What It's Like To Be A (Woman) Developer On Hillary Clinton's Tech Team

New York based Carrie Villines worked remotely as a Front-end Developer for three years, until she was hired, through PowerToFly, to work for Hillary For America as a Front-end Software Engineer. Now based in an office, the freelancer turned full-timer explains, "I also never thought I'd have the opportunity to work on a presidential campaign, so I'm happy with the way it worked out!" We spoke with Carrie about what it's like being on Hillary Clinton's tech team, the coolest aspects of her work culture and why she traded in photography for a career in tech.

This interview was conducted by Chie Davis for PowerToFly.

Carrie with Winnie, their "Director of Bark-end Engineering." Courtesy of Carrie Villines.

What's your experience been like working for Hillary for America?
I've been there for two months now, and it's been great so far. It's really fast paced. There's a lot of work to do, but everyone is super smart, motivated and friendly. It's one of the best environments I've worked in.

Have you met Hillary Clinton? What is her plan for creating more opportunities for women in tech?
I haven't met her yet, but I can say she understands the importance of technology. She's definitely committed to creating opportunities in technology and making the tech workforce more diverse, not just for women, but for other segments of the population who have traditionally had limited access to technical training. To this effect, she recently released a plan for investing in computer science education and creating more technology jobs.

Tell us more about your role and any standout projects that you're working on.
My team is in charge of the website, blogs, storytelling and rapid response microsites. In preparation for the conventions and general election, we just relaunched www.hillaryclinton.com with a new design. Built with WordPress, Node.js, React, and NuclearJS, it's much more dynamic than its predecessor, and gives the content team a lot more flexibility to respond quickly to events. The other tech teams are doing some really interesting work too, building software to streamline fundraising and increase voter engagement and turnout. Our app team also recently launched an iPhone app -- Hillary 2016, to engage and mobilize supporters. Although the election is only a few months away, we still have a lot of projects in the works (and we're still hiring!)

What's one cool thing about your job and/or team that people outside of HFA don't know?

One fun part of the job is that a lot of high profile supporters come through the office to talk to the team, like Elizabeth Warren, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, even Jon Bon Jovi. Bill Clinton also stopped by recently.

What is it like being a woman on Hillary Clinton's tech team?

The tech team is the most diverse team I've ever worked on, which is reflective of the overall office environment. We have a female CTO and the tech team is about 40% female, which is really unusual. The campaign as a whole puts a priority on diversity. In the tech department, team members are involved with the interview process, and a good culture fit is as important as technical skills.

Please describe the work culture at Hillary For America.
I've never worked with a more passionate, dedicated group of people. Coming from an agency background, I've never felt I was making a difference at a job. At HFA there's a tangible sense that we are working toward a common, important goal. The high stakes make it a really unique environment.

What's the biggest thing you've learned while working on a political campaign, for a top candidate?
I've never worked on a campaign, or for an organization, which is in the news so much and elicits such strong reactions. Sometimes it can be a challenge to tune out the noise and focus on the work. It's also really interesting to meet people on other teams, like legal, communications, policy, and analytics. It's been an eye opener to see all the different facets of a campaign.

Do you work from home or in the office? What tools do you use to stay productive?
I work in the office. I was reluctant to go back to an office after working remotely for three years, but the office environment is great. This is definitely an organization that benefits from having the tech team in one place. Things move quickly and everybody needs to be on the same page. In addition to daily stand ups, we rely on Slack and Jira to stay organized.

What prompted you to pursue a career in tech, with your strong background in photography?

I graduated with an MFA in Photography from Parsons at the beginning of the recession, in 2008, with a ridiculous amount of student loan debt. Most people I knew with art degrees were struggling to make a living in the arts. I had built websites for myself and friends since I became a photographer, and wanted to find work in a growing industry. It also appealed to me that tech offers opportunities to work remotely. I started out as a web designer for an art website, but ultimately I found front end development more satisfying. Before joining the campaign I worked as a front end developer for a marketing agency, building online sweepstakes and games of chance. While I'm happy to have landed in tech for many reasons, one of the issues I'm glad to see Hillary addressing is student loan debt. It can be really debilitating, especially for people with liberal arts degrees, where career paths aren't well defined.

How do you spend your off time?

I'm not sure how much free time I'll have between now and the election! But, in my spare time I'm usually renovating a house that I own with my boyfriend, which is a good counterbalance to sitting at a computer all day. In the last few years I've also gotten involved with TNR (Trap Neuter Return), fixing feral cats in my neighborhood and finding homes for their kittens to reduce the feral cat population. Spaying and neutering is so important, as is adoption. There are so many homeless animals due to human negligence.

How did you find PowerToFly?

I heard about PowerToFly through a Skillcrush webinar. I joined looking for remote work, so it's ironic that I ended up in an office. But I also never thought I'd have the opportunity to work on a presidential campaign, so I'm happy with the way it worked out!

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