Geek Speak: Saba El-Hilo, organizer of Girl Development

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      Saba El-Hilo works as a software engineer at HootSuite, the company behind a popular social media management app. The 25-year-old Vancouver resident wants to see more women in positions like hers.

      In August, El-Hilo founded Girl Development, a Meetup group, with the aim of building a community of women in the local technology industry. Girl Development now has over 180 members. The group’s latest event—an evening of lightning talks—took place on November 7. Next up is a social on November 19, which El-Hilo says will be a “fun night where there will be a lot of female developers under one roof”.

      Before she joined HootSuite earlier this year, El-Hilo worked for Etsy in New York City and MDA in Richmond. She holds a master’s degree in computing science from Simon Fraser University.

      The Georgia Straight reached El-Hilo by phone at the HootSuite office.

      What is Girl Development?

      It is a group focused on encouraging females to enter the technology industry. We provide courses that help females to develop new skills or build on their previous skills. But we’re also trying to build a community that supports females in the industry and basically create a tight-knit community, where you can find role models, find mentors, and find people that you can connect with and share what you're working on with.

      What drove you to create the Meetup group?

      What drove me to create this group is I have been in the industry for a while now, and I’ve noticed there is a severe gender disparity in the field. My personal theory is that it’s because of a lack of role models for females in the industry. So, I started the group to provide those role models and to encourage senior female developers to come out and tell junior females why they should enter the industry and why it’s a great avenue to go down.

      How could the local tech industry take action to address the gender gap?

      I don’t have an answer for that, because personally I don’t know what to do. I think first we have to understand the problem, and I don’t think the problem is understood fully. I don’t think we understand where the root of the problem is so that we could focus on solving that.

      What do you do at HootSuite?

      I’m a software engineer on the development team, and I basically build new features or modify existing code. I was a team lead on a whole bunch of features. Just building things really.

      Why do you think women should consider careers in software?

      It’s a very rewarding career. You get to build things. You get to interact with a lot of very smart people. You get the satisfaction of seeing your product out in the wild and seeing how people interact with it. You’re always learning, and it’s not a stagnant job. There are so many opportunities out there. There’s a huge need for developers. It’s a really fun job. It’d be great to see more females in it and solve this whole gender disparity, because there’s no logical reason why it should exist. It’s an evolving job that’s always exciting. It’s a great career choice.