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How 3 Women Would Hack Tech’s Diversity Problem

Photo by: WOCinTech Chat

This is part two of a series. Miss part one? Read it here.

A few months ago, Stack Overflow published a developer survey that was the first of its kind. It compiled the input from over fifty thousand developers, making it the most comprehensive developer survey ever conducted. Despite an impressively vast sample size, the survey received some flak for the inherent bias it produced by surveying its own, less-than-comprehensive user base. Tessa Harmon, a senior full-stack engineer at Vox, wrote a succinct and telling critique explaining where the survey fell short and how it was harmful to underrepresented groups– namely, women. Stack Overflow graciously corrected the mendable issues and responded directly to her post.

I saw this as an opportunity to shed more light on tech’s diversity problem, and most importantly, to foster more positive conversation around it.

I talked to three women– Tessa Harmon from Vox, Erin Summers from Facebook/Oculus VR, and Hilary Sinkoff from Firehose– to hear their stories and gather their perspectives on diversity in tech. In our conversations, they each spoke about their biggest (and most frustrating) obstacles, but more importantly, they shared their greatest lessons and the advice they have to share with everyone who wants to make tech more inclusive.

Tell us your story. How did you first become interested in tech?

In high school I wanted to learn to make robots and I made a line following robot that was completely hardware controlled with photoresistors. I went to NC State and got a degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering. I was one of the first members in the NCSU underwater robotics club, where we made a submarine robot that competed in an obstacle course. I got a taste of the math behind robotics and was really curious so I went on to get my PhD in control systems at UC Berkeley, where I studied stability of large scale systems. Practically — making sure planes don’t fall out of the sky. I worked at NASA for a summer and then joined Facebook right after finishing my PHD. At Facebook I built the threaded comments on Android, so we can all reply to comments now, I built the interface for Page admins to buy ads on Android too. Now mobile ads is more than 80% of our total ads revenue. That’s pretty exciting to see that something I built be so wildly successful. Now I’m at Oculus working on the Store Platform. There is an Oculus Store on the Rift and gear VR in both 2D and 3D. I work on the infrastructure that powers all of that.

What have you personally found most helpful in overcoming the assumptions people might have because of stereotypes?

Talk about what you are proud of. Talk about what you’ve built. It’s not WHAT you know, it’s not WHO you know, but it’s WHO knows WHAT you know. No one’s going to know what you have done unless you talk about it.

What advice do you have for men and women in tech who want to make it more inclusive?

Everyone — follow wogrammer on Facebook, Medium, Instagram, and Twitter to see inspiring stories about women in tech from all walks of life all over the world.

For women — talk about what you are proud of. Own your accomplishments and don’t be shy about taking credit where it is due.

Is there an organization that you believe is doing a standout job of fostering a better community?

Black Girls Code is an amazing organization. Every time they help share wogrammer stories, it’s electric and exciting to see the whole BGC community elevating and celebrating these women in tech.

Tell us your story. How did you first become interested in tech?

I first took a computer programming class in high school and although I really enjoyed the classes I took, I didn’t pursue it in college. I later became interested in developing because of the process. The process of starting with a goal, planning a course of action, following that course, and then after a few/many iterations having a solution really appealed to me.

Once I rediscovered coding, I began by teaching myself using some of the truly great resources available online and by ‘gasp’ reading books, but I quickly realized that this was something I wanted to make a career out of so I began researching my options. One of the options I came across was Firehose Project and for me it was the right choice. As of today, I have been a professional developer for just shy of a year and although I’m still a relative newcomer to the field, I can honestly say I enjoy coding and I’m happy with my decision.

What have you personally found most helpful in overcoming the assumptions people might have because of stereotypes?

I personally find the tech interview and writing code very helpful in this regard. Once you’ve written code with someone (or even shared your code with them) I’ve found that they are judging you based on the code you’ve written and in my experience that lessens their reliance on any stereotypes they may have.

Is there an organization that you believe is doing a standout job of fostering a better community?

There are a lot of organizations that are working to make tech more diverse and inclusive. I find the companies and organizations that are helping to get girls, and children in general, interested in STEM (or even STEAM) especially interesting. Organizations like Roominate and GirlsWhoCode are actively trying to shape the future of women in tech.

An enormous thank you to Tessa, Erin, and Hilary for taking the time to share their stories and perspectives, and for helping us contribute to the positive conversation around women in tech!

At Firehose, we’re constantly looking for more women to be mentors for our online software engineering program. If you or someone you know might be interested, learn more and apply here and share this post to get the word out!

If you like this post, don’t forget to recommend and share it. Check out more great articles at Code Like A Girl.