Grace Murray Hopper, and the UNIVAC, c. 1960

Becoming who you are: Women in tech / UX: A brief correspondence

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Hi, Laurie

I hope you are doing well. I wanted to reach out and see if you might be interested in being on our Girl Geek Dinner panel discussion.

Since you are a recognized figure in the software community, we would love to have you share how you created your personal brand and became this figure. What were some of the challenges? How did you overcome them? What would you recommend other ladies do, especially those early in their careers, to pave their path of speaking at conferences or unconferences, getting involved in different organizations, blogging and creating a level of credibility, etc.?

I hope you are doing well! Let me know what you think. ☺

Rachel

Rachel —

Short answer: How? Show up. Appoint yourself, don’t wait to be appointed. Blog. Tweet. Share. Connect. Offer to help. Ask for help.

Slightly longer answer, particularly with UX work: How do you get started doing it? By doing it. How do you get known for it? By sharing it.

To learn it, add it to your job if you can, or do it on your own. At your job, while you’re meeting and exceeding expectations for your role, learn about and act on the things you also want to do, and then use them to improve and help the product and the company. For a developer, that could mean learning new languages. For me, that meant doing content strategy but learning about information architecture and all the aspects of UX work. I had the support and the freedom to do those things in a producer role at Seth Godin’s Yoyodyne, a mad scientist startup / agency, back in the late 20th century, before I had a UX position with a UX title. At Seth’s shop, I did a lot of things, learned a lot and taught myself a lot — basic HTML, included. Deciding to focus on learning UX was a win for my projects, for the company, and for me.

As for the human issues of tech women at work — the whole “I’m the only woman who’s a developer, and the other developers don’t invite me to lunch” thing —that’s a math problem; being one of many is always easier than being one of one. More women = problem solved. (See also intersectionality; growing up in NYC, I never felt “other,” being Jewish; then I moved to the South.)

Being known in communities — inside your field and across fields — starts with participation: online, in person, wherever and however much, across which platforms is comfortable for you. If you are near Meetups or mixers, go to them; if you aren’t, start them. Repeat.

So,

  1. Make your way, and bring people with you.
  2. How Computer Geeks Replaced Computer Girls: Always remember that women were the first developers, and that computing was originally “women’s work” — as it is now, and should be. See also Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace: we invented it, thank you very much.
  3. Be kind along the way, be generous; be the change you want to see.
  4. Don’t wait to be selected; choose yourself.
  5. If you meet people who are birds in search of cages, help them free themselves.

Related:

1. The Queen Of Code: Short film about Grace Hopper
2. Ada Lovelace Day: Annual international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).