Written by: Mika Go Tiong
Interview by: Audrey Pe
Whether because of sheer curiosity or personal career choices, most women are in search for an avenue that provides them not just the resources, but also the empowerment to pursue their programming passions. Luckily, Seoul’s tech industry has housed a small yet growing haven for Korean women through Django Girls, a non-profit organization and community that aims to close the gender gap in Korea’s tech industry.
Freelance web developer and Django Girls organizer Jiyoung Hwang shares that her interest in coding started in her last year in university when she helped build her professor’s WordPress site. After joining programming clubs, she began to dabble in different languages, from Ruby on Rails to Python and Django. It was hard for Jiyoung to escape the programming world as she worked with developers while she was a researcher and project manager in a small startup. This was when she had her epiphany.
“I began to wonder if I was learning anything new or if I would still want to [pursue my career] in another five years. My answer was ‘no.’”
Upon seeing the measurable impact created by technology, Jiyoung decided to become a developer herself.
Jiyoung got into the tech scene around the same time she felt very strongly about women empowerment. According to her, joining Django Girls had created a big impact on her journey because she was able to embrace the tech community culture of respect amid diversity. While most tech workspaces characterize a space of pandemonium, Django Girls breaks this stereotype, along with the common Korean notion of competitive learning. One of the strongest suits of Django Girls is the fact that they foster a very empowering community that encourages collaborative growth. According to Jiyoung, it is part of the Django Girls culture to learn from each other. The work environment has allowed Jiyoung to enjoy working with others, especially since she gets to connect with other developers, give and receive feedback, and share best practices.
As Jiyoung continues to slay in the field of technology, she wishes the industry to become more progressive in the sense of questioning tech-desirable values and their gender attributions. “[The tech industry] seems very open and equal, and people seem to value meritocracy. However, men are still considered a better fit for STEM-related positions.” It’s not just in Korea that a patriarchal culture has permeated such notions. However, there has been a growing movement to reject mainstream ideas through programs that help women break stereotypes and go for careers people would not really expect them to.
When asked to give advice for girls who wish to pursue careers in technology, Jiyoung’s message is extremely impactful: “Don’t listen to advice.” While it may seem daunting especially for those who are unsure of which path to take, Jiyoung simply wishes to inspire women to believe in themselves. “There might be people who will give you unsolicited advice doubting your ability or diminishing your accomplishment especially because we are a minority in tech. You know yourself so much better than they do.” Ultimately, she encourages these budding programmers to surround themselves with people who believe in them, just as how Django Girls aims to empower women to become frontliners of the tech scene.
Mika Go Tiong is a junior at the Ateneo de Manila University taking up Management Engineering. A self-proclaimed (and multi-quiz-sorted) Slytherclaw, she matches ambition with wit and curiosity as she dabbles with interests in entrepreneurship, sustainable development, youth empowerment, musical theater, and writing. Guided by this myriad of influences, Mika envisions a holistic society where advocacies thrive with the support of research, logical frameworks, and technology.