Jess Bell, who many know from her leadership role in DCFemTech Collective and as a mentor for women in coder spaces, had a pretty eventful 2016. She continued to lead D.C. Tech Meetup with her co-organizers, joined Deloitte Digital as a web developer and revamped the DCFemTech Collective website. (She also won a 50 on Fire award in Community this year.)
But 2017 has plenty in store for her, too. On Monday, she’ll start a new job as a full-stack developer at The Washington Post after a stint at Deloitte Digital. Later this year, she’ll launch the DC Tech Stories podcast — a storytelling podcast about the stories of members of the DC tech community — all while continuing to build and grow the meetup spaces she co-organizes.
Bell, who isn’t shy about her political leanings, said a lot of her plans for D.C. tech this year come from the results of the presidential election. Prior to jumping into programming mid-career as a General Assembly student, Bell said she had dreams of getting into international reporting. And with the election of Donald Trump, she says it became more important for her to try and hold his office accountable.
“I was expressing my frustrations in the Women Who Code Slack channel on a project and being unsure of ‘Well, Trump is elected now, am I doing something that is going to actively combat his administration and his ideals? I am working for a government agency—What happens when their priorities change?'” Bell told DC Inno.
I’m all over the place and I meet a lot of interesting people, and I wanted to share that experience with everyone else.
Her upcoming podcast also touches on this idea. A lot of the people in D.C.’s tech community are people who come from diverse backgrounds, whether it be race, gender, socioeconomic status or nontraditional education, Bell says. With the new administration rolling in this week, Bell says it’s more important than ever to amplify these voices.
“I’m all over the place and I meet a lot of interesting people, and I wanted to share that experience with everyone else,” Bell said. “The election night kind of solidified it, but also all of the comments that people make all the time because they don’t know who technical workers really are plus the constant stereotype women face in the technical world.”
That’s where her new podcast comes in. The final product and sound are still in the works. Bell has a sound engineer—a former mentor who has experience in the field—and she’s drawing from popular shows such as WNYC’s Radiolab and WBEZ’s This American Life for inspiration.
Right now, she knows she’s going to interview people such at DataLensDC’s Kate Rabinowitz and Tech Lady Hackathon co-organizer Joy Whitt, and she’s soliciting suggestions for interviewees from the community. And she wants to release the first season, which could be between 5-10 episodes, all at once. But the rest is yet to be determined.
“People need to know that technical people are really these multi-faceted, colorful, interesting, talented people, and they’re using tech and they’re informing their tech from all different types of inputs,” Bell said. “It’s going to be an exercise for me of storytelling and piecing together the narrative. It’s a total experiment.”
We also have made a commitment this year to really focus on diversity and inclusion in all of its aspects.
And 2017, for Bell, wouldn’t be complete without additional plans for D.C. Tech Meetup and the DCFemTech Collective. As D.C. Tech Meetup adds more co-organizers—Clearly Innovative’s Aaron Saunders and ByteBack’s Elizabeth Lindsey—the group hopes to work harder to include different types of startups and companies to their events. The March closure of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, where the meetups are usually held, for renovations also poses a couple of problems for the meetup group. But Bell, at least, hopes this is a ripe opportunity to innovate their group, such as scraping the women’s founders and minority founders nights and instead focusing on how they reach out to presenters overall.
“We need to either start going outside the D.C. metro area or cap our audience or rotate locations or try and get more sponsors,” Bell said. “We also have made a commitment this year to really focus on diversity and inclusion in all of its aspects.”
For now, Bell is taking things one-step at a time. She’s spending the week organizing and setting up her podcast, next week she’s starting at Washington Post, and this Saturday, you’ll see her and a few other ladies in D.C. tech’s community at the Women’s March on Washington.
“If people want to get involved in D.C. Tech meetup or DCFemTech, I really want people to reach out to me,” Bell said. “If I’ve done anything, it is make a lot of connections, and that’s what I’m really good at is connecting people who are doing awesome work.”
Image from DC Inno’s 50 on Fire finalist photo shoot