Introducing Elena Washington, Girl Extraordinaire

No ordinary development intern, Elena Washington brings an intriguing set of skills to the Intridea team.

By day she puts her Mechanical Engineering degree to use as a fulltime Controls Commissioning Engineer at Alstrom Power. By night she pursues a Master’s degree in Computer Science and works with Anthony Nystrom at Intridea to learn as much as she can about web and mobile development.

Driven by a tenacious desire for knowledge and excellence, Elena is a strategic addition to our growing team. In the following interview we bring you all the interesting details on our newest Intridean.

Renae: What is your role at Intridea and what will you be working on as an intern?
Elena: My role at Intridea is to work closely with Anthony to learn as much as possible about the development process and build up my competency as a developer with a focus on mobile and emerging technologies. So far I have been working a lot with Javascript, HTML, and CSS to redesign an experiment in real-time surface web imagery; down the road I hope to get more into data visualization utilizing WebGL.
Renae: Tell me about the work you’ve been doing recently at Alstom Power.
Elena: Recently, I have been working with the Remote Monitoring and Diagnostics (M&D) group to provide technical support for our customers who use our equipment in power plants operating around the world. I also perform on-site service work. As a service engineer, I travel to power plants, work long hours for as long as the job takes, and get to see how the “sausage,” or in this case electricity, is made.
Renae: How did studying Mechanical Engineering prepare you to study Computer Science at George Mason?
Elena: Mechanical Engineering isn’t so unrelated to Computer Science so as to make switching disciplines impossible. With both there is a certain procedural way of doing things and the problem solving skills you gain from either discipline are invaluable.
Renae: What fuels your interest in mobile development?
Elena: Mobile development is more than just representing websites on a smaller screen. Technologies such as NFC, Square, and gTar, to name a few, are indicative of the fact that developing on mobile allows for a robust feature set on a smaller, more portable form factor.
For me, it’s crazy to think how much faster and more useful my cellphone is than the computer I had growing up. Mobile and emerging technology is on the cutting edge and I’m excited to be working with a group who has expertise in this arena.
Renae: Growing up, were you always interested in technology?
Elena: Yes, but growing up I was mostly interested in and focused on “pure” math and science and didn’t get into the practical nature or the applications of those subjects until later in life.
To elaborate, I was a precocious kid and liked to read. I spent a lot of time reading books about math and science as those particular subjects really piqued my interest. For example, in first grade I read my older brother’s math book and decided to tell my class about exponents during “Show and Tell”. In elementary school I got involved with our school’s GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) Club and learned about some of the practical usages of math and science in engineering. I spent a week at the beach reading Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History in Time” one summer during high school. However, I didn’t decide to become an engineer until I took my first physics class in high school, and I didn’t really get into web development until college.
Renae: Can you talk a bit about what it’s like being a female in your field?
Elena: Being a female, as well as African-American, has not been a huge deal for me in my field. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with men who don’t treat me as the lady on the team (for 3 years I was the only female engineer in the department), but as another professional with knowledge and expertise that is of value. However, I do work for a company with a global presence and my management has been sensitive to the fact that the rest of the world may not necessarily share this sentiment. So they don’t send me to places where my gender, race, or nationality may be an issue. But if there is an issue they are quick to back me up or pull me out of there.
Renae: What were your hobbies as a kid? And now?
Elena: I love to read. As a kid it was books, and now it’s ebooks, blog posts, and news articles. As a kid I really liked to play with Legos and play outside with friends. Now that I’m older, those interests have shifted to traveling, playing the drums, and watching stand-up comedy. But I still like to play outside with the same friends.
Renae: You’ve lived and worked in a lot of places – tell me about living in Germany, Switzerland and Australia.
Elena: I spent three years living in Germany between the ages of 2 and 5. My dad was in the Air Force so we moved around a lot. I spent some time living both on base and off base during those years and got to see a lot of cool things (I was a toddler during my first Oktoberfest). But since I was so young I didn’t have a real appreciation for it until I got older.
All of the other travel I did was for Alstom. The main hub of their gas turbine business is in Switzerland so I’ve made several trips to that office for projects and training. The longest continuous stretch I’ve worked abroad is 4 months spent in Queensland, Australia. Though I had an amazing condo on the beach, I spent 6 days a week working on site and I didn’t have any of my friends or family on the continent.
Renae: What do you love about living and working in DC?
Elena: I’ve lived in the DC area since I was nine so this has been my home for the longest. I’m glad to have my family nearby and be able to hang out with friends that I have known for nearly two decades. I guess what I really love about DC is the people I know here. But it’s also pretty cool to say, “I’m Elena Washington from Washington.”
Renae: How did you know about Intridea? What excites you most about interning with us?
Elena: I came across Intridea as I was searching for Ruby on Rails development shops in DC. I had been interested in web development for a while and spent some time learning on my own, but I was interested in a more structured way of building my competency.
So with that I reached out to Marc Garrett about interning. He was enthusiastic to have me on board to learn and to grow and he introduced me to Anthony who shared that same enthusiasm. Granted, I came to Intridea looking to work with Rails, but if I get a solid understanding of Javascript out of this experience, it will be more than a consolation prize.
I am extremely excited about working with such a great group of intelligent, hard-working, and affable people.

We’re excited to work with Elena as well. You can follow Elena and all of our Intrideans through the Intridean Twitter list. Please join us in welcoming Elena to the team and the world of development!