1099 is no longer being updated, but please enjoy our archives.


By Sacha E. Cohen




Add Feedback

View Feedback




Like many IPs, she came into her career accidentally

The information technology industry is hardly drowning in lady-laborers, and if you're in the market for a female IT consultant, much less one who works for herself, well, good luck -- unless you happen to know Tanya Bub. She's both.

Somewhat of a curiosity in a male-dominated field, Bub, who works in the booming Washington, D.C., technology corridor, says her gender hasn't hurt her business at all. She says it's actually been to her advantage. "In programming, there's still a sense of novelty about [being a woman] -- in a good way," she says. "You're more visible and people notice what you do a little more."

Like many of her male counterparts, Bub, 30, came into her current career accidentally. Her undergraduate training (in philosophy and fine arts) wasn't even remotely technical. Bub got her introduction to computer programming while staying with a tech-savvy friend between leaving her native Canada and enrolling in the Ph.D. program in philosophy at the University of Maryland. She quickly discovered a knack for learning computer languages, and eventually left the academy for a career in computing. In a market that's practically starved for people with her skills, the decision is paying off.

Glitches pop up in the tech business like dandelions in April. The crisis du jour on the day that 1099 spoke with Bub concerned a website she had developed for school children to use in classrooms. "Students click in a virtual wetland habitat and a weighted, random selection of critters pops up," says Bub. Bub was leading a demonstration of the site -- in the afternoon, as fate would have it, when Internet traffic is highest and web pages load slowest. Dozens of animated children were toying with the site at the same time. "The 'catches' weren't coming up fast enough," says Bub, "so they were clicking on the imagemap repeatedly and as quickly as they could. That bogged down the server even more, causing slower page serving and making the kids click even more." Bub knew that the ISP hosting the wetlands site also hosted hundreds of other sites, and that if any one was drastically slowing down access to the others, the ISP might shut it down. She wasn't about to lose face during a client demonstration, so she quickly transferred the task of computing the children's clicks (requests) from the ISP to the computers the children were using, thus relieving the pressure on the ISP servers. This reduced the likelihood that the ISP would shut down the wetland site, allowed the kids to keep playing, and allowed Bub to see the demonstration to its end. As Bub puts it, "Problem solved, client happy."

Bub is, in a word, chill. Her unflappable demeanor makes tense moments and finger-biting clients fairly easy to deal with, even the most persistent of them. A client who provides online contests for radio stations, for example, calls her every day -- whether he has something to say or not. "At first, it kind of bugged me," says Bub, who has been the radio man's database developer for nearly four months. "But now it's like part of my regular routine. We've developed a close relationship."

She landed an account by staying in touch two years after a job interview. Keeping connected pays.


On this particular morning, the radio man's call comes in just as Bub gets home from a four-hour meeting with another client, IDEV, an online development firm. IDEV had hired Bub to do programming -- Perl, JavaScript, and some Java. She landed the account because she had stayed in touch after interviewing there for a full-time position nearly two years before and taking a job somewhere else. Keeping connected pays.

Nuts and Bolts

In the past, Bub has taken a laissez-faire attitude toward contracts. Sometimes she works on a monthly retainer, sometimes she has a project-based contract. For a time, IDEV was the only client for whom Bub worked without an explicit agreement. A contract had been negotiated, but needed final approval from IDEV's legal department; in the meantime, IDEV had work it desperately needed Bub to do. Bub agreed to get started without a contract. "Some people are very uptight about that type of thing, some are more lackadaisical," she says. In general, Bub says, "It's cleaner for everyone if we establish a more formal relationship."

Bub is quick to note the ever-present feast-or-famine phenomenon that most IPs face. "Right now, I have time to study and go for walks, but it's not always like that. If you have five clients and they're all giving you an hour or two of work a day, that's great," she says. When clients want four hours a day, "I just do it," she says. "I stay up until 2 a.m. and work through weekends. Right now, I'm in a really nice smooth zone, but two months ago, I had no weekends and no free time. I didn't want to lose the clients, and I didn't want them to feel that I couldn't meet their needs, so I got the work done."

The decision to go solo took careful planning and a healthy dose of chutzpah. In 1997, before she left her full-time job as a programmer for Intelligent Automation, Inc., Bub made sure that she had enough clients lined up to go solo. "When I started out, I had the typical fear of not having enough clients, so I took on too much work." But now, two years into her freelance career, she has learned the benefit of self-restraint. "I don't talk to clients on the weekends anymore," she says.


After the radio guy's phone call, Bub spends the afternoon studying for her Sun Microsystems Java certification exam. In an ever-morphing industry it's essential to add new skills and learn new programming languages.

She spends half her work time on upgrading her skills, an unusually high percentage -- but it's an investment in herself.

How does she choose what to master from among the vast array of technologies? "If something captures my imagination or looks cool or fun, I find out about it and try to learn what it's all about." On an average day, Bub devotes about four hours to clients and four to her own personal development -- a good chunk of time by most standards, but well worth it for Bub, who prides herself on being on the cutting edge.

What Bub lacks in formal training, she makes up for in hands-on, practical experience. "I thought about getting my masters in computer science," she says, "but I was looking through the course descriptions at the University of Maryland, and it was very theoretical. I'm very practical. I want to learn the nuts and bolts -- how different languages are implemented under different operating systems."

Right now, in addition to getting Java certification, Bub is teaching herself Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and developing a library of reusable code for rapid development projects. Down the road, she plans to learn more e-commerce applications to help bolster her employability.

Brains and Brawn

To keep her mental edge, Bub gets out and about whenever she can. "I tend to be a bit of a workaholic, so I have to work at forcing myself to take personal time," she says. "I try to be as physical as possible. When I have a lot of work and get bogged down, exercise is usually the first thing to go, but it's really important for me to keep physically active. I try to take an hour walk a day, but when you're under a crunch, it's tough. It should be the highest priority, but it's not."

Getting out serves a social function, too. "Sometimes, I have no idea what day of the week it is," Bub says. "I also tend to be out of the loop on current events and news, like when the beavers were chewing up the cherry blossom trees along the Potomac. It's stuff that people talk about around the water cooler that you miss out on. You can really end up in your own little world."

About once a week, she gets together with IP friends for lunch. "We usually end up slipping into tech talk, much to the chagrin of any present non-techies," she says. "We often have common clients as a result of using one another as references." Throughout the day, Bub emails friends, many of them members of DC Web Women, a professional organization of nearly 2,000 women located in the Washington area, to discuss grave matters (what happened on Ally McBeal the night before, say).

A jeans and tee shirt kind of gal with a weakness for motorcycles, Bub is overwhelmingly positive about her work and her IP lifestyle. "The market is so unbelievable right now for my line of work," she says. "If I continue to develop my skills right now, which is a major priority, it's kind of risk-free."

August 20, 1999
Edited by Eric Gershon
Illustration by Lawrence San
Production by Keith Gendel

We'd love to hear your comments about this article!

Sacha E. Cohen is a freelance writer who lives in Washington D.C. If you like, we'd be happy to put you in touch with her, or with anyone named in this article.


Go to top of this page

Entire contents Copyright © 1999 1099 Magazine. All rights reserved.
The 1099 name and logo are trademarks of 1099 Magazine.