Kate Westbrook - She/They
Full-Stack Software Developer
Kate Westbrook is a full stack software developer at Planes Agency, making tech products that help digital businesses. She loves seeing ideas turn into real life useful and beautiful products through the magic of code. Kate is passionate about making the web more green and inclusive and has also written a guide on how to run an inclusive hackathon, which you can find on the Planes Agency blog.
Please tell us more about your career
I currently work in tech for a digital product agency - I am a software developer. I love the fact I get to build things, work out solutions to problems and I am always learning. I also love the fact I am able to pursue and work on the things I really care about, with support from the company and the people I work with. Like when I decided I wanted to run a green hackathon for junior developers from underrepresented groups in the first 6 months of my role - everyone jumped on board to help make it happen.
I have had a wiggly path to get to where I am - from cultural learning programmes for children and young people in museums to working as a primary school teacher. I am really proud of the skills those jobs taught me about communication, presenting ideas and project management, but I also am so glad I made the switch into tech. I spent a lot of time masking to make those more public facing jobs work, and now I can be my true self!
Sometimes I do wish I had pursued software development a bit earlier on (I always have loved computers, languages, problem solving so it is an obvious fit). I also know that the first 10 years of my career had many challenges which I know have made me a more resilient person, and a better communicator, so I am proud that I achieved so much and made it work. I also only recently found out I am Autistic so I think that knowledge might have helped me to ask for the accommodations I needed earlier on. Now I am super happy with my role (who wouldn't want to work on accessible AI products, write accessible development guidelines, run green hackathons for junior developers? I love it!)
I am super excited about the future as a software developer - I want to keep building my technical skills and to make the web a greener, more inclusive and more accessible place.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
I only found out I was Autistic last year, aged 34, but I believe it has had a huge effect on my career path so far.
I have tried loads of different jobs, from being a primary school teacher, museum educator, project manager, line producer for film and photography, and working for a perfume company. I found some of these incredibly difficult, particularly from a social point of view, and never lasted long, despite my best efforts.
In 2020, I retrained as a software developer, and since moving to tech, I have found a career that truly suits my attention to detail and problem solving skills. I also can use all the skills I built throughout my wiggly career, including using my teaching and project management skills to run a hackathon for beginner coders from groups underrepresented in tech.
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
The tech industry so far has been the most neurodivergent friendly place I have ever worked. I am able to work from home with flexible hours and a lot of my communication is written via computer or via video call so I am able to use subtitles. My role as a software developer seems to really makes best use of my Autistic qualities - I spend all day spotting patterns, doing creative problem solving and finding better ways of doing things. There is a strong collaborative and supportive culture of women in tech - we are a smaller sub-sector of the industry, but there is a culture of sharing and mentoring which is invaluable in combating imposter syndrome.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
I have found the online community hugely helpful in understanding my neurodivergency. I always thought Autistic people were little boy geniuses who were brilliant at maths, but since finding my people on LinkedIn, Twitter and Reddit, I have been overjoyed to find out that Autism can look like me. This really helped me come to terms with and understand my diagnosis. Also, the flexibility and supportive environment I have found in my job in tech has been a huge benefit to me.
If the previous questions did not feel relevant to you, please share something else that captures your experience as a Neurodivergent person.
Being a differently wired brain impacts all parts of my life - I often felt like an alien, landed on earth and trying to speak human (sometimes quite unsuccessfully). But following my passions, shouting about things I care about, trying to make the world a better place, and finding my own community of fellow aliens has made my life really interesting and beautiful!