Closing the Gap — Musing from a Female Engineer

Women in technology — or the lack thereof — is a hot topic. Googling “women in tech” generates enough content to keep anyone busy; the internet raged with backlash to Barbie’s botched engineering career, and Always spent millions empowering women with their Super Bowl ad. Until recently, I was the only female engineer at Strava. By reflecting on my experiences I can better understand the gender gap, and by sharing my success I hope to prove to other women that they belong in technology.

Throughout my life I’ve had plenty of experience competing and collaborating with men. When I took the stage to receive my Computer Science degree from MIT, less than a third of my peers were female. Even before joining the tech industry I was familiar with gender gaps in the workplace. On Wall Street, I was the sole female on a desk of ten derivatives traders. Being surrounded by men at Strava was not a new experience.

Society treats me like an anomaly. Introducing myself as a woman with a “man’s job”, I see a common reaction: a raise of the eyebrows, a congratulatory “Good for you,” or a confused “That’s not what I would have expected.” When I ask why, answers range from the casual — “I just don’t know any girl engineers” — to the more uncomfortable — “You’re too good looking to be an engineer.”

Unlike male counterparts who exuded confidence, I was full of doubt. That doubt pushed me further from engineering at every major life decision. I hesitated to commit to MIT even though it vastly outranked my other college options. When choosing a major, computer science was initially at the very bottom of my list. Even after realizing that mistake and earning a CS degree, I chose not to pursue a career in the field.

The source of my doubt was a feeling of not belonging. I feared that I did not fit in at a university that boasted the brightest minds, when all I had ever felt was average. I feared that if I chose Computer Science I would be too far behind kids who had spent their childhoods playing on computers while I struggled with my family’s DVD player. I feared that I would be lonely working behind a cubicle wall without anyone I could relate to.

Luckily, opportunity kept drawing me back in. I knew that a degree in computer science would open doors for me — and I was correct. I found a career in a city I love with a company whose motives and values align with my own.

Had I known that a career in software engineering could look like it does at Strava, I never would have hesitated. Despite being the only female engineer, I’ve never felt more at home. I’m surrounded by people just like me who love to run and ride, get outside, and push themselves both physically and mentally. At Strava, the feeling of not belonging has finally faded.

I love being an engineer. I love the tangibility of creating something that I can hold in my hand and show off to my friends. I love optimization. I love algorithms. I love getting lost in a problem, and I love finding the solution.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share my story through Code, which premieres at Tribeca Film Festival next month. I hope other women in technology are inspired to tell their stories as well. By sharing our experiences, both the anxieties and the joys, we can help ease the fear of joining a male dominated industry, and start closing the gap.


Originally published at labs.strava.com by Evelyn Cordner.