Why Am I Woman in Tech (when so many women aren’t)

Thanks mom and dad. Thanks for giving my brother and I equal time on our first computer in 1990. Thanks for buying Lego for both of us. Thanks for buying me little circuit boards and engines. Thanks for my education. Thanks for encouraging , nudging, pushing, shoving me to get a tech related degree (my mom is brilliant and could see the future was tech).

I was a 90s child, born in 1983, right on the GenX – Millenial cusp. I started college in 2001, graduated in 2006 with a combined bachelors and masters in computer science and software engineering, two years before the floor of women with CS degrees in 2008.

So why and how?

Instead of shielding me from technology and STEM, my parents encouraged and fostered a love for science and tech in me. From what I’ve read, this makes me somewhat unique as a 90s girl.

Secondly, I went to an all girls high school. How did four years in high school, void of formal interaction with guys, encourage me to enter a male dominated field? I learned that women can do anything and everything. Even if I didn’t feel like the smartest in my class (and I wasn’t) I saw how motivated and accomplished the other women in the school were. There was no gender bias to compete against for class president, no intimidation to take or not take upper level math classes, women ran the school. If you wanted peer tutoring for math, you could ask any of the other women you went to school with instead of relying on guys.

Once I got to college, some of it was luck. A floormate, 4 doors down, took a CS class in high school and planned to double major in math and computer science (just like me!). We quickly became inseparable college besties.
Having a friend to take classes with, discuss assignments with, do group projects with got me through. I could not have done it alone. Find a peer group to help and support you as you get your degree.

I struggled that first semester. I came in with no prior coding experience. Learning to think in code, in methods and functions, in variables and semicolons is hard. My lowest grade throughout college was that first CS100 class. You don’t have to be perfect to become extraordinary. After that rough start, I learned how to learn to code. I learned from my failures. I graduated as the “Outstanding Software Engineering Graduate” for my year. You can learn and you can do it. Don’t doubt yourself even if you feel behind at first.

Did I experience bias in my program from students and faculty – YES. I should be the “secretary” for our group project because I’m the woman joked a tenured professor (but his qualification that men and women have equal abilities made that prior statement “ok”). I didn’t let it stop me. I had friends I could rely on. I didn’t get my degree alone.

Once I started working I found a great company where I fit in, despite being the only woman software engineer on the team. My manager became my champion; encouraging me to speak up in meetings and asking me direct questions to include me in the conversation. For me the hardest part of starting my first job, with minimal experience, as the only woman developer, as a natural quiet introvert, was finding my voice to ask questions or suggest ideas that no one else mentioned. I did think about problems differently and that is extremely valuable, but it was hard to see that as my 23 year old self. Thankfully my workplace culture and managers encouraged me to speak up because they recognized the value it added to the team.

I had moved to a new state for my first job; my friends and family were across the Mississippi River, 1600 miles away. I worked hard to make friends at work and I did. You have to work to become peers and find ways to relate with your coworkers. You don’t need to be best friends with your coworkers, but you need to be able to speak with them as peers. Usually for me it’s talking about hiking, or skiing, or food – stuff I’m passionate about that nearly everyone else in Colorado is. A week after I started my company had their first soccer game in the city adult league; you bet that I said I would play (even if it had been 6 years since I last played). You will feel like you belong and combat imposter syndrome if you work to know your coworkers and work to belong.

If I can do it – so can you, so can your daughter, so can your sister, so can your friend, so can your girlfriend. Other than my persistence (stubbornness some might say) I am not unique, even that probably doesn’t make me that unique. It is an amazing career, especially if you have a family or want to have a family. There are limitless possibilities to what you can do once you learn to code. We need more women as part of the coding conversation to solve new and existing problems; especially those unique to women.

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