Emily Shea might have been dealt a bad hand while doing a career she loves, but this young, strong lady decided to turn something that could have ended her career into a positive thing. Not only did she find a way to save her career, she also found a way to help others too.
Emily is the daughter of Pete Shea and Ruth Shea and a 2005 Cut Bank High School graduate. She went to college at University of California, Berkeley, studying architecture and graduated from there in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Architecture seemed like a field of study she would love, but along came something else and it soon became her first love.
“For a few years out of college, I worked in a human resource department and then started learning how to write software programs. I decided I liked doing that and ended up going to the App Academy, graduating from there in 2014. I took my first job after graduation with a company called Fastly. They help build websites and are a company that helps power the Internet,” explained Emily, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
When Emily first joined the Fastly group it was an organization with 80 employees. Now, just five years later, there are over 500 employees. It is an up and coming organization with a focus on the world of technology.
At Fastly, Emily works with a team of engineers that build programs for multiple devices, or at least in layman, simple terms, that is what they do. In the world of technology, it is a position that can only be held by very tech-savvy people who understand computers and other devices, lingos that go with them and how to make them do what the rest of the world wants them to do.
“The things I work on are things everyone uses on their computers and other devices and they probably don’t even know it is there or know what it is. They are all the things that make programs work and are truly the behind the scenes kind of things,” Emily said.
A whole lot of what Emily does involves writing detailed codes to make those programs run. And that means Emily spends a great deal of time at her computer keyboard writing those codes. It was all that repetitive motion that started causing problems for Emily and threatened the job she loves.
In the fall of 2017, Emily started experiencing symptoms of what is called RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury. “That is an umbrella term for a repetitive injury like working on a keyboard or using a mouse for your computer. RSI is when you have pain in muscles, tendons and nerves and feel numbness and tingling, maybe down your arms, in your neck and upper back or all three.”
For Emily, “the symptoms came on quickly and the pain was severely impairing my ability to type. I spent a year trying different keyboards, had an ergonomic evaluation, tried physical and occupational therapy, took Aleve and prescription anti-inflammatories and a host of other remedy-hopefuls. After that year, I was still limited and frustrated that nothing was working all that well.”
She was only able to perform the typing she needed to do for 30 to 40 minutes at a time before she would need to take a break from her work. That meant she was only working several hours a day. She was working in a job that demanded more from her and it became very obvious those limited hours were never going to be enough for her to perform her job the way she wanted to.
It was then that Emily took matters into her own hands, literally and started researching options that would allow her to continue doing the work she loves, this time using her voice, not her hands.
Emily knew of a computer program called Dragon, which was being used for people who didn’t want to do much, if any, typing and would perform all their tasks like emails and writing documents, through dictation.
“It was a program that was mainly used for dictating words not symbols, and symbols are what I use for creating codes,” Emily said.
However, it could be used in conjunction with another piece of software Emily found called Talon. “Talon is a new and exciting software that could be used over the top of Dragon and would allow me create my own library for the codes I use by using my voice and not using my hands.”
Instead of typing out lines and lines of code that would perform a task within that software, Emily could ask Talon through the Dragon voice engine, to create something like “code X” and it would type that string of numbers, letters and symbols for her. That would eliminate her doing the typing, helping her reduce the pain of the injury and speeding up the time it was taking her to write the necessary codes.
“In essence, I was making my own language or library of commands for software development,” she said. “I can optimize it to be faster than the work I was doing on the keyboard.”
Having found a way to help her continue working even with her injury, Emily, with the help of Fastly, her employer, started sharing her discovery with others. Some of those were in the Talon and Dragon software worlds and others were in jobs and positions much like hers that required extensive keyboard time.
What she found out was that there was a true interest and a growing demand for voice operated coding. So much so that she was asked to do some public speaking enlightening others on ways to use existing software programs to benefit those with similar repetitive strain injuries.
“Some people who spend their work time with a computer and keyboard are afraid of developing a similar type injury. As one of those people, it would have been nice to know what was out there and a possible way it might help,” she said. “That is what I wanted to do, share what I was learning with others and see if I could help someone else like me.”
She has already done two speaking engagements, one in Seattle and the other in Pittsburgh. “And I have two more lined up,” she added. “One in September in St. Louis and the other in November in Berlin, Germany.”
If you want to see some what Emily is talking about during her presentations and what has got the technology community so excited, all you have to do is search “Emily Shea YouTube” on whatever search engine you use and select the Emily Shea video.
What could have been a career-changer for Emily, has turned out to be a positive career-enhancer for her. It is also a way to give back to the technology community and a sure-fire way to help so many others.
“I feel like I am just cracking the surface of what can be done and the power these programs have. Right now, to run a lot of it, you need to have some knowledge of technology and what it is capable of doing. But I think that is going to get easier with time, which will ultimately make it available for so many others.”