Imelda Gunawan sits at her computer for 10 to 12 hours a day, armed with her usual glass of ice coffee and pack of Dunhill cigarettes. On her monitor are lines upon lines of programming language. To the common eye, these codes may appear incomprehensible, but to her, it is “magical.”
Imelda works in the male-dominated industry of information technology, which is challenging in itself. While her work involves something that many find difficult to comprehend, she managed to master it without attending university.
But rather than seeing that detail as a limitation, she believes it has been beneficial in motivating her to succeed.
When people think about programming codes, many imagine the swirling green binary codes in ‘The Matrix.’ Why did you want to learn that?
I have a passion for writing poetry, and I used to submit my poetry to community websites. With a growing collection of my own poems, I had the idea of having my own website featuring my work. Geocities was a popular site back then, providing free web pages that came with a website generator but I found that the generator restricted my creativity. I want a website with my own design.
Since web development was a new thing in 2001 and there were no web development schools in Jakarta, I decided to order some HTML programming language books from Amazon.com. I did reach my goal of having my own poetry collection website, but I was also fascinated and enthralled by programming.
Then there was Macromedia Flash. I plunged myself into the Flash world and even dared myself to take part in the first website competition in Jakarta. I didn’t win and was quite disheartened because all the participants —who were all males — had gone to university to hone their skills.
I later took part in the same competition and won the Bubu Awards in 2003 for ‘Second Place for Macromedia Flash’ and the ‘Best Female Web Designer’ category. The following year, in the Adikarya Web Design Awards, I won third place for the Macromedia Flash category.
Web development is a hobby that has gone beyond the limit and has become my primary job.
How exposed to technology were you before this?
I was a totally computer illiterate and was introduced to the Internet when the connection speed was only 14.4 kilobytes per second around 2001. At that time, I didn’t even know how to shut down a computer. I thought I just needed to unplug everything.
How do you view websites and their contribution to business?
A website is like a spider web, a neatly designed, strong and secured coding structure, which is a beneficial long-term investment.
Sometimes I deal with severely damaged, or hacked, websites and I have to scan through hundreds of files and folders to find the loopholes and eliminate scripts that hackers put into the webpage.
I have to accommodate endless demands from clients who are not that technologically adept and make sure their needs are met.
Being a web developer, I have to constantly update my knowledge on programming languages because the technology keeps evolving.
Before, it was enough to know only a single programming language. Now, a knowledge of at least four programming languages and the ability to operate numerous software programs is crucial.
The web is a 24/7 online business, and now it’s a must to have your company’s existence expand into social media. So, sleep deprivation is a bit of a routine.
Is it hard to compete with programmers who were formally trained?
On the contrary. It really gets on my nerves when someone has a degree in IT, yet their knowledge is limited, especially when you’re working as a team. I have high expectations for these people because of the degree they have.
Have you experienced discrimination, since IT is a field dominated by men?
Fortunately, there’s nothing serious. However, during my learning period whenever I needed to discuss something or find answers in IT-related forums, the males tend to make fun of you when they know you are female.
Since then, I always register myself as male with a male user name.
Have you ever felt that being a woman helps you when interacting with others you work with?
I would call my gender a blessing. In this male dominated industry, when a female can present her insight in a respected manner, others will look up to you.
Do people look at you much differently when they find out you’re a web programmer?
Most are surprised, but that is followed by a genuine comment of being impressed [smiles], because they usually stereotype the techies as geeks or nerdy-looking males.
Imelda was talking to Sheri Lohardjo.