Breaking Into Tech: My Advice for Girls

By Minette Norman, VP of Engineering Practice, Autodesk

Early this year I was approached with the opportunity to sponsor the 2016 Autodesk Girls Who Code Camp, and agreed without any hesitation. I didn’t know how much budget, time or staffing resources I needed to commit. And I didn’t care. All I knew was that Girls Who Code was an organization I wanted to support.

I’m usually someone who would ask a few questions before committing to something like this. So why did I jump at this opportunity without asking those questions? Because I care so deeply and passionately about inspiring girls to get into the tech world and know that Girls Who Code is an organization who can make that happen.

One of my first jobs was at the French Trade Commission in New York City in 1987

Like most software companies, Autodesk has a low percentage of women in engineering. I frequently participate in meetings where I am the only woman. I attend a forum with executives of engineering from other companies and I am the only woman. This must change. We know we need women at the table, on teams and in the boardroom. The only way to change this: Get girls interested in careers in tech.

I didn’t study computer science, electrical engineering or any of the other subjects that you might think of for someone leading engineering at a software company. I majored in drama and French. And yet I found my way into the tech world more than 25 years ago and have had an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding career. I didn’t plan to be where I am today and yet I’m here. So as I thought about this immersion camp throughout the past two months, I started reflecting on what has been important to me in my career and what words of wisdom I might have for other girls who are interested in STEM fields. My advice comes down to three major themes: Passion and energy, infinite curiosity and desire to learn, and great relationships with others.

I know talking about “passion” can sound cliché, but what I mean by this is caring so deeply about something and being so committed to it that I’ll do the work required… even when things get hard.

When I was a teenager, I decided that I wanted to learn to speak French fluently and so convincingly that no one would know I wasn’t actually French when I spoke. Naturally, this took a ton of work. From memorizing irregular verbs to learning which nouns were masculine or feminine, I spent countless hours practicing. Finally, when I was a student in France my junior year of college, I started to have French people ask me where in France I was from. All that hard work had paid off!

Autodesk hosted 20 high school juniors and seniors from the Bay Area for a seven-week immersion

Throughout this program, I’ve overheard participants discuss the amount of problem solving involved with the Girls Who Code immersion. Of course, the need to problem solve won’t end with this camp. In our day-to-day jobs, we have to figure out a lot of things on our own and to do this, we must remain curious and committed to learning. I do a great deal of reading to stay current on topics as varied as DevOps, neuroscience, and machine learning. It’s only after I’ve done my homework that I feel comfortable asking someone for help. And people are almost always willing to help when they see that you’ve shown interest, curiosity and have done some learning on your own.

My third piece of advice relates to great relationships. Whether you work for a small startup or a large company, no one can be successful working alone. We work in teams and those teams work best only when people have positive relationships, can trust each another and be open with their opinions. Success comes when people feel they have a voice and are working in an environment that supports healthy conflict. And one thing I would ask of all girls: Be supportive of one another. There is a stereotype that women are competitive and cutting with one another in the workplace. Sometimes there’s truth to that but usually there isn’t. My advice: Don’t be mean to other women. We need to have each other’s back. We are stronger working together.

There will be times, in your studies or in your professional career, where you are going to encounter challenges. You will need to call on each of the three qualities I referenced to persevere and succeed. You’ll need to ask yourself if you have enough energy and commitment to work through the hard parts. You will have to commit to learning things that don’t come naturally to you. And you will need to work on relationships when there is conflict, which is inevitable. And when you work through those challenges — trust me — you’ll feel so proud and unstoppable.

For the recent graduates of the Autodesk Girls Who Code Class of 2016 and to any other girls who are considering degrees and careers in STEM fields, I encourage you to keep your mind open and stay curious. I have no doubt you’ll discover what you want to pursue in college and career.

Most, importantly, don’t feel that you need to figure it all out today. Keep exploring, keep learning and keep asking questions. We’ll all benefit from more women in tech and I’m excited to share the table with some of you soon.

Minette Norman is VP of the Engineering Practice at Autodesk. Autodesk makes software for people who make things. If you’ve ever driven a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a smartphone, or watched a great film, chances are you’ve experienced what millions of Autodesk customers are doing with our software. Autodesk gives you the power to make anything.