Welcome back to the final installment in our summer series on women in tech, “Speaking in Code.” If you haven’t been following, check out the series introduction, our first Q&A with engineering manager Diana Dumitru and our second Q&A with software engineer Allison Schwarz.
Today we are profiling TT’s Jessica Duggins. Jessica began her career in the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) pit in the late 1990s after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with a degree in philosophy. As the trading industry grew more technical, so did her skills, and she joined TT in 2005 as an associate level tester. She has since worked her way through the test engineering department and now serves as the director.
What do you enjoy most about your job as Director of Software Quality Engineering (SQE)?
Jessica: I especially enjoy the managerial and team aspect of working with my SQE group, interfacing with the developers and figuring out how to solve problems. Software testing is a unique position. Traditional engineers tend to get the spotlight and the glory, but we’re their right-hand men and women. We have to take what they do, think about all the ways it can go wrong end-to-end, anticipate those things, test those things, debug issues and help solve problems.
Besides the technical work and the testing, we have to make hard judgement calls—are you ever really done testing? No. You could always keep going because great software is never really finished. But we have to stop at some point and deliver a stellar product and user experience. These judgement calls can be subjective, but you have to be confident about them. It’s a difficult balance, and it’s a sign of a good tester when they can be confident in making that call. I like this part of my job a lot, and I like working with testers on developing these types of skills.
This series focuses on the challenges women face working in technology, but those challenges can be just as prevalent in finance. What was your experience like there?
Jessica: Being in a trading pit of 20-25 guys and being the only woman in my early 20s thickened my skin, to say the least. To say women were a minority there would be an understatement. There were maybe two female traders at the entire CBOE that I recall. It could often be a flat-out sexist environment. All of the women on the floor were hired as runners or clerks. It was a status thing where the big-time traders wanted to hire the prettiest runners and clerks. I worked for the exchange itself, so I was outside of this phenomenon, but I definitely heard about it every time any runner walked past our pit. The guys in the pit are not shy. In retrospect, I’m glad I went through it because I learned so much, and frankly, it was pretty entertaining. Now, I would’ve never stayed for very long and those things would bother me more, but at that stage in my life, it was just an experience. The world there was beyond belief, true to so many stereotypes.
My experience in the financial sector is like night and day compared to the technology sector, both in terms of environment and percentages. We’re still outnumbered here at TT, but we have a lot of great women in technical roles, and in leadership and management roles. I’m glad there is a focus on the subject now, like with this blog series and with the effort you and our HR team are putting into spotlighting women in tech and attracting more women to our company.
I think TT actually helped the trading world become more diverse as well. Once trading went electronic, that equalized things in terms of physical barriers to women becoming traders. There was a truly physical aspect to being a good trader back then—being big, tall and loud was important. TT leveled the playing field in that sense for everyone, and that’s amazing.
How did you get interested in both finance and technology?
Jessica: My first job out of college was at the CBOE and I got into it just by chance. I was actually planning on going to grad school to become a professor. I had a friend who clerked for a Chicago trading firm, and she was learning a lot. They were teaching her how to trade, and she was developing technical skills as well. She was the one who encouraged me to get into the industry.I began my professional career at a small FCM as a trade desk clerk after spending about a year and a half at the CBOE, and I learned so much about trading there. It was intense and high-pressure. The phones didn’t stop ringing, and attention to detail and quality was extremely important. It was like you see in the old 90s trading movies where people are holding four phones at once and typing and yelling and slamming receivers. This was right when electronic trading was catching on, and we would either call the pits directly to get our customer orders filled or we would enter them electronically over the FCM platform or one of the exchange’s front ends.
I started doing testing work on the side for the FCM trading platform almost as a side job, mostly because it was very “buggy”—no one seemed to do anything proactive about that fact until a customer complained. It was a small company, and I actually played a variety of roles in my time there. I clerked, I tested, I did customer support and even got my Series 3 license and worked as a broker for some time.
In 2004, I happened to read an article in Chicago magazine about TT being one of the best places to work in the city. It sounded interesting, so I looked it up online and saw a position opening for a test engineer. To that point, I wasn’t even aware that it was a real career path, but it seemed like a perfect fit for me and my experience and what I liked about my experience at the FCM.
Have you ever had any hesitation or doubts that this was the industry you wanted to be in?
Jessica: No, I’ve always loved it. I have always been very happy at TT. I’ve had a lot of opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to work with good managers and mentors and great developers and testers. We’re always working toward something big. It never stops, we’re always advancing and it’s really exciting. The energy and always trying to stay one step ahead of our competitors were some of the same reasons I liked working in trading.
What has TT done specifically to create a welcoming environment for women in tech?
Jessica: TT has fostered an environment where people advance based on their contributions and ability regardless of gender. That’s all you really need. And again, that TT democratized trading by shifting it to the screen has created incredible opportunities for women, some at TT and some just in the broader world of electronic trading.
What advice do you have for women entering the industry?
Jessica: Learn how to code early. Take the technical path and the hard financial path. My daughter is five, and there are all sorts of cool games even for her age such as Robot Turtles and Dash and Dot to help instill programming skills in little kids.In terms of skills, math or finance knowledge coupled with computer science skills is a powerful mix, and there are a lot of opportunities for that skill set. The other “soft skill” advice I have is to be confident and speak your mind early and often. Even if showing that confidence makes you uncomfortable, keep doing it until it starts to come natural.
And this is biased, but examine a career path as an automation/test engineer. It’s very difficult for me to find good solid, technical testers these days. I think computer science grads shy away from it, somehow thinking it’s a step below the standard development path. I’ll tell you, the demand for a technical automation engineer is greater, and there is nothing “easier” about it.