Some computer nerds go beyond the binary.
Meet Billy Jacobson, a Google software engineer in New York City. Last year he launched a YouTube channel as his drag alter ego, Anna Lytical, a tech educator who’s “changing the world one queer line of code at a time.” The missing variable might be you.
NewNowNext talked to the colorful coding queen about why he’s programmed to attract LGBTQ people to the tech industry.
Has there ever been a better time to learn coding?
Yeah, you’re already on your computer. Why not do something productive?
How did you get into coding?
It was a slow burn for me. I did some basic coding when I was in 5th or 6th grade, and I dabbled a bit more later. I was into it, but I didn’t know where to go from there. Then, my senior year of high school, I took a computer science class and decided to go to college for computer science and engineering, and that’s when I started diving in deep. I finally accepted my nerdiness.
When did you start doing drag?
I’d always been into theater, and when I came back to New York after college, I was looking for an outlet to perform and be creative. I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I saw a way to do things I wanted to do through drag and in a queer space. I was interested in comedy and singing, and drag also seemed like a good way to try new things like sewing and music editing. There are so many components to drag.
How did you learn to do makeup? Did you have a drag mother?
I took a one-day class at Kryolan to get started, but that didn’t help much. I pretty much learned from watching YouTube videos. I didn’t really have a drag mother, but I do have a few drag sisters from when I used to perform at Pieces in the West Village.
Eyes hurting from staring at your LAME terminal?
Extra SSHing while WFH? #CodeNewbie and scared of the shell?
— Coding Drag Queen Anna Lytical (@theannalytical) March 17, 2020
How would you describe your drag aesthetic?
I like to play with makeup, lots of colorful eye looks and colorful wigs. As far as outfits, I stick to a Rachel Maddow blazer look. Businesswomen are my fashion inspiration. Down the line, once I reveal what’s below the webcam, I’ll probably do pencil skirts.
What was the “aha” moment you decided to bring coding and drag together?
I just didn’t feel like I was very good at being a drag queen. I looked at all these amazing queens who each brought something unique to their performances, so I tried to figure out what I could do that they couldn’t. I tried bringing science, technology, and engineering into my performances—like, one time I drilled some wood during a performance, and the idea was there, but it didn’t come across on stage. I’d been coding for a while, and some people on my team at work had started doing coding livestreams, so I was like, what if I can bring a drag element to coding and video? I also wanted to reach out to young LGBTQ people trying to find their way into tech.
Why should queer people learn how to code?
Representation is really important. If you aren’t represented in building the technology, it’s not going to represent you. Whether it’s a biased dating app, an online form that only gives you two gender options, a news website that doesn’t pick up LGBTQ content—there are so many ways queer people can use coding to create positive change.
Is the tech industry welcoming to queer people?
There are a lot of opportunities for queer people in tech, and a lot of queer people have the brainpower and creativity that would make them great coders or engineers. Look at a queer artist who figures out how to create art using whatever they can find, like a drag queen who makes an outfit out of sponges. I know a lot of queer people looking for a more stable job. The economy is what it is right now, but there will still be so many tech jobs that could use their unique creative skills. If I can help one queer person, one drag queen, learn a little code, maybe find their way into the tech industry, that’s a huge win for me.
I'm a coding queen
I'm a singing queen
I'm a talented queen https://t.co/Gnm3XWMDX7
— Coding Drag Queen Anna Lytical (@theannalytical) April 18, 2020
You’ve spoken at QueerTech about the opportunities for LGBTQ people in the tech world. How does it feel to represent queer techies?
It’s great. I love hearing from queer people in tech and in all STEM fields. But one person can’t represent everybody, so it’s amazing to see there are so many different queer people in STEM already that younger queer people can identify with and look up to.
I like how you use queens as examples when teaching, like Nina West’s face to create Snapchat filter effects or Monique Heart quotes to make a soundboard.
Yeah, there are a lot of tutorials out there that are very dry, and other tutorials that try to be engaging but don’t use pop culture or drag, so I saw a niche to fill. People may watch one of my videos because they like Monique Heart, for example, and maybe they can learn one thing about coding—or even just see code for the first time.
Which Drag Race queen is your biggest inspiration?
One of the reasons I got into drag was Trixie Mattel. I loved what she was doing. She doesn’t need to be in drag to do comedy and music, but drag elevates it. That’s how I feel about what I do. I don’t need to be in drag to teach you code, but it elevates the whole experience.
Would you like to compete on Drag Race one day?
If the opportunity came up, I probably wouldn’t say no. My goal is to keep educating LGBTQ people, to show them that the tech world exists and is accessible to them. If Drag Race can give me a platform to share that message with a larger audience, then I would take it.
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