I met Melanie when we both worked in the same department in a small startup in The Silicon Valley, California. I was new in the tech/engineering side of things, so I came to Melanie with my many questions on the intricacies of html coding and development. On today’s episode of Speak Your Truth, Melanie and I have a chance to catch up, discuss the evolution of Web Development, the challenges that come with working in the industry, and the future.
Melanie Panem was born in San Jose, California, but grew up in Milpitas, California. Milpitas is in the heart of what is known as the “Silicon Valley.” She is 32 years old as of the time of the interview, and lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her son and husband.
In her childhood, Melanie says that she used to “copycat everything my older brother did.” Seeing as her older brother was a Senior Engineer, working with some of the top companies in the world, it’s came as no surprise to Melanie that she became interested in graphic and web design. When she was offered her first job in the Tech Industry, at a small startup company in Silicon Valley, she said that she was reluctant at first:
It wasn’t actually something I was seeking out. It was more I was into graphic design. I heard about this opportunity through I had this friend that ended up being an amazing referral to the company we used to work at. It sounds like a position that would be really cool to start in and learn a lot of stuff. Even though I wasn’t seeking to go into that industry, The Computer Science Industry, that’s what they call this industry. It [the opportunity] kind of just fell into my lap. To be honest, I had kind of been avoiding it…being called a developer. Since for the fact that my brother is a huge computer science engineer…he retired from Google at age 27. ‘I don’t want to be a copycat. I can’t do that.’ I copycatted my brother all growing up. I didn’t want to copy being a developer…But growing up in Silicon Valley, it was more likely to happen there than anywhere else, so it was still a super lucky opportunity.Melanie Panem, Web Developer
Today you can find Melanie at her home in Las Vegas, where she works from home. Although she’s only resided in the city for a short while, she loves the art, the architecture, and the community that Las Vegas has to offer, “I love Las Vegas! It used to be for the party scene. It is an inspiring city to be in if you’re into art… Or architecture… That’s not the type of architecture you see in any city on the West Coast. So, it’s not for the party scene anymore why I’m here. I love the community here.”
Her career’s focal point is the Tech Industry and she is currently employed as a Web Development Specialist. To break that title down a little bit:
What that means is I’m a front-end web developer. Front end is where you’re working on the stuff that people actually see and interact with, as opposed to the back end, working on the database. The reason I have a different title than that is because it includes my other duties here…such as adding animations to mocks, for the UX Team. My primary duties are all coding. Sometimes I get to do the UX or UI stuff. That’s not the main part of my job. More like special projects.Melanie Panem, Web Developer
It appears to me, from the giant smile on Melanie’s face, that she really loves what she does. She expresses this to me as well verbally. “I was really lucky, because I realized I really love development.”
With her passion for and dedication to web development, I was curious what types of technological evolutions in the trade she had encountered:
I asked Melanie what advice she had to offer to those aspiring to enter into the Tech Field, especially Web Development. Are there any challenges the industry faces? “There’s this whole stereotype about development and coding, that’s it’s ‘only for smart people.’ It can attract narcissists and competitive people…people can get intimidated by a profession that they hear is ‘only for smart people,’ and they’ve been told that they aren’t smart enough. The industry loses out on talented individuals that are just intimidated.”
How is it to work in a predominately-male industry?
“If you’re a woman entering a male-dominated industry, it is important to do your research. I’ve experience stuff. I’ve gone on maternity leave, that happens with women. It feels a little different when you’re on an all-male team. I’ve experienced harassment, that’s not only in the Tech industry, that happens to women everywhere. I’ve been pushed out of positions before. I don’t believe that me being a woman was the only reason that it happened, but I believe it played a part.”
Is a degree necessary? What are employers looking for today in a prospective team member?
“It depends on where you’re applying. In general, especially in the Bay Area, it’s more of an added bonus. I’d say for startups, they look even higher upon people that are self-teach and have a lot of work on the internet and they can complete the code challenges that they offer. Larger companies, like the one I work for, they require a degree. You’ll want to show them your passion through an external validation of your portfolio…you can make a website that you’ll never use, not for a specific project, but it can show what you can do.”
What should be our take-away?
“If you go out and get formal education and training, it’s important that once you get out of class, you keep practicing. It’s so easy to forget. You definitely need to practice in order to get it.”
I learned so much about the Tech Industry, and Web Development in general, from my time with Melanie. After discussing the main topic, we moved on to what I call, “The Quick Round,” where our audience gets to know the Guest on a personal, more ‘fun’ level.
I asked Melanie how we can best support her goals and dreams. She lets me know that she is working on her Instagram promotion currently. She manages two IG profiles today. Her art portfolio can be found @melartistangent. As a “12-year Yelp elite,” and self-described “Foodie,” Melanie also runs a profile called @yelpblackbelt. This profile is dedicated to food because, according to Melanie, “Who doesn’t love food? Seriously!”
Transitioning, I asked Melanie what her favorite guilty pleasure website is, “ThredUP.com! You can buy clothes from a second-hand store online. It’s so affordable for the most part, and there’s an outlet section. They’re based out of Arizona.”
When I asked her about her family, she lit up. Her son (he’s absolutely adorable by the way) is currently obsessed with Hot Wheels toys. Melanie tells me that he’s, “taking them all around the house and stacking them up.”
I asked her to paint me a picture of how the world, the industry, her life has changed when we flash forward five years in time. Her reply was delightful:
Personally, I want to be more mentally and physically healthy than I am right now and have stronger bonds with my family and friends. As far as professional goals, I really love wearing lots of hats at once. When you have a whole bunch of food in front of you, science shows that you’ll eat more of that food. If I have a lot of different tasks in front of me, I’ll be more productive; I’ll move at a fast pace. I love moving at a fast pace.
How has the world changed? COVID-19 is over but a lot of activities have moved over to virtual access. Hopefully our internet connections will have improved and there will be more cell towers than there are now. Also, the world will be vegan to save the environment! I recommend Vegan stocks; they’ve gone up a lot over the past few years. Vegan is great for the environment, and good nutrition-wise.
How has web development changed? Artificial Intelligence, or machine learning development skills will become huge. I already see online merchants posting jobs for it. It is predicted to not only take over a lot of jobs in general, but also require programmers that will specialize in it.Melanie Panem, Web Developer
I always ask my Guests, what song (available on Spotify) should I use to accompany your interview? Melanie’s choice was great, especially because of her reasoning, “The song is called Bigger Than, by Justin Jesso & Seeb. That song I especially like because they talk about wanting to live your life that is bigger than the fears you have. Conquering your fears so that you can live your best life.” While on the subject, I inquired who are her top 5 musicians, “Top 5 songs or artists? Halsey, Grandson, Melanie Martinez, Brick + Mortar, Modest Mouse.”
When we came to the ‘Shout outs’ portion of our discussion, Melanie needed to clarify what I meant by ‘shout outs’ I answered that it was an open-ended question, to be interpreted how she saw fit. Melanie took the opportunity to thank a few people, “The people that helped me get started in the industry. My first boss, Chris, for giving me a chance. The person I sat next to at that job, Minh. I asked him repetitive questions, stupid questions, and he was so patient and kind. It really matters, when someone starts out in the industry, and they’re not that confident…having that supportive environment is essential for learning.”
This is where the interview took a left-turn and drove off the highway. Melanie asked if she could ask me a few questions! I, of course, agreed. She asked me if I was still coding (and developing my skills in that area), “It’s sort of a little bit of both (the blog and coding). One day WordPress told me that the domain was available (www.sharkharborsunset.com), so I bought it. I’m not working with actual html or CSS right now, more with modules. I’m focusing on my site right now. It’s premiering on my birthday on Monday (April 20th, 2020).”
She asked how I was keeping busy during this Covid 19 time in our history, “Writing a lot, publishing poetry, journaling, reading a lot. Sydney Williams’ book, Hiking my Feelings, is inspiring me. I’m part of an online community every Sunday. It’s more than a book club. It’s been like church for me. The best way to start off my week, I look forward to it. This website is taking up a lot of my time. I’m hand-transcribing my interviews. I don’t have the Dragon software, so it takes a lot of time. I’m still adding content, finding structure, changing my mind. Finding the right flow. Ordering merch, stickers with my logo.”
It was a pleasure interviewing Melanie Panem for Speak Your Truth. Not only did I learn a lot about Web Development, picked up a few websites I need to check out, and found out my friend is a “12-year Yelp elite” (pretty cool). I’m excited to witness the future development of the Industry, as well as the future development of my friend’s talent and art.