Transcription Shannon Romano Interview
Interviewer Jenna Gretsch
July 2009
 PDF Version

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the interviewee and interviewer and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any employers.

JG:  Welcome Shannon, let's start with what you currently do for work.

SR:  Currently I am a lead developer for a small software company. We do a lot of mobile work, we do a lot of development for IPTV, mainly flash based.

JG:  What does that mean, flash based?

SR:  The primary software tool that we use right now is flash. So I develop within the Flash Framework, coding in action script. I also do some PHP work. Not too much web work because it's all application based. I guess that's what I mean when I say flash based.

JG:  How long have you been doing this for?

SR:  Ten years.

JG:  Is that with the same company for ten years?

SR:  I guess I should clarify that. I work for myself but I contract with a specific company. I've been contracting for myself since December. Previous to that I was with a company for three years. Before that I was with another company for about three years and then I was with another company for five years. So it's been a little bit all over the map.

JG:  How did you get started in doing computer work?

SR:  It was a fluke actually. A friend of mine wanted to take a programming class at UW and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun just on a lark and he needed somebody to keep him company because he didn't want to take it by himself. So I took one class and that led to another class and another class and next thing I knew it was three quarters in and I really liked programming. I had a friend that worked at a website, a kids website, and she hired me on as an intern and it just kinda blew up from there.

JG:  So was your formal education in computers? This college class was extra-curricular?

SR:  Yeah this was after I was out of college for ten years already. In college I was a computer film major. So I did film and video production, I did that when I got out of school actually. I did that for quite a few years.

JG:  What is your earliest experience with computers?

SR:  Does Atari count?

JG:  Anything that you think is valid counts. I would think Atari would definitely count.

SR:  Yeah Atari definitely counts. I've always loved video games. Actually it started with Pong. My dad brought home a Pong from Sears one day and I played that non-stop until I begged him to get an Atari and then I played Atari for years. I didn't actually touch a computer until, oh man, it was about '88 and it was one of the very first Windows boxes, nice blue screen, dos prompt and everything. That was a lot of fun.

JG:  So do you think your Dad was your youngest inspiration then, did he play it with you or was it more your own volition?

SR:  No, it was my own volition, all myself. Once I got into college I had a friend, who - - he was really into computers and he did programming and he actually programmed some games that we played and I always thought that was really cool. But I didn't ever consider it an option for a career until much later on.

JG:  Why do you think that is?

SR:  I was really focused on movies and videos because that was what I wanted to do when I was a little kid. I just wanted to make movies so I had that track in my head and that's what I wanted to do in college and give that a whirl as a career, which I did. But once I discovered that movies weren't the dream job that it was I wanted to look for something else, so...

JG:  So you did that for a while before you got into computers?

SR:  Yeah I did that for about -- I did that steadily for about six or seven years. The money was just ok. It was a lot of local and independent, but it was tough long work so I really got disenchanted with that quickly. And then I did other odd work here and there but once I fell into computers it was so much fun and to me it's similar to making a movie because there are so many working pieces and you work with a team of people and it's very creative. So it had all of the elements that I wanted to do as a job.

JG:  When you took that first programming class, what were you learning?

SR:  I was learning C programming.

JG:  Ok, so you started right off just with programming and then developed that further.

SR:  Correct, yeah, it was very generic when I started and I had to find the niche that I liked but going into games right off, which I did, was a no-brainer because I've always liked games so much.

JG:  So there was no reservation about going into a particular niche of games?

SR:  No, none at all actually.

JG:  What's the most demanding aspect of your current job?

SR:  (laughs) Right now the most demanding aspect is working with clients because I work in the -- very service based. We're not making our own content we're making our content for other people. So I still have to deal with the whole client side and I'm not a business person and that for me is very very difficult.

JG:  As a contractor is it all one, do you have to take on every role? Or do you have other people you're working with, so like client-facing people only as well as programmer-only people?

SR:  Right now, I wear a lot of hats because it's a very small team that I work with. In the past I've worked where I've been shielded from that so this is actually the first time I've had to deal with it and it's been difficult.

JG:  What do you love most about your job?

SR:  I love how creative it is. I love the freedom. Like I said I do work for myself right now. But even when I didn't work for myself I still had a lot of creative input and that's very important for me and I feel very fortunate to be able to have that in my job, and I've had it actually in all of my jobs.

JG:  How do you balance family and workload?

SR:  That is a difficult one because I often work very long hours. When we get into a mode where -- right now I'm in heavy delivery mode so I've been coming in to the office at seven a.m. and I don't leave until seven p.m. I guess luckily I'm single at the moment, so that helps. But it can be very challenging to have a social life when I'm in work mode. So sometimes I don't balance it.

JG:  Do you think that's been the case consistently across your career or has it depended on the team you're working with or have you ever worked in a company where they are aware of the need of balancing family life with workload or has it just never come up?

SR:  I think it's very unique to this industry where people realize that we work a lot. We do work long hours every once and a while and basically you gotta suck it up. And that's kind of the attitude towards a lot of people. Men and women too, although it seems to me that men have an easier time just sucking it up and working late hours whereas women -- because they traditionally have a lot of things they have to deal with -- and since it's been mostly men that have been in a position of saying "we need to get this done", you're kind of forced to work your late hours.

JG:  So that's like the glorification of extreme work, that kind of atmosphere?

SR:  Yeah, correct.

JG:  Do you have children?

SR:  Yeah I have a step-daughter who is turning twelve and she's been in my life since she was two and there was a time when I lived with her. That was a little difficult to try and balance that and sometimes I'd have to take work home and work from home while doing household duties.

JG:  Have you ever had the conversations with your male peers where you find that they're having trouble balancing work because they have kids?

SR:  Yeah actually it's come up in the past and it's come up recently. I have two men that I'm working with on my team now and one guy he gets here super early, like six a.m. sometimes, because he has to go pick up his kids at five so he'll leave work at four even if he's not done with work. The other guy I work with has his kids on the weekends so he can't work weekends. So it's definitely a concern for them as well.

JG:  So how has money affected your career choices, you mentioned it a bit in the beginning with regard to filmmaking not being a stellar output for it, but how has it affected your choices within the last ten years and the work you're doing now? Or has it affected it?

SR:  Yeah it's been a factor. I left a job before where I was offered a lot more money elsewhere. I've used money as a leverage to get raises. In one situation I really loved my current job but somebody else was offering me a ridiculous amount of money so I was able to leverage more money out of the current company and stay with them. I wouldn't say it's "the" factor, there are other work factors, but it's definitely a nice thing to have and I do make good money and I always want to make sure that I keep making good money just because I work very long hours and I need to make sure I'm compensated for my life that I'm giving to my job.

JG:  Within your team, how many people did you say you work with?

SR:  Right now there's five of us working on a project.

JG:  What's the gender balance of the group?

SR:  There's two men and three women. So it's kind of very well balanced.

JG:  At your other jobs have you ever been curious about what your peers are making? Especially your male peers?

SR:  I've always been curious. I've never known exactly where I fit in. They always like to hide that from you, you know. But I've had my suspicions. I know when I was hired onto my last job I was hired on at a very low rate but I took it because I really liked the company and I really liked the content that they made and I liked the people, so I was hired on even though I was not happy with my salary. Two years into that job I leveraged for a lot more money just because I knew I was getting kind of shafted but they also did that to everybody that came in. They try to get the most work out of you. So I wouldn't say it was because I was a woman, I would say it was because I was just starting and they were just trying to take as much as they could.

JG:  So that's no longer the case now that you're a contractor?

SR:  Yeah, now that I'm a contractor I set my own rates. I also feel far more confident in what I can do and where I'm at. I know that if I demand a certain amount of money that I'm worth it. So I have no problem asking for more money these days as opposed to ten years ago when I started out or even five years ago. It was just a matter of building up my confidence and getting to the point where I know I'm worth what I ask.

JG:  Did you ever read any books or have any mentor that helped you with understanding the necessity of salary negotiation or is that something you just learned through practice?

SR:  I learned through practice. I also had a friend about five years ago, and she was very confident and she very much had the attitude, this is what I'm worth, this is what you pay me and I guess I picked a little bit up from her.

JG:  Have you gotten to design a game from start to finish?

SR:  Yes I have actually. At two different companies. I was on a team of about twenty people at one company and about five at another company and I went through all the aspects of design, from brainstorming, coming up with characters, coming up with story lines, going into look and feel - so once the designers went into art work -- being able to have feedback on the art work even, so the whole design process I was able to take part in and the production phase, so actually programming it and then once that happened, testing, bug fixing and then final burn of CD. So I was involved in all phases of that.

JG:  Sorry, when was that in your career span?

SR:  I worked at Humongous Entertainment in 1990 and I worked on a few titles there.

JG:  But I mean were you just starting out or had you worked somewhere before to garner reputation or were you ushered in and just had that opportunity to participate from start to finish on a game design?

SR:  It started in my second job. My second job was at Humungous Entertainment, after I'd been there for about a year and a half I was asked to take part in that. So I guess I had built up a little bit of, what do you call that --- people knew who I was so I built up a little experience. After my experience was known I was offered onto that position. And then my previous jobs after that, based on that experience, I took part in the other processes too.

JG:  Were you ever able to chose the type of game that you got to work on or was it dictated to you?

SR:  I had a great manager who asked me what kind of games I wanted to work on and she actually was the one who gave me the opportunity and the choice. She said I could either work on sports titles or adventure games and I chose the adventure games just because sports didn't interest me -- sports games didn't interest me.

JG:  What's an adventure game?

SR:  Adventure games are like when you're playing as a character and you go through different puzzles on your way. It's a very linear type of game where you're trying to solve an end event. So going through all of these puzzles and mazes and having to solve and think logically to get to an end point versus sports titles where it would be just like simulating basketball or baseball or football in a game like that.

JG:  In these situations, did you ever have conversations about the end user?

SR:  Oh yes all the time. It was in the forefront design stage. We needed to know our market, what our end market was -- If we were marketing towards older kids, younger kids, boys or girls -- So we definitely had to know who our target audience was before we even step foot in the brainstorming room. And that's been true for every company I've worked with.

JG:  With having to know and doing the market research of what your target audience is, do you think there were stereotypes that were enhanced or at least questioned or do you think you just got the feedback of what your target audience would be like and assumed that it would be correct?

SR:  When you say, "we got the feedback", do you mean they would say design a game for a girl aged six to ten or?

JG:  Pink for girls; like the feedback we are receiving from our audience is that pink is the best possible color for girls and all games for girls should having something pink floating in the background..... that type of thing.

SR:  Right, yes there are definitely stereotypes. I would say not so much in the last three years, but yes definitely in the very beginning. I fought so hard against that. It was an uphill battle for a while because people didn't want to hear it, it was the "oh girls don't want to play the shooter games, they don't want to play action games, they don't want to play stuff like that." And it was like, um, yeah they do. And they don't need pink, and unicorns and puppies and cats, they can play with other things. But trying to convince people of that when the so-called market research says otherwise. I think it was only when the casual gaming market opened and all of the sudden marketers found that all of a sudden women between the ages of thirty and fifty were the majority of game players online. Once they started realizing that I think the thought processes started to change a little bit.

JG:  But again that information was coming from the "market research" right?

SR:  Yes it was, finding out who is actually downloading the games and stuff, they can now track that whereas before they just figured it was boys.

JG:  In that uphill battle, was that something you were aware of constantly or that you had a couple of times, was it something that you got so fatigued with the battle that you just stepped aside?

SR:  I think it's always been in the back of my head. I'm not doing games so much now, but it always was... (on my mind) even when I was doing games a few years ago. I still fight for it because I think it's still important that people don't pigeonhole and stereotype people and I was such an avid game player of all sorts of games when I was a kid, that I don't like to be pigeonholed and I don't see why we should pigeonhole and market certain games towards kids based on boys and girls. So I've always made my input very clear and sometimes I've succeeded and sometimes I've had people on my side as well that feel the same way. I find that the older I get, the more older the industry gets, people are definitely changing their opinions even through there are still stereotypes there.

JG:  So with the work that you currently do, I imagine that out of necessity you must cater towards whatever a client needs, do you have these same struggles within yourself there?

SR:  It has because when you work for a client you have to do pretty much what they want, though you can subversively slip things in. But yeah it has been a struggle at times, especially my last job. We were doing a lot of small mini games online for Post cereals. Not only did we make games that were totally marketing tools, they were marketing towards kids to buy cereals and stuff like that. I had to fight within myself sometimes and every once in a while people would even comment that, you know, we're making games to enhance the sugar content of our youngsters. And it was just like yup, that's what were doing right now and you either just acknowledge it and suck it up or get out of that type of industry. And that is one of the reasons I left that company and started to work for myself.

JG:  What games or projects are you most proud of?

SR:  The proudest game that I've been on was the Humongous days when I worked on Spy Fox. Because I even meet kids now, well they're not kids now but, I meet people now who remember playing those games or are parents who had kids that played those games. So I'm very proud to know that something that I had a hand in, a lot of people were able to enjoy it, so I'm very proud of that. I'm also proud of a game I did that was never widely released but it was a labor of love for a very small team and it was very beautiful. I'm proud of the fact that it was a labor of love and we got through it and nobody made any money but we had a fun time.

JG:  What do you think is the biggest impediment for women getting into your field?

SR:  I think the biggest impediment is there's not a lot of role models and it would be nice to have a mentor. The whole thing of myself not having confidence just to do salary negotiations, I mean that would have been really nice to have a mentor or somebody, a women with experience that I could have learned from. I think it's hard for young girls to learn that kind of confidence when you're thrown into a job, any job, and when you're having to work with a bunch of dudes that's also hard. And all of the programming classes that I took after college, I was one in a handful, there was maybe like three or four women programmers, and there'd be like 100 people in the class and that's a big intimidation to be one of a few girls in a huge group of men. And any conferences that I go to -- there was actually one conference I went to of about fifty people and I was the only women aside from an older lady who was there with her son and she was only there to go with him because he was a minor. So that part of it is really hard.

JG:  But it's something you've been able to outlast because you've stayed in the industry long enough? Do you think that's because you've moved into smaller work teams and have then had the peer recognition there?

SR:  I think it's been peer recognition and also I love it and it's a lot of fun and I'm also a very confident person now. Had I not had my confidence, had I not realized that I'm good at what I do, I probably would have bailed out a while ago.

JG:  You talk a lot about confidence, you keep using the word, do you think there was one big moment when your were like, "Yes, I feel very confident!", or do you think it was progressive?

SR:  It was definitely progression, life experience and life lessons. In my twenties I was not very confident and I think it was just learning about life, outside as well as inside the job. And having support and friends -- I've always gotten along well with people. So I think just having friends that I work with that make it fun really helps. Since it stays fun, I'm going to continue to do it.

JG:  In your work have you had the ability to participate equally in the decision making process?

SR:  The decision making process --- that's a big uh,

JG:  (laughs) That big all-encompassing decision-making-process... (laughs) I can break it down for you but I'd like to keep it sort of general so that you can provide examples if you have any.

SR:  I have been involved in quite a few decision making processes. I was in a position once where I was able to go through an interview process to hire a co-worker, a peer, that was another programmer. I was actually involved with that three times. I went through all of the resumes, I went through all of the code samples, I was there for face to face interviews I was able to give my input based on all of those things. I'm going to say that every single project I've worked on in the last five years, I've been able to say, yes I want to work on that project and I've had input based on how the project is organized, who I work with and how it's going to be organized as far as workflow goes. I feel that I have been able to have a lot of decision making.

JG:  Do you think that's just a fortunate thing for you or do you think that's something you've gained while working in the industry? When you first got into the industry I'm sure it was not like, oh yes I have equal ability to sway all of the masses that I'm working with... I mean have you ever had people above you say, no we're not going to go with your input, we're going to go in another direction?

SR:  Oh most definitely and it's usually their input that trumps mine, but I feel that it took a while for me to get experience and then for people to get to know me and know that I have opinions that I vocalize and I make my opinions known, and I think that helps and I think that's respected. And because people know that I have opinions I've been asked to share those in decision making events. But again it didn't start right off the bat, I had to take a while, I had to know what I was doing in my job and I had to know how to get my opinion out there. People have listened to it and listened to it and not liked it and told me and I've told them when I don't like their opinions. I can say that I've worked with a lot of respectful people. There have been a few not respectful people, but for the most part people have been very respectful, I think I've been pretty lucky that way.

JG:  How many women technical managers have you had?

SR:  I've had two out of five jobs. My very first job, the woman who hired me was the technical director of the entire company it was a small website of about fifty people -- a website geared towards kids -- she was the technical director. At Humungous I had a program manager. She was an x-programmer, she had programmed for about twenty years starting with COBAL days and then she moved into the management role. She was great, very fair. It's been men ever since as far as technical manager. I've had producers that are women and a couple of art directors who have been women.

JG:  For the men technical managers has there been a tendency to treat you differently in regard to their technical feedback to you?

SR:  No I've never felt that they treated me differently at all. I've always thought they've been very fair, very respectful once again, and the last few times I've felt like I've been treated more like a peer, maybe that's just because I'm getting older and maybe going into a management style career but I've definitely felt very respected and listened to.

JG:  Have you ever been relegated to the position of the mediator?

SR:   By mediator do you mean having to play nice between two different ---

JG:  I've found that women are often given that role, at least in academic spheres that I've worked in, with the misconception being that women are better mediators, they're better at calming the waves and that sort of thing with the opposition to that being the technical lead...

SR:  I can't say that I've been relegated to that position. I think I'm less of a let's play nice together and more of a hey let's get this done, I don't care what you do.... I guess I play more of a hardnose role than a nice girl role. I want people to work together but I'm not gonna hold your hand doing it.

JG:  Have you ever experienced any type of discriminatory behavior that you can identify or remember?

SR:  Um, yeah, there was one guy in particular that I worked with, he was older, probably twenty or thirty years older than I was, so he was old school. He was very abrasive and at first I thought he had the attitude that women were not as good as him, and he barely gave me the time of day. But once I got to know him and his ways I found out that he pretty much did that to everybody just because he had a big old god complex about himself. But I never did get on his good side and I knew a few of the younger male programmers had got on his good side. But I knew that it was just because I didn't kiss his ass and they totally did, they kissed his ass. That was the one time but I don't feel that I've ever been discriminated against, I don't feel that I have.

JG:  (laughs) Well that leads me nicely into my next question. I've been doing a lot of these interviews and I've come across a lot of women who seem to think they've never experienced any type of discrimination and they have a lot of autonomy and volition. Part of me is like, great, wow that's so fantastic, we've arrived! But then there's the reservation and I think is it really what is happening or is there a lack of perception of subtleties that could go under the carpet?

SR:  You know that's a good point. I've worked in other industries, the video industry, where I did totally feel discriminated against at times. I've worked in the restaurant business where I definitely had to deal with chefs and their attitudes towards women and waitresses. So I've seen that. Comparing those experiences with my career as a programmer I can say I've not experienced those little subtleties that I have in other industries.

JG:  Have you had peers that have experienced it? Again have you just been fortunate?

SR:  I've had a friend who works for Microsoft and she has actually told me about some borderline harassment. There was one guy she worked for a few years ago who was just a complete jerk to her and only because she was a woman. She was moved out of that group after awhile because she complained and it was valid because other women had that same experience with him. So I know it's out there and I know I've been fortunate to work --- and maybe it's because I've worked in smaller companies too. I've never worked in a large corporate environment, it's always been really small companies. I do feel fortunate to work with some great people.

JG:  Have you ever had the experience of being junior and needing to ask for help and having the person you're seeking advice from be male?

SR:  Yes I have. When I started at my previous job, and this was about four years ago, I was just thrown into work and my coworker, he was a guy and he was younger than me and it was a little awkward because I'd have to ask him for help, I'd have to ask him about learning how things were organized and done. I could tell he just didn't want to be bothered about it. So I would have to keep pestering him about it and eventually just found someone else who was more willing to help and I went to him instead. So in that situation it was kind of a pain and he just didn't want to be bothered by it.

JG:  What do you think the industry could be doing now to attract more young women?

SR:  I think it needs to start at college course level. I think sometimes women don't even consider programming --- like oh programming that sounds fun, that sounds like a lot of math -- when really it's not. I think it needs to start there and being the only girl in a classroom of fifty guys is also very intimidating. So I think we could do more at the school level, maybe even highschool, just getting more girls interested in it and using it as a creative tool rather than thinking it's just science and math. Even though I know girls today are way more interested in science and math, still there's something about programming that sounds scary to people -- maybe that's the turn-off.

JG:  What advice would you have for a young woman entering the industry?

SR:  Make sure you enjoy it, enjoy whatever you do. And hold your head high and know you are just as good and can do just as good work as anybody else out there. I think just remember that, and remembering you deserve everything you work for is very important.

JG:  What excites you about technology today?

SR:  The fact that I'm always learning. I love that technology changes every single minute. What I'm learning today is going to be different three or four months from now and next year I'll be learning something different. It's very exciting for me how quickly things change. I think it keeps my brain young. I have to learn and think logically every day and I really enjoy those challenges.

JG:  Do you blog any or your experiences?

SR:  No, you know I tried to one time and I just can't do it every single day, it's a lot of work and I don't have time for it. I wish I had time for it, it seems like a lot of fun but I don't make the time.

JG:  Who are you mentors?

SR:  My mentor right now is the guy that runs the small company that I contract with. He's my ex boss and I've known him for about four years now and he's about my same age. We're the same age but he's been in the industry a lot longer. So he knows a lot more about the business side of it. He's been a very good mentor for me when it comes to -- I mentioned I don't like dealing with clients -- I have to so he's been a great mentor for dealing with that aspect for me.

JG:  What do you think might be next for you?

SR:  Oh gosh, I ask myself that often. I'm going to keep working for myself. I want to get to a point where I can travel a little bit. I really need to do that, I want to do that in my life, but I haven't had a lot of time because I've been working a lot in the last ten years. So I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing working for myself. Ever since I've done that I love it, it's a lot of freedom. It's a lot of hard work but I'm going to keep on doing that. Someday I might have my own company where I hire four or five programmers to do the job for me, that'd be great.

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