GitHub Leadership Spotlight: Rachel White, Developer Experience Lead at American Express

Leader spotlight: Rachel White

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Every March we recognize the women who have shaped history—and now, we’re taking a look forward. From driving software development in large companies to maintaining thriving open source communities, we’re spending Women’s History Month with women leaders who are making history every day in the tech community. Rachel is a technologist, artist, pretend-cyborg, and currently the Developer Experience Lead at American Express. Her previous roles include Microsoft, IBM, and Adobe. She has spoken internationally about Node.js, JavaScript, Creative Coding, the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, NodeBots, and hardware. As a previous artist-in-residence at Pioneer Works, she worked on a series visualizing modern cybernetic augmentation using today’s hardware, special effects makeup, and prosthetics. Her other interests include glitch art, 80s horror films, and indie games. Rachel defines her aesthetic as: fog machines, lasers, and broken VHS tapes.

How would you summarize your career (so far) in a single sentence?

I know I said this on the CodeNewbie podcast, but I stand by it:

“There are no such thing as unknown answers, it’s just future knowledge that you don’t have yet.”

 

What was your first job in tech like?

First real salaried job? Absolutely terrible. My degree (which I threw away a long time ago) is from an unaccredited art school in graphic design—and it turns out I’m not that great at graphic design. When I graduated I was living in Philadelphia and nobody would take me seriously at all. I was applying for tech roles since I’ve always programmed as long as I “designed” but nobody cared. After a ton of rejections, I was talking to a guy on a dating site who I’d been talking to for months and he said, “You should move to St. Louis. There’s a lot of tech here.” So I just packed up and did it.

I had my first job within two weeks at an IT and other technical services company. My job responsibilities were: Designing and coding websites, configuring servers and conducting technical support for the websites, attending and presenting at client meetings, etc. And I was the only person doing this—there wasn’t anyone else on the web services team. I had a tiny office in a little closet and I “had” to dress business casual, which makes me extremely uncomfortable.

It was terrible. I lasted about a year until they finally decided offering web stuff wasn’t as lucrative as IT and got rid of my role. I moved on to a “hip” ad agency after that.

How has mentorship and/or community contributed to your career growth? Any favorite resources you’d like to share?

“I absolutely wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for community. I wish I could yell from the rooftops to every developer out there who is just starting out, or who is struggling to network, that they need to make friends and talk to as many people as possible.”

Seek out your local programming meetups and start attending. If you’re from an underrepresented community, apply for diversity scholarships to conferences and talk to as many people as you can while there. Engage with people on Twitter. You’ll make such valuable connections with people professionally and socially. Some of my closest friends are people I’ve met from attending conferences and going to meetups; I’ve also gotten a lot of professional connections and a job or two from it as well.

Some online resources I would highly recommend are CodeNewbie , Meetup to find local groups, and the JSConf family of conferences .

What are you looking forward to next?

I took this year off from conference speaking because I was burnt out from going so hard for three years. I’m really excited to take this time for myself to learn some new tech (like shaders and VR) and to brush up on fundamentals I missed out on being self-taught. It’s nice to not feel the pressure of having to self-promote all the time, and I can instead use my free time upskilling things that really interest me. I’m excited for all the weird and fun things I’m going to make when I feel like my battery has recharged.

Want to know more about Rachel White? Follow them on GitHub or Twitter.


Want to learn more about featured leaders for Women’s History Month? Read about:

Check back in soon—we’ll be adding new interviews weekly throughout March.