The time is now ripe for breaking into technology as a woman. For the past 20 years or so, looking up to role models meant emulating mostly male-leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. As a woman of color and female software engineer, I found myself in situations where I had nobody who looked like me among the tech leadership, as a result, I doubted my capabilities, skills, and confidence.
This is when I first came across the Grace Hopper Conference. I was lucky and fortunate enough to have received a scholarship from HP Vertica to attend the conference for free as a student. For any woman interested in software engineering now, GHC is the go-to place for getting inspired, finding jobs and life-long mentors. Having met so many amazing women like me at the conference, I returned to my job feeling much more empowered to make changes to our recruiting pipeline to hire more women engineers.
Flash forward to today, there are hundreds of women stepping up to become mentors, many taking leadership roles to become role models for the future generations, and several thousands of groups on social media connecting women everywhere to feel inspired and empowered to break into technology. More and more workplaces are starting to recognize women in prominent leadership roles, offering them opportunities to mentor, and enabling tough conversations about diversity and inclusion to take place at work.
It is truly the right time to be a part of this movement. As a female software engineer and rising entrepreneur, I would like to share some tips for women trying to break into the field of software engineering and ways to thrive at work by challenging the status quo:
Help people without any expectations
You get what you give. Consider the skills you currently possess whether it is knowledge in a specific area, for example, databases, bots, java, python etc. You could share this knowledge through free courses on Youtube or Udemy. There are various resource groups on entrepreneurship, engineering, and design. The most famous one is the Hackathon Hackers group on Facebook. Consider joining the group and helping college students who need assistance with making career choices, advice on obtaining internships and jobs or looking for co-founders on a project.
The more you give the more you get as an indirect side effect.
Cultivate an environment of positivity
Everyone is dealing with their own fair share of problems. You should always assume that someone at your own work might be going through problems much worse than you and more often times, it is someone you know. It is important to spread a culture of joy and positivity.
People often feel hesitant to share jokes or let their entire personality out at work. There are ways you could cultivate this environment with much less effort and without seeming to be unprofessional. Consider sharing fundraising campaigns you came across or sharing random Youtube videos that you found insightful or even news about the company that excites you. Spreading positivity is the single source of making new friends and building closer relationships at work.
Internalize feedback and actively measure yourself against it
Feedback should always be 360. If you are not doing this at your company, I highly suggest that you initiate this culture as a manager or VP. It makes directs feel empowered as well as obtain constructive feedback at the team level. When I worked at Apple, I would do performance reviews for leads and managers of teams I worked closely with and likewise my peers and managers would do reviews for me. This made me feel like everyone was on the same team, helping each other succeed rather than a lot of feedback coming from top-down.
While actively participating in performance reviews is one way to seek feedback it is an entirely another question as to what to do with the feedback. Not many companies are very good at converting the feedback into actionable insights for their employees which results in most employees being confused. It is rather a more personal exercise for you to go through feedback from all sources. Don’t stress on one-offs, focus on themes that appear on every feedback. Then make an actionable plan on how you could internalize this feedback and measure yourself against it.
Create more seats for women at the table
We all know that there are very few women in technology companies. More seats are created when women take initiatives to help each other out. When I was at Snapchat, I partnered with our HR organization to help organize the first ever Women In Engineering Summit. This was an idea that started when a couple of female software engineers at Snapchat wanted more representation of women in the leadership at the company. It was a feat and required collaboration across engineering, design and recruiting departments but as a result of the event, we were able to highlight some of the greatest work done by women engineers at Snap and help recruit more women into senior positions.
Lastly, own your success and make yourself heard
Self-confidence comes from within. No one lands the promotion by holding their successes back. I’ve noticed that women often underestimate themselves and ask for less when they deserve more. It is important to make yourself heard, whether it is in standups or TGIFs or All-Hands. Your journey is your own and no one will tell your story if not you.