Inspiring Women in Tech: Interview with Kristen Foster-Marks

Kristen Foster-Marks, Director of Engineering for the Value Delivery team at Pluralsight Flow, discusses the creative nature of programming, the importance of believing in yourself, and more.

The tech world is a lively one of business deals, machines, innovation and much more. However, it’s vital not to overlook the diverse range of women that inspire such activity and progress.

In our second ‘Inspiring Women in Tech’ Interview, we talk to Kristen Foster-Marks, Director of Engineering for the Value Delivery team at Pluralsight Flow.

She is a former ESL/EFL instructor who spent her early career teaching Academic English and Composition at Colorado State University.

Foster-Marks transitioned into a career in software development in 2016, and through learning programming languages, has been delighted to observe the many similarities between learning human and computer languages.

What drew you to engineering/STEM and how did you get started?

Two things really drew me to software engineering: The creative nature of programming, and the security offered via the overwhelming ratio of available jobs to available engineers to do those jobs. For most of my life, I was an utter Luddite; I’d always thought that I was going to be a writer. By my late-twenties, I had found myself teaching Academic Writing and Composition at a state university with little room for professional growth. At that time, my husband had just completed a degree in Computer Science, and he was doing really creative work – problem-solving and learning constantly. I quickly found myself intrigued, and ended up learning a little web development on my own – basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript – and loved it. Before long, I had committed to a six-month immersive bootcamp, and five years later, I can say without hesitation that it was the best decision I ever made.

What roadblocks have you encountered in your pursuit of a career in tech?

If anything, I think the only roadblock I’ve faced in pursuing this career was not understanding as a young woman that computer programming was absolutely something I could do. I had subscribed to the common stereotype that programming was a job done by uber-intellectual men. Once I decided this was the route I wanted to go, I buckled down to study, learn and practice. The resources are there for learning, the mentors are there for helping, and the jobs are absolutely there – oftentimes our biggest roadblocks are the ones we imagine up, or those imposed through a lack of exposure to role models in the field.

What do you think are the benefits to early exposure to STEM education and careers in STEM?

In the case of computer science education, I think that the earlier a child is exposed to programming computers and the associated technical concepts, the greater that child’s ultimate attainment of programming languages and technical skills will be. Learning programming languages is quite analogous to learning foreign or second languages, in my experience, and the earlier children are exposed to either, the better. As for career exposure, I think it’s important to teach children what these skills can allow them to do in the world – who they can be, with these powers. As a computer programmer, you truly can follow your dreams and your passions – today, every company has a software team, and wherever one’s passions lie, there’s likely room and need for software engineers to contribute.

There is a lack of diversity in STEM, from early education to the workforce, why is it important to have diversity in STEM?

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of diversity in STEM fields. In all fields, I would argue. Every individual who decides not to pursue a career because they don’t see people like them doing that job introduces a loss to themselves as individuals, and a potential (even likely) loss to the success or advancement of ideas in that field.

What advice would you give to a kid or young adult considering going into STEM? How does that advice change as they get older – from primary/elementary school, through university/college and even into the workforce?

If you have any interest in doing it, but are doubting your ability, just do it. Believe in yourself. Know that it will be challenging, and know that you will need help and mentors, and be ready to fail a thousand times a day as you learn, and then every day of your career, but remember that with focus and dedication, you can learn these skills. All of those little, inevitable failures add up to ultimate success, given enough time. And this advice doesn’t change, depending on age. Are you a 17-year-old woman, deciding if you can handle a computer science curriculum? Just do it. Are you a 40-year-old adjunct English instructor who needs to make a change? Just do it. And remember to ask for a lot of help along the way.

If you missed the first tech-themed interview, we spoke with Lilac Mohr, Interim VP of Engineering, Flow, at Pluralsight.

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