Self-teaching through Tamagotchi: How Context’s all-women development team masters its domain
While Canada now has the lowest gender participation gap of all G-7 countries, men are still four times more likely than women to work in a tech role. This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating our small-but-mighty development team: four women who continue to flip the industry on its head—and aren’t stopping soon.
CH: Christine Hogenkamp, Developer
KL: Katrina Lovrick, UX/UI Lead
KM: Kelly McNamara, Senior Developer
JP: Joanna Poon, UX/UI Lead
How does your team compare to other UX/development teams in the industry? What’s it like?
KM: I’d say that being all women doesn’t define our team, but it’s a cool little bonus. It’s quite rare; in school, there were about 60 students in my program and only 10 of us were women. There were so few women and some didn’t feel comfortable, so they’d speak up less.
KL: It is unique. We didn’t actually set out to hire only women, it just happened naturally over the years.
CH: Compared to other teams I’ve worked on, it’s completely different. It brings out your best work because you’re not preoccupied having to fit some stereotype or gender expectation. It’s so much healthier and productive.
You guys are really in a groove working together. What makes it work so well?
JP: We’re all laid back, and we aren’t easily offended. This makes it very easy to collaborate and learn together.
KL: I agree, there’s no ego on our team. Because it’s not a competitive environment, we can support one other and we all feel comfortable asking each other for help.
CH: It’s not at all competitive. Sexism is systemic; when only a few women get hired in a pool of men, it divides women rather than bringing them together. If you know there are fewer positions available, you may be more inclined to compete instead of supporting and uplifting your female colleagues. That’s definitely not the case at Context.
KM: [laughing] I never understood the concept of a ‘safe space’ until I landed at Context; it sets a different standard for what professional respect is. It’s so healthy!
One of our core values is ‘to uplift and respect each other’ — has that been your experience at Context?
KM: What I love most is when you don’t know something, it’s not a disadvantage; you’re given the time to research and learn it. Everyone trusts that we’ll come back and nail it.
KL: There’s definitely a strong culture of trust. Everyone values our professional opinions — they’re rarely questioned.
CH: I agree, it’s really nice to be given the benefit of the doubt. In the past, I’ve had to justify my professional decisions to a degree where my male colleagues didn’t.
JP: We’re also trusted by our team to present to clients and brought in to explain any technical or design decisions. That’s empowering.
Who inspired you to go into your field? How did you get into it?
KM: I had always wanted to work in print design for a fashion magazine. Years later, when I was working as a designer, a developer colleague of mine encouraged me to go to school to learn code. I did — and now I love it.
KL: I was home-schooled for a while, so my dad always fostered creativity and encouraged my brother and I to be curious. We’d learn how to use computers and play video games together. Neopets also launched my interest — remember Neopets? [laughs] I taught myself to use CSS so that I could design my Neopets shop — I wanted it to look good!
JP: My interest started during the Tamagotchi boom. My older sister had learned to code html and I wanted to make a Tamagotchi website. I got fed up waiting for her and just figured it out on my own. Then I started making websites for all the things I was into and tried to get myself into web hosting circles. [laughs] You never wanted to be that loser stuck with paid advertising on their site! I learned DOS so I could use an old Windows 3 computer and in high school, I took a course to learn Java.
CH: I got into tech because of a co-op program in high school. I had the choice between working for a floral shop or for a new media program at the Canadian Film Centre (CFC), so I chose the latter. My job was to set up candy-coloured iMacs so students could develop their projects. Until then, I had never really thought of a computer as a design tool, so it opened up a new world for me. I loved problem solving — I’d go away and play with it and eventually get the technology to work. Later, I taught myself code by simply looking at source code. It’s all about playing around and figuring stuff out.
There are a number of organizations, like Girls who Code, working hard to close the gender gap. Do you think enough is being done by the industry?
KL: I’d like to see more fostering of women’s education in coding. When I went to school, computer tech and development wasn’t ever my career goal. I’d keep taking the courses, partially because I was getting good grades, but also because of the positive reinforcement and encouragement I received from professors. Now that I teach, when I see women stand out I try to inspire and encourage them.
KM: One thing that the team has in common is that we were all exposed to tech and design at a young age. My dad used to build computers, so I had direct influence. School boards are now teaching more digital fundamentals, so games and tech are more accessible to all kids, not just boys, like when we were younger.
KL: Yes! I’d love to see less gender bias in kids’ toys. It used to be that boys got video games, and girls got kitchen toys or dolls. Today, there are lots of games geared towards girls. They’re able to create things using technology and hone their development skills.
CH: Less gendering of all things, please! We also need to think about making tech more accessible to children in general. It’s not just about gender inequality — this is an issue of race and class inequality. Many schools don’t have computers.
International Women’s Day is coming up. Is it significant for you personally, to be part of an all-women team?
JP: International Women’s Day reminds us that so many of us deal with issues of inequality. Because I don’t experience it, I often forget that. I’m so thankful to work in an environment where I don’t experience sexual harassment or feel marginalized.
KL: For me, it’s a huge point of pride. The fact that our all-women team was never intentional or even due to a hiring mandate somehow gives it more credibility — it feels earned.