Mentor Profile: Kate Nielsen

Kate Nielsen’s academic and professional background is varied: She majored in women’s studies and international relations at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and she worked in social work for nearly a decade before she transitioned into a web development-focused career.

Kate Nielsen

Those exact varied interests, Nielsen said, are what make her excited about Kansas City Women in Technology and the range of skillsets that women bring to the profession. “I think it’s great that so many women are putting themselves in that arena,” said Nielsen, who has served as a Coding & Cocktails mentor for about two years, alongside owning On Tap LLC, a web development company.

In addition to mentoring for Kansas City Women in Technology’s Coding & Cocktails, Nielsen serves as a board member for the Waldo Area Business association, and she also is active in Athena League and as an ambassador for the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

1. How did your interest in coding begin?


I was in social work. I was an organic farmer. Really, I got burned out in social work and I joined a marketing company. I knew nothing about marketing, but I learned, and I started to build websites in a WYSIWYG Web Builder. I got frustrated with my lack of control, so I taught myself to code so I could have more control over the website. Then, I went and did the Johnson County Community College Web Design tract, to get some official training.

2. How has your technical knowledge transferred into other aspects of your life?


>Working with a bunch of software engineers and developers in general really pushes you to be an independent problem solver. I’ve used that to apply to growing my business. I feel like it’s made me a better business person. When you are stuck in a technical problem, you cannot throw your hands up and quit. I apply that to my business all the time, as well.

3. What do you enjoy most about your work?


Right now, I enjoy building my team and trying to fit everybody’s strengths together. Since I have been a developer, I’m fairly good at managing developers because I know the issues that they face. I think that makes us a stronger, more cohesive team.

4. What are the more challenging aspects of your career?


Honestly, it’s a good and a bad thing, but I don’t code very much anymore. I do business development. I manage our projects and allocate our clients. I miss coding. It’s sort of like riding a bike: If you stop doing it, you can quickly forget. I actually miss that part, and I miss that creativity. I love mentoring because I obviously think more women should be in the field. Since I have worked in all-male software environments, it can be intimidating for women, at times. I think it’s good for women to have those safe spaces and talk about things – it’s really important to me.

5. What advice would you offer your younger self-today, or to someone who is looking to shift careers into one more coding-based?


Tap into your deepest level of confidence and self-assurance. Know that you have the ability to do it. It’s all about persistence and confidence; that’s all it’s about. Don’t afraid or think that you don’t have the skillset. I always thought that I wasn’t a math person, but I forced myself to learn how to code because I wanted to change what was on the webpage.

6. If you could tell the general public one thing about software engineers and what it means to write code, what would it be?


Don’t be intimidated by anyone who is in the field and who has the title of “software engineer.” They box it in with IT and the smart people that they don’t want to bother. They are just like everybody else, and don’t be intimidated by anyone who has that label. Remember that you are just as smart and as important as they are.

7. How do you envision STEM evolving into our daily lives?


>I think it will become more integrated into everybody’s lives. When I worked at a software firm, our receptionist was assigned to help us with a project – she was in college, and she had taken HTML classes in high school. I think that’s more of the norm these days.

Adrianne DeWeese
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