“The best move I made in my tech career” — insights from eight tech ladies.
I’m fascinated by the ‘story’ — the decisions and circumstances that lead people to the lives they’re living. I’ve been navigating my first professional Software Engineering job this past month, and have been thinking about everything that set me up for this opportunity. There were some steps that propelled me forward, and some that pulled me back.
So, I asked some of the tech ladies that I adore to share their insights and perspectives on what they view as the best move they made for their careers in tech.
We’d also love to hear from you — pop a comment on this post if there’s something that you’ve experienced or done that drove your career forward!
1. Rachel — Going back to school.
I attended one of the first US coding bootcamps back in 2015, and the natural next step was to get out there and get a job. But something made me hesitate. I wanted engineering to be my ‘career’ — I was crazy passionate about programming, but there were huge gaps in my knowledge of Computer Science. I wanted to figure out how computers worked, how to apply design principles, how compilers functioned, how to choose the right data structures and optimise algorithms.
So I applied to CS Masters programmes, and got my top choice, in London. In hindsight, this was the smartest decision I could have made — despite my initial worries about the mountains of debt, and turning down other job offers. The Masters was designed to teach as much of a CS undergrad degree as possible in 1 year — so it was an intense crash course on the fundamentals, exactly what I wanted.
Some highlights were getting to do a great Artificial Intelligence module as my optional subject, and working with Microsoft for my final research project — I built a genetics-based augmented reality app for their HoloLens device. The doors that opened after I graduated were incredible, compared to the position I had been in a year prior.
Rachel (@secretlifeofcode) is a Software Engineer, now based in Dublin. She recently graduated with a Masters in Computer Science from UCL. She’s a former GSoC-er (Google Summer of Code), and former Community Lead for She++ London.
2. Meral — deciding to go all in as a tech entrepreneur.
The best move I’ve made so far is when I decided I wanted to be a tech entrepreneur. As a junior at UCLA, I started reaching out to founders/CEOs of tech startups in the LA area, offering to help them with anything from product to growth to coffee delivery — in exchange for a crash course in building a company from the ground up. Hundreds of rejections and ignored reach-outs later, I connected with the CEO and co-founder of Dust Messaging (a Mark Cuban company) via a cold LinkedIn InMail. And the rest was history.
I quickly learned that to be the best you have to surround yourself with and learn from the best — so over the next year I continued to network and meet mentors, colleagues, and business partners. That’s how I met Zac Choi, who was beginning to work on a new tech start-up, Hello Chava, at the time.
When my time at UCLA and Dust was coming to a close, I had my heart set on founding my own company — until a fateful visit to San Francisco, where I reconnected with Zac and his co-founder, Leonard (Founder/CEO @ Syncplicity, acquired 2012).
I was in love with their vision for Hello Chava, and excitedly hustled my way on-board as a co-founder. Today, I’m proud of what we’ve built at Hello Chava (AI-powered texting automation & augmentation) — and I’m thrilled to have launched a tech product and company at 23.
Update (Dec 2018): Hello Chava has upgraded to String (www.joinstring.com)
Meral Arik (@my.startuplife) is a business communications tech leader and Co-Founder of String, the most powerful direct phone line and texting experience for the modern professional. She is also founder of DOER Society, a fast growing community for female founders & entrepreneurial women.
3. Sage — Going with my gut.
The best move of my career also happens to be the best move of my personal life. In 2016, I was supposed to relocate to Seattle to join a team at Microsoft headquarters. It was the dream job, in my dream city.
But at the time, my mother was undergoing treatment for cancer, so I decided to move home to Toronto instead of crossing the border into the US. I re-joined the Canadian evangelism team I’d worked on during my internship, and on this team I was given the freedom to build with the emerging technologies that interested me the most.
Through that role I built my first holographic app, spoke on global stages, and worked with amazing people who have become some of my best friends and mentors. And most importantly, I was able to be there with my mom during the last two years of her life.
While this was ultimately my decision, it wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing people at Microsoft who understood my priorities and made it possible for me to change roles. The best career moves are made with a strong gut feeling, sound logic, and support from others.
Sage Franch (@thetrendytechie) is co-founder and CTO of Crescendo, an AI-powered chatbot for diversity and inclusion training. Prior to Crescendo, Sage specialized in cognitive computing and mixed reality at Microsoft, and taught blockchain development at bootcamps in Toronto.
4. Alison — Taking risks, and throwing myself in the deep-end.
As vague as this seems, everything I have achieved thus far has come from the feeling of being enveloped, and swallowed whole by an overwhelming sensation of fear and self-doubt — but going through with it anyway. This applies to me investing in a coding bootcamp, volunteering to take on the role of SCRUM master when we lost a team member, applying to a scholarship I never thought I’d be considered for, jumping into a business idea with nothing but complete faith that it will work, and more.
Doing things I thought I could never do is what has taken me to places and presented me with opportunities I’d never have thought I’d get to have. If you just keep trying, and embrace the failures as growth, you will get exactly where you want to be. In fact, you typically end up some place even better than you imagined.
Alison (@falkyou) is a front-end application developer for a healthcare solutioning company. Outside of her 9 to 5, she is a lingerie model and is enrolled in The George Washington University Master’s of Cybersecurity Engineering program. She is an assistant instructor at @momscancode as well as a member of @thewomenofsextech.
5. Jamie — Figuring out ‘what’ I was coding for.
I now code with purpose. Tech is an attractive field because of the plentiful opportunities and high salaries, but that isn’t enough for me. I need to feel like I am making a difference to be satisfied with my place in the world.
Finding a research topic in graduate school that allows me to support a community was the best move I’ve made. Not only am I passionate about my work, but I can see the direct impact that I’m making in other’s lives. It’s a great feeling!
Don’t let your tech career keep you boxed into superficiality and materialism. Use it as a tool to make a positive difference in your community.
Jamie (@bergerwithasideofcode) is a computer science PhD researcher at Michigan Technological University. She specializes in culturally inclusive computer science education for Native Americans.
6. Johna — Talking to strangers without expectations.
Not only in my tech career, but in life: talking with strangers. I’ve had a lot of work experience, but not much job-hunting experience. The first “job fair” I went to was my junior year of university. I showed up an hour before the event ended with five résumés in hand and no idea what I was looking for in an internship.
After handing out the résumés and talking to various companies, I was headed to the door and noticed a couple guys quietly standing at the table for a consulting company that needed computer science majors. I had never heard of the company before, so I walked over and struck up a conversation. They didn’t have any internship positions, and I didn’t have any résumés left, so we just chatted and exchanged email addresses without any expectations.
A week later, I had an interview with the company, and three years later I’m still working for Credera (they ended up finding an internship position for me that summer). I feel like I’m precisely where I’m supposed to be in my career, but if I had walked out that day without pausing to chat, my life would look completely different.
Johna Rutz (@jonesdoeslife) spends her workdays developing custom software solutions for clients at Credera, and her weekends with friends searching for specialty coffee shops around Dallas.
7. Robyn — Instagram.
One word: Instagram. The best move I made — not in, but for my tech career — was building up my online presence on social media.
While I was interning at a start-up, I met a woman who recognised me from my Instagram account. The start-up I was interning at was located at a WeWork, which is a co-working space ideal for growing companies. She was working for a different company at the same WeWork location.
A few weeks later, and a couple weeks before my internship was ending, I bumped into her in the kitchen. After chatting for a bit, I found out that she was a full stack developer at a cool start-up… and they were hiring! She introduced me to her colleagues and helped me get my foot in the door for an interview. Three days after my internship ended, I received an offer from her company. Social media is a great way to make a name for yourself professionally.
Robyn Silber (@programm.r) is a software engineer with a M.Sc in Computer Science. She currently works for a start-up as a Ruby on Rails full stack developer and is on the Board of Directors at Autism Speaks.
8. Brandy — Can’t be summed up in just one move!
I don’t know if I can define any one move as being the best, but I do have a few highlights. My first being, going back to school. I had started off running a large mobile conference, and the only thing I couldn’t do was build the mobile app for it. I started teaching myself to program in my spare time and decided to jump all in and go back to school.
The next highlight happened while I was in school: I got an internship. I had been attending meet-ups and meeting so many different people in the tech community, and they all told me I needed real world experience. So, I got an internship (working for FREE), and started writing production code about a month later (and they started to pay me!).
The next highlight happened when I decided to speak at a conference. This was about four months after graduating school, and I flew out to Toronto to speak about building mobile games with React Native. It was that moment that I knew I loved teaching people and showing others what was possible with technology and a little confidence.
The next major highlight was when I decided to document my journey on social media. It opened the door to so many opportunities and to so many awesome people. It gave me the ability to connect with others that were like me and loved technology.
Without these highlights I don’t think I would where I am in my career. I currently help my husband at his tech startup during the day and by night I am growing my own company, Creators Code, with my business partner Dania Micala. We are building a platform to teach others how to authentically grow their social presence and build a community. Being in tech is about being in a community that supports and helps one another. My mission in life is to help others find their success, while teaching them how to showcase it through social.
Brandy (@ brandymorgan) is a developer, designer, and doer who could out hustle Jay-z. Her work has received recognition and acclaim from Awwwards. Brandy has been featured in Glamour and Money magazine for her work on social media for paving the way for other female developers.
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