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Meet AnnaLytical: The Google engineer and drag queen inspiring girls, gays and theys everywhere to start coding

It’s been two years since Billy Jacobson, better known as the “sickeningly entertaining coding drag queen Anna Lytical,” launched her YouTube channel in an attempt to share her love for coding with the queer community on the internet. Since then, the witty drag queen has spoken on coding to hundreds at events, hit over a hundred thousand TikTok and Twitter views on viral content, and even found a follower in John Resig, the creator of the most popular JavaScript library in the world, JQuery.  

But how did the idea for a fun, relatable, and inclusive education platform come about?

A full-time Google engineer at Google’s New York office, Billy’s interest in launching a platform to share coding knowledge began through an industry observation. “I started combining Anna Lytical with coding because I saw a variety of LGBTQ+ people in tech, but a large majority weren’t in technical roles, and that seemed odd to me.” And so, one of the drag queen’s primary goals became to help close the gap of non-engineering roles in tech for LGBTQ+ people. It wasn’t long before Google-backed this project too. On 20 June 2019, the tech giant tweeted about Anna Lytical’s work to millions – one of Anna’s first viral milestones that she recalls fondly.

A long-time RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, Billy had dreamed up and performed Anna Lytical in the Big Apple two years before launching the platform. At the time, Anna reached a large cohort of women, part of whom found the drag alias through Anna’s make-up videos. Today, the exuberant and sassy YouTuber in a candy-coloured wig has amassed a combined reach of 138,340 people and counting across her Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube channels, as of April 4, 2021. “It’s been incredible to hear so many stories about people’s computer science experience and how my content has changed their perception and made them feel included,” she shares.

Through this journey, Billy has rediscovered the joy of coding. With this came the exciting challenge of turning beginner to complex computer science concepts into fun, engaging, relatable, clear examples. From a curated amalgamation of coding and pop culture references to highlighting the historical milestones of gays in tech, it’s easy to see why Anna has become a millennial frontrunner in teaching coding.

Although the growing follower count on social media is a feat in itself, Billy is grateful for the exposure and consequent opportunities from her YouTube platform. With impact at the core of this passion project, Anna has caught plenty of attention offline too. As a Googler, she was involved at Google’s Queer Tech Voices event, where Anna performed and shared her experiences. And sure enough, the success of that led to a domino effect of opportunities for Anna Lytical. “One of the students approached me at the Google Queer Tech Voices event and told me they were organizing a queer hackathon,” she recalls. “In January 2021, as a result of that chance encounter, I gave a keynote to over 100 students who were spending the weekend building LGBTQ+ tech projects focused on education, social justice, healthcare, and public policy.”

“My true joy has been connecting with other excellent developers, making new friends online and IRL, and having people tell me that I am helping them get through their intro computer science class, or their data structures class, or just feeling alone at their job.” Aside from sharing her own resources on Anna’s social pages, you’ll frequently find her supporting other coding communities and amplifying voices in the LGBTQ+ tech space.

It’s evident that Anna is deeply passionate about representation in the queer tech vertical. “If we don’t take part in building technology around us, then we will not be represented in it,” the advocate said in a TikTok video. A 2015 New York Times piece explored how engineering as a profession tends to attract members who are problem-focused and less inclined to discuss personal interests overall, making LGBTQ+ employees reluctant to come out at work. Simultaneously, data by a 2017 Gallup survey found that homosexuality is more readily acknowledged and accepted among young people, a demographic primarily represented in the tech industry. While there is still no updated significant industry-wide data on LGBTQ+ people working in tech, Apple CEO Tim Cook’s 2014 letter in Bloomberg that read “I’m proud to be gay” is still one of the most iconic C-suite representation for the global tech community.

Entering this space as a coach, Billy has also realized the grave misconceptions that exist surrounding coding. “You don’t need to be good at math, and you’re never too old, nor is it ever too late to start learning,” she explains. “To understand optimal algorithms better and to execute advanced artificial intelligence or machine learning, math is required, but that’s really a small fraction of actual people in engineering roles.”

As for being late to the coding game, the advocate for continuous learning is adamant about busting that myth. “You can learn to code at any age, and everyone I know that’s an engineer is constantly learning new coding concepts and skills, so nobody is an expert.” For keen learners, Anna recommends integrating coding into your current jobs. “Spend some time learning code basics to know its benefits; it may help you write a quick script to speed up some manual tasks in your job,” she adds. Ultimately, Anna wants to drive home the message that coding isn’t a scary concept and not reserved for a certain kind of person; it’s simply another way to view the world and a tool for problem-solving.

But the impact is far from over for the internet’s favourite queer coding educator. “I’m going to be delivering a keynote at the OpenJS World conference, which is a huge platform and quite different from my own,” she reveals. “I’m excited to encourage these JavaScript experts to bring some of their own passions and hobbies and connect them to making technical concepts more accessible.”

Besides aiming to expand her impact by bringing more experts to the field, Anna is also looking to develop her own computer science curriculum with lectures and assignments focusing on introductory material. “Algorithms, data structures, and web development – those are the three big topics you need to secure an engineering job, and I’d love to share those skills with more people.”

Thanks to her significant backlog of existing content and people constantly revisiting her material, Anna has built a sustainable ecosystem of evergreen and not time-sensitive knowledge. Nonetheless, she is not shy from spotlighting the challenges that come with the job, and burnout is a significant one. “I experience so much burnout, but I just try to pace myself. I constantly remind myself that I do this for fun and am not a full-time content creator,” the coding guru adds.

While it may take Anna Lytical some time to accomplish her next goal, she’s working at a pace that allows her to prioritize herself. Until she gets there, this coding drag queen is leveraging, reviewing, and recommending plenty of existing resources to her scores of fans and friends alike in her wise-cracking fashion.

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