Advice to Women Seeking Careers in Technology

Note: This post is inspired by this question submitted to Quora.

There are many benefits to a career in technology:

  • wages and compensation are high compared to other industries (even accounting for the wage gap between men and women)
  • many tech jobs offer flexible schedules and working environments
  • the work can be intellectually challenging and fulfilling

Here are some bits of advice I’d give to women considering a career in technology, or to those just beginning one.

Practice building confidence and be mindful about not selling yourself short.

It’s well known that women routinely under-assess their own skills as well as their value to their workplace or organization. Watch for this in yourself and work on ways to build your own confidence and self-assessment abilities.

Build and utilize a support network.

I can’t stress the importantance of having a network of people you can reach out to when things get tough (which they will, because that’s life). But don’t wait until you’re down in the dumps to reach out. Find a group of people you connect well with and make consistent connections with them. Don’t be afraid to attend women-only events and groups if you find that’s where you feel most comfortable.

Know that you will encounter sexism, racism and other misbehavior.

The tech industry is full of very privileged individuals and you will undoubtedly encounter sexist, racist and other kinds of bad behavior. No matter how trivial this behavior seems know that you are under no obligation to brush it off or grow a thicker skin. Know that you can talk about the bad behavior you encounter. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this publicly, utilize your support network.

Avail yourself of feminist and other anti-oppressionist resources.

Start with geekfeminism.org and microaggressions.com.

Learn to negotiate and ask for what you are worth.

This is a corollary to “not selling yourself short” and includes salary as well as desired job position. I know of companies who will offer the harder to fill, less prestigious positions to women first simply because they are more likely to accept them (even when they would prefer the more prestigious position). Read Ask For It for some good tips on negotiation in the workplace.

Know that work environments can vary significantly.

Workplace culture and environment can vary drastically from company to company. Don’t forget that when you’re interviewing, you’re interviewing the company in addition to them interviewing you. Ask them about their anti-harassment policies and what they do to facilitate women achieving in tech. If you think they could be doing better, consider letting them know.

Be a life-long learner.

Tech is a rapidly changing field where practice makes all the difference. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Read code and write code. Go to user/meetup groups. Teach others. Practice. Build.

Fellow tech women who have been around a while now: What tips would you offer? Leave ‘em in the comments!

3 comments

  1. Larissa

    This is a fantastic post, thank you Christie. It is so highly relevant to the work I’ve just finished doing for this year with TechWomen (http://www.techwomen.org)… As for my own advice, building on what Christie already said, and on 17 years in and among tech companies..

    Your network of other women in tech (and outside tech) is probably your #1 greatest resource. Also, don’t turn down mentoring opportunities that feel right, whether its as mentor or mentee. These relationships have been some of the very best things that I have built in my career.

    Don’t ever sell yourself short. Know that your achievements are *your achievements*, not luck, chance, or the work of someone else on your team. Own your power.

    If something feels wrong, in your gut, it is probably wrong.

    If someone is offensive, don’t just take it. That person is probably being offensive all over the place. Go to HR, or or take other appropriate action. Its not okay. You do not deserve it, you did nothing to deserve it.

    Have fun. In tech, we have a lot of options, so if something really isn’t fun any more, take a step back and consider if you need a change.

  2. Lukas Blakk

    From my (limited) experience going back to school to get a degree and then looking to get my feet into this industry, I can’t praise INTERNSHIPS enough. If you are looking to start your career and you happen to be a student now (or sometimes a new grad) then getting an internship somewhere you are interested in working is a great way to get your foot in the door. Internships give you a bit more room to learn on the job (even though everyone is always learning on the job) and they can lead to job offers once you show how you work.

    Another tip: think of your trajectory like a rain drop, you start with the bottom of the drop, shallow knowledge across a certain number of areas. Then you grow that knowledge and also broaden the areas you start to touch getting deeper in many. After 5-10 years you will probably start to narrow again, working on very deep expertise in a handful of areas.

    The long and the short of that last one is not to put too much pressure on yourself to know everything or be an expert at anything if you are still new to the field. Good work ethic, social skills, and many other transferable “soft skills” from other careers will be part of what rounds you out as a great candidate even if you only have a year or two of experience in tech itself.

    I’m currently still broadening and deepening but I look forward to the specialization that I hope comes after 5 more years in this industry.

  3. Linda H.

    Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, recently gave some advice to women on Quora about how to be successful in the tech world. She said most women get intimidated by the tech industry, but shouldn’t be. It actually makes more sense for women to be involved with the tech industry because, usually, the schedules are more flexible and that fact alone is very motivating for many women who are trying to achieve a better work/life balance.