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Kelsey Dutton: Developer, Ultra-Runner, New Member of the Run The Edge Family

Heads up, Run The Edge Family!

We have recently added a new member to our Run The Edge Team! Kelsey is our new kick-ass developer and technical wonder woman. As you know, our challenges are all completely virtual, so having a super-smart, innovative, creative, and fun developer to build, maintain, and fix our trackers is INCREDIBLY important! She also harbors a love of running (read: ultra marathons) and the outdoors, like all of us here at RTE. We know that Kelsey is more than up for the task of solving all our technical problems, and we can’t wait to see how she thrives at Run The Edge!

In addition to being an essential new team member, crazy ultra-marathon-runner, and computer sorceress, Kelsey also offers insight into an important and fascinating issue that many start-ups and tech-based companies should be paying attention to: how women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are treated. Read on to learn more about our awesome new addition, her penchant for ultras, and her first-hand experience as a woman in tech.

During Kelsey’s upbringing in Parker, Colorado (about an hour away from RTE Headquarters) she was discouraged from indulging any interest in STEM subjects. Adults around her informed her that girls “couldn’t do hard math” and “shouldn’t be interested in computers because video games were for boys.” Being young and defiant, Kelsey resolved to excel in advanced math and, later, computer science, despite never feeling a particular affinity for the topics. This decision eventually launched her into a career of tech support and software development where she has been confronted with some roadblocks all too familiar to women in STEM fields. Kelsey, along with many of her female colleagues, has had to go to great lengths to prove her expertise, and earn the same credibility as the men who perform the same duties. Women in tech have waged an uphill battle throughout their careers to which their male peers are completely oblivious, and Kelsey gives us an inside perspective. 

It was not until her sophomore year at the University of Virginia that Kelsey seriously considered a future in the tech industry. She had originally entered college as a political science major, but sought a more lucrative career option as the 2008 recession hit. When she brought these concerns to her advisor, she was told to consider a computer science degree.  Thanks to her determination to prove the nay-sayers of her childhood wrong, Kelsey had a strong background in math and science. She was able to change course smoothly, and graduated in 2012 with degrees in Computer Science and Math. She was one of the two women that year to graduate from the Computer Science department at the University of Virginia. 

Though she would someday like to go to graduate school, Kelsey has enjoyed her time working in tech because it allows her to live anywhere and her skills are always in demand. She has no trouble finding employment, but the demands of some tech jobs can be exhausting.Her first job after graduating was with Red Hat, where she interfaced on site with customers to stand up part of the Red Hat stack. Any company that purchased Red Hat software was also entitled to support from one of the Red Hat engineers, so Kelsey was traveling almost weekly for work. The constant travel and huge time demands eventually drove her to seek employment that did not involve quite as much running around.  After 13 months at Red Hat, Kelsey quit to join Box, a company that develops cloud storage for enterprises. Box was a perfect fit for Kelsey, and she loved the work there. The company was small enough to establish close relationships with her colleagues, and their values aligned with her own personal ethics. At Box,Kelsey was given the opportunity to grow as a developer which she cites as a huge stepping-stone in her career. It also opened her eyes to some of the challenges women frequently face in tech, most notably the difficulty they face in building credibility.Kelsey points out that female coders are often questioned more, have less autonomy, and are rarely put in charge of projects. “There’s a lack of advocacy for women who work in tech,” she explains, “men often readily support each other. I think men often have allies speaking to their abilities in meetings they aren’t in, lobbying for them to be given high visibility projects and speaking to their expertise. I think this happens less naturally for women, and often requires women to ask explicitly for sponsorship”.

This practice of advocacy and sponsorship, though not as rampant in a small company like Box as it is in larger tech operations, works well for new male hires in the industry: their peers who are well-established at the company are vouching for them, meaning that their seniors are more likely to trust them and believe in their ability and value. This leads to them being given more important projects and more flexibility on how to approach them, and results in women being passed over. It is an unspoken assumption in many STEM fields that men are more capable and better-qualified than women, and their credibility is rarely called into question. Conversely, the few women who pursue tech or coding jobs are forced to prove over and over again that they can perform the tasks necessary for the projects. As Kelsey points, their code is subjected to much more intense scrutiny. “As a woman, you have to work twice as long to get half the credibility,” Kelsey says. Though men may not be conscious of what they are putting their female colleagues through, the lack of male advocacy for women in tech companies and their ignorance of the issue is harming people like Kelsey. Though STEM fields may not seem like a typically “feminine” career choice, we can assure you that it is entirely possible to have two X chromosomes and write excellent code.

Another issue that comes from this inadvertent lack of trust for women in the tech industry is that is makes it incredibly daunting for women to change companies. Kelsey came up against this dilemma when she wanted to move home to Colorado after several years in Palo Alto. “I had put so much time and effort into building my reputation at Box— I was finally getting projects I was actually excited about— and I wasn’t looking forward to starting that process over at a new company.” Though Kelsey did end up moving back to Colorado, Box offered her a remote position and she stayed with the company for a total of five years before leaving to work for Amazon.

As she predicted, the entire process of establishing herself as a capable engineer restarted at Amazon.It was made starkly obvious here how a lack of diversity can erode company culture and can surface as roadblocks in career advancement. On top of that, the work itself was downright harrowing. Much of the time that she was out of the office,  Kelsey was still required to be on-call to help with tech support issues, meaning that she constantly had to be within easy reach of a computer and internet access. She was expected to perform tasks and give support in areas far outside the expertise of any developer. “It was incredibly stressful,” she tells us.At Amazon, developing code and supporting it 100% of the time is cloaked as ownership, but the job often prioritized putting out fires to building effective software which was not what she signed on for. Luckily for us, Run The Edge found Kelsey just as she was looking to leave the overly-demanding work environment. 

Here at Run The Edge, Kelsey will be our only developer. This means that she will not only have the super-massive responsibility of keeping everything running smoothly, but she will have the freedom to build, run, and maintain the tracker in the way that she thinks is best. She will be in charge of how the tracker operates, and we know she will do it brilliantly! Kelsey has worked closely with our former developer, Pawel, to become familiar with the current set-up of our tracker, and she has already been instrumental in fixing bugs and building new features for Run The Year 2020. She brings all of her knowledge and experience to whatever task is put in front of her. Kelsey says she is “Excited to have more ownership and be strategic about how we design, code, and build a reliable product,” and we are already completely dazzled by her! And as if we didn’t have enough reason to be impressed with her, Kelsey is also an avid runner (you can see why she’s such a great fit here) who has completed several marathons and ultra marathons!

Her running career started off a bit unexpectedly in 6th grade. She had switched from playing softball in elementary school to volleyball in middle school, and hated it. “I sucked at it, and I was way too competitive,” she says with a smile. “That’s not a good combination!” One day, the school’s cross country coach subbed for volleyball practice, and suggested that Kelsey switch to his sport since she obviously wasn’t enjoying herself. She ran cross country and track through senior year of high school, achieving a mile time of 5:01 and having the time of her life. She had a great relationship with the cross country coach, and decided to try to continue running competitively in college. Unfortunately this did not go well for her. “The other girls were mean, I wasn’t really cut out to be a D1 athlete, so I got no attention from the coaches. I only ended up racing four or five times,” she says. She quickly abandoned the team, but took up running again after she moved to California. There, Kelsey joined a run club and participated in several road marathons. When she moved back to Colorado, ultra marathons were becoming more popular, so she started doing more trail running and longer distance events! She loves the ultra community— everyone is very accepting and supportive, especially of newcomers. They also have a much more humorous and lighthearted approach to events than the road marathon community she knew in California. Her favorite ultras to date include North Fork, Run Rabbit (her first 50 miler), and the Grand Traverse. She has been able to explore gorgeous scenery and become well acquainted with both intense discomfort and a profound sense of accomplishment. Who doesn’t love that?

We know she will be a great fit in not only the Run The Edge office, but the broader community we have built through our challenges! We fully support Kelsey in her career as a professional developer and engineer,  and hope to set an example for women in STEM fields deserving as much respect, credibility, and autonomy as their male peers. Please join us in welcoming Kelsey and showing her what this community is all about:  Everyone  Included,  Everyone  Challenged,  Everyone  Successful.

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