Code Like a Girl: Rifke Sadleir
I talked with Rifke Sadleir, a London-based graphic designer who codes for Our Place Studio, about women’s role the tech, life choices, the past and the future.
Can you introduce yourself, please?
Hi! I’m Rifke, and I’m a graphic designer and web-developer based in London.
What and where have you studied?
I studied Graphic Design BA (Hons) at the University of Brighton (UK). Before that, I did a foundation year in art, design and media at Bristol School of Art (UK).
Was it tough to decide what to study?
Yes and no — the decision-making aspect of it never felt tough, but I certainly changed my mind several times about what I wanted to study throughout the course of my education. Growing up I was always pretty set on doing a visual arts subject but I didn’t really know what the options were. Doing a Foundation Year was probably one of my favourite years of study and it helped me make the decision to apply for illustration courses. Before this I thought I would study fine art because it felt like an umbrella subject that would enable me to work in different kinds of media and be more noncommittal, which definitely isn’t the case! A few months into my Illustration BA at Brighton I changed to Graphic Design on a bit of an impulse, because it was taught in the same studio and I could see type being taught on the opposite side of the studio! At this point I hadn’t even considered coding as a medium and I was still largely working illustratively and typographically.
How would you describe your job?
My job title seems to change every time I’m asked — at the moment I’m going with developer/designer. In the past I’ve referred to myself as a frontend developer but it feels a little bit restrictive — particularly as I sometimes branch away from dev work and do projects that are solely illustrative or typographic. That said, the vast majority of my work is coding at the moment. At Our Place (the studio I work at), I will usually work from my colleagues’ designs to build a site, so my role mainly concerns coding rather than design. Being in-house and having a graphic design background are both really helpful because it means that work isn’t simply a matter of being sent a PDF and getting on with building it — we are all able to discuss every design decision along the way so the end result is always the product of a very collaborative process.
What is it like to work in an independent studio in London?
I really enjoy it! We are a very small studio — there are three of us, plus occasionally freelancers when we need someone with a specific skill set like animation. This makes it easier to be flexible with our approach to different briefs, and enables us to collaborate pretty closely.
What is it like to be a woman working in an industry dominated by men?
Most of the time I don’t really think about it — I’m just doing my job! Sometimes with freelance work people are surprised when I turn up to meetings and I’m a woman — I guess my gender-ambiguous sounding name doesn’t give a lot away so often people expect me to be a man. This is kind of an understandable assumption to make, because dev is a very male-dominated industry. As long as there’s no preconception that I’m worse at what I do than a man would be because I’m female, it’s usually quite funny watching the surprise on peoples’ faces.
At the moment it feels like positive discrimination for women is at an all-time high in the dev world which is great — I think more girls and women need to be set an example that this isn’t an industry which they are excluded from in any way, and they are no less competent or capable because of their gender.
Which are the toughest challenges you need to face just because of being a woman?
My biggest source of worry is that my only USP is ‘female coder’; I often wonder if I would have to try a lot harder to get noticed if I were a man with the same body of work.
Which are the advantages (if there are any) of being a woman working in tech?
I find that positive discrimination often works in my favour when it comes to getting jobs — often people will be specifically looking to employ a female developer.
Who/What inspired you to become a Graphic Designer and Developer?
I can’t pinpoint an exact moment — when I first started uni I thought I was going to be an illustrator. Halfway through my uni course we were offered a coding elective which I thought sounded fun — I liked the idea of applying a more mathematical approach to design. At this point I hadn’t really thought of it as a career option but more something which could be interesting and could supplement my graphic design work. I found that I really enjoyed it as it felt like a really intuitive and logical way to create work. My friend and coursemate Seamus had just completed a week-long internship at a dev studio, Multiple States, and put me in touch with them to do an internship with them too. They offered me a job for a day a week after my internship ended, and taught me a lot about coding and working as a developer.
I also used to (and still do) look a lot at sites like Hover States, Brutalist Websites and Hallo Internet which showcase a lot of super experimental work, and I think that these made me a lot more aware that the possibilities of coding for web extend far beyond ‘traditional’ web design and can be pushed more into the field of art, rather than simply functional design. I like the idea that code can be emotionally as well as technically driven, and I think that trying to create work in this way helped me get past a lot of the early frustrations of trying to learn new code languages. I remember seeing the work of people like Rafael Rozendaal, Ezra Miller, Bong and Daniel Powelland being completely mindblown when I first started learning to code, as all of them make really beautiful experimental work.
Who/What inspires you to keep working as a Graphic Designer and Developer?
I think the satisfaction of learning to do something new is a big one — no two jobs are the same and they all require different solutions. I also really enjoy being surrounded by the creative community in London — being surrounded by talented people who are excited about what they’re working on is a huge motivator and always motivates me to work harder when I feel like I’m getting stuck in a rut.
How do you see yourself in 12 months?
Probably still doing a very similar thing, although the nature of my job changes a lot with each project. I’d like to have built up more of a body of personal work — for the past year or so I’ve kind of let that slip off a bit, and I think it’s really important to be able to separate ‘work’ work and ‘personal’ work, as it’s often the experimental and personal side of your practice that feeds the most into the ‘work’ side.
How do you see yourself in 5 years?
Buying my first yacht. (Hopefully.)
Bonus track: Can you recommend any TV series/movie/song/artist?
Listen to Isao Tomita — Arabesque №1