestigious (private) universities of Turkey, with (merit based) full scholarship. I got the highest score of my city, I received plaques, rewards given by the governor, by the school, I was on local news.. My parents were very proud and I was sure a bright career was awaiting for me. Later I decided to make a change, and pursue an academic career, and it was going fine as well, I had excellent grades and I found financial support.
After that I went on an Erasmus exchange program in Belgium. I had a Belgian boyfriend and decided to pursue my academic career dreams in Belgium. But then things started to go down.
I couldn’t find financial support in Belgium for an academic career. During this period I learned that my precious industrial engineering degree wasn’t recognised in Belgium. Besides, my partner was living in a little town in Wallonia, far from big cities and industry. Then I got pregnant, and things got even more complicated. I found myself to be a (desperate) housewife in a foreign country. That was pretty much the last thing I expected from my future.
I realised I couldn’t live like that and needed a job that I could do from home. I had read that there was a growing need for programmers and I remembered how much I loved programming lessons at the university. So I decided to start over!
It was 2017, by chance, Google offered scholarship opportunities that year for an online Android developer bootcamp, and I jumped in! I had found hope to get out my desperation, so I held it strong! Days, nights, weekends… I worked very hard to rebuild my career as a developer. And I really loved it! It wouldn’t be possible to work this hard if I didn’t.
What is your specialisation and what does a typical day look like for you?
I’m an Android developer. I wake up early to prepare kids for school. As soon as they are at school, I am in front of my computer. I either work on my apps: like adding a new feature, fixing a bug or refactoring. Or I spend time learning what is new, because Android has been changing very fast in the last years and there is always something new to learn!
I also keep an eye on Google Play Console and Google Firebase Analytics, to see if there are new reviews, or bug reports. I try to maximize my productivity while kids are not there, I take only short breaks to eat or drink while Android Studio is building/testing. I also work in the evenings after kids go to bed. In fact I even work on the weekends (I guess I’m a workaholic), but I’m less productive when kids are around.
What would be your dream project or job to work on?
From a technical perspective, an ideal project for me would have a codebase with recent Android libraries and definitely written in Kotlin.
Readability and discoverability is also very important for smooth onboarding. Other than that, I love having lots of technical challenges (otherwise I’d get bored) But my favorite are UI related challenges, like complicated custom views and animations. Creating beautiful experiences on the screen gives me so much pleasure!
But a healthy culture is even more important. A team where collaboration is valued more than personal achievements, and where people can ask questions without getting anxious about being looked down on.
Do your kids know what your job is? Have they shown any interest in coding?
My older son(6) knows what I’m doing. During the lockdown, when schools were closed, I started to make a game for helping kids learn to read and I included him in the project. He chose the graphics and imported them to the project.
He was also my first tester, he was very happy to find and report bugs 🙂 But he was also a (terrible) manager, as he was watching over my shoulder and requesting new features all the time and right away, not leaving me enough time to do it properly.
One morning he asked me “What did you add to the game last night mommy?” I said, “I cleaned up the code mess we did yesterday”. He looked at the app and said “So you did nothing” with a disappointed face. ” ?!.. (sigh) Yeah, I guess I did nothing”. Feature pressure in all its glory! 🙂
You can check out the game Oya and her son made here: Je Lis for Android
How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
I grew up along the sea side and I spent all my summers camping by the sea. Swimming was my favorite thing. But in the sea, not in a limited swimming pool! That’s something I miss a lot in Belgium.
I was once a good reader, I love literature, philosophy, history.. (I have a second degree in philosophy) I was writing as well. I was the editor of a student literature magazine when I was at the university. I used to organize events as well. I also had a passion for theater when I was younger.
I was a very active young lady once! But ever since I became a mom and I started programming, I don’t have time for hobbies any more. Trying to be a good mom and a good developer are enough of a challenge for the moment. Maybe when the kids are older, I’ll have time again.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
I was always into tech, maths was my favorite lesson since childhood. But I had chosen industrial engineering, not software engineering.
I was only taught MSDOS in secondary school and frankly, I found that very annoying 🙂 Then, I got some coding lessons while studying industrial engineering, like Java, SQL, a bit of HTML-CSS and coding of industrial machines, and I really enjoyed them.
But my decision to convert into programming came years later, when I needed a job that I could do from home. I’m very happy to be a developer now. Programming is an area where we can use both analytical skills and creativity, and that’s why I love it. I really love putting an idea or design into a real product that people can interact with. I even love fixing bugs, it’s like solving a puzzle.
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
In the beginning, I thought I have to know every single thing to the least detail, which caused me to feel incompetent. Many of my classmates started working after the bootcamp, but I didn’t believe that we were competent enough to start working. And when I looked at job announcements, I used to think I had to meet every single requirement. I quickly realised that some recruiters were writing very unrealistic job specs and it was fine not to be a wildcard-super-developer who can do everything 🙂 Now I’m making an effort to tame my perfectionism and be happy with myself 🙂
What do you think is an important skill every developer should have, but hasn’t been vocalised enough?
I guess the importance of clean code, modular architecture or separation of concerns are vocalised enough. You also hear a lot about testing and testability, but most of the time they stay as an “ideal”, a “nice to have”, but it is not much prioritised in reality as it doesn’t add direct value to the product.
Writing automated tests takes time, running UI tests takes time as well, and there are deadlines, and the users/managers/investors want to see new features.. But in fact testing adds value by preventing future damage. It’s like the money you pay for insurance. In the long run, it is definitely worth the time invested.
Another important thing not vocalised enough is the knowledge of accessibility. When I had my Android bootcamp (content prepared by Google!) four years ago, we were only taught that we should write content descriptions for images for accessibility, in a footnote, like a detail. It was only a few years later, when I first saw a blind person use a phone that I understood that I was not correctly labeling images or other items.
And of course, there are many other kinds of disabilities: some users can’t hear, some users can’t use a touch screen. We need to know our audience and their needs and adapt our apps for them. (But I checked out the new Android course prepared by Google and was happy to see that they have covered accessibility better this time)
Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?
Not a programmer, but a medical doctor, Türkan Saylan, inspired me a lot. She had kids when she was in med school. But she achieved to be a notable medical professor and also a dedicated social activist, who founded a charitable foundation that provides scholarships to girls in rural places where education of girls is not considered a priority.
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?
I follow Google’s official accounts of Android Developers on Youtube and Medium. I follow Android Weekly, and lots of developers on Youtube, Twitter, Medium and Github. I think it helps a lot for learning from the experiences of other developers and for staying up-to-date with the novelties in the field.
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
I was never exposed to gender based discrimination before, in my family or during my studies. I guess I was lucky. But when I got married and had kids, I hit a wall. This is something that happens to many women, but it shouldn’t be our destiny. And I think it is important that women support each other. Especially that we are a minority in the tech sector.
How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?
I think there is still a lot to do for gender equality in Belgium. And maternity is an important factor in the equation. We need more, high quality and affordable child care. And parents might need a more flexible schedule, and working from home can really help. I’m not working less because I’m a mom, I only need a more flexible schedule and possibility to work from home. And I say “parent”, not “mom”, because it is important to provide these opportunities to both parents, not only to moms. Otherwise, it only increases inequality. Paternity leave is still ridiculously low in Belgium. It is disappointing to see that kids are still considered to be solely women’s responsibility!
Oya is also one of our guest bloggers, check out her articles about Android
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You can find Oya on twitter.