Writing Code & Spinning Yarns: A Rare Woman in Tech

ARMATURE senior developer Shawnea Carter lives at the intersection of knitting & coding.

Across the country and around the world, there’s a dearth of women in tech. Not here. ARMATURE’s development team is comprised of 50 percent women, and they do powerful and brilliant things with code on a daily basis. One of our senior software developers, Shawnea Carter, is easy to pick out in any given planning meeting, because she’s always knitting. Sweaters, socks, mittens, you name it. We wanted to untangle this surprising combination of programming and knitting—and one conversation with Shawnea was all it took to recast our thinking about what it means to be a woman in tech, what it means to be a feminist, and what creativity looks like. Let’s dig in.

Let’s start with an easy question: how long have you been with ARMATURE?

A little more than three years.

What do you do here?

I’m a senior software developer, and my role is to take the business requirements and processes that our customers have and convert those into technology. So for example, our customers go through this huge quality management process, and a lot of times they’ll have to get data from five or six different spots, so part of my job is to figure out how we’re going to feed that data into our products so their process goes smoothly. I’m bilingual—I speak business and geek, which comes in handy! We might need to take data from their system and bring it into ours, or finish a process on our side and then push the data back to them.

So you orchestrate those decisions and architect the technology behind them.

That’s right.

How did you get into programming?

I was actually a music major in college. It’s not uncommon to find creative people from arts backgrounds in this field, and when you stop to think about why a musician would get into programming, it’s not that surprising: both jobs involve taking symbols, other languages that can mean different things, and translating those. As a programmer, I might be working in four or five different languages, but each of the languages does a certain thing. It’s figuring out which one is going to do what you need it to do. Music is similar—a big part of it is symbol translation combined with math and logic.

Makes sense. But it still feels like a big jump to go from music to coding.

It is in a way. But it works for me, because I’ve always been one of those lifetime learner types, which makes a career in technology so appealing. When it comes to technology, if you’re bored, you’re just not working that hard at it, because the technology is always changing. ARMATURE is a company that really embraces change and innovation, so there’s never a day when I’m not learning something new. That opportunity for continuous learning, combined with the creative problem solving and translation skills involved in programming, makes for a winning combination in my book.

And knitting? Where does knitting fit in?

Knitting is similar to technology in that you could spend your entire life learning about different knitting cultures and techniques from around the world, and you’d never be able to learn it all. A lot of it is math, and you always start off with a formula that helps you calculate how much yarn you’ll need, and what steps to follow, to satisfy the requirements of the piece you’re knitting. So if you’re knitting a traditional Norwegian sweater, for example, you start by knitting the two sleeves, and then you knit the body, and then you join it together, and all of this is worked in the round, with the yoke.

So it’s almost modular?

Well it is, and here’s where the geeky part comes in. So if I have this yarn that I’m knitting with, I can measure and know that I am getting X number of stitches per inch (gauge, if you want to get technical). I can plug the gauge into a formula that will tell me what adjustments need to be made for whatever size garment I want to make.

I can see the parallels with breakpoints in responsive design, for instance, where you have a certain amount of space to work within, and you have to measure and make decisions based on that.

Absolutely! And then you get to be a little bit creative by saying, “Ok, I know I need this many stitches, but this particular motif requires this, so where do I increase, where do I decrease, where do I need to adjust to make this work?”

Why do you knit at work?

I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid, and knitting helps a great deal with that. You’ll notice that at almost every meeting we’re sitting in, I’m going to be knitting. And the reason for that is, if my hands aren’t busy while we’re talking, if it goes more than fifteen minutes, you have lost me. But I can knit away and it helps me retain what I’m consuming, and there’s just something about the rhythm of it.

So it helps you focus, helps you concentrate.

Yes. With really long projects, when we’re having planning meeting after planning meeting after planning meeting, the thought process that goes through my head is, “We discussed this a few weeks ago…” and then silently I’ll think, “It was the sheep mittens! I was halfway through the sheep mittens!” and then I can remember what was being said. I may look like I’m not paying attention when I’m knitting, but in fact it’s the opposite—I’m taking everything in and retaining it.

Have you ever felt conspicuous while knitting in a meeting? Especially as a woman in tech?

Never. One thing I love about ARMATURE is that everyone is respected and valued for who they are, regardless of gender or personality quirks. I never have to pretend to be anyone else, because here our individual personalities and contributions are valued, and the focus is on the important work we do every day on behalf of our accreditation and quality management customers. It feels good to spend my days supporting organizations that care about making the world a better place through quality management, and it feels good to be able to do it my way.

With a bag of yarn by your side and a smile on your face. Thank you, Shawnea!

My pleasure.

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