We interviewed 200 women engineers. Here is what we learnt.
When we started wogrammer in Fall 2014, our goal was to highlight the amazing work of women engineers, share their journeys and celebrate their accomplishments. Too often, women are asked what it is like to be a women engineer, rather than being asked about the groundbreaking technology they’ve built. In last three years, we interviewed close to two hundred women engineers from all over the world, every continent in the world, including Antarctica. In those interviews, we learned about some incredible accomplishments and advice that we’re excited to share.
Talk about what you are proud of.
We were surprised to find that the hardest question for most women to answer, irrespective of whether she was a CEO of a tech company, a founder or a high school student, was “What are you proud of?” Many were surprised to hear the question in the first place. Most weren’t used to talking openly about their accomplishments. We interviewed a bright young engineer, Sanya Khurana from New Delhi, India whose first response was, “I am proud of being a mentor and starting a Lean In circle”. Those are obviously terrific. On prodding, Sanya realized that she actually felt uncomfortable talking about her cool Android app, which is what she is most proud of having built. It is not always easy to talk about what you are proud of, but it is important.
“It’s not who you know; It’s not what you know; It’s who knows what you know” — Telle Whitney
“I built a project management system for the Ministry of Electricity (in Syria)” — Shereen Messi
“I was the Flight Test Engineer that was responsible for the real-time data monitoring of the missile with a replacement source rocket motor supplier and it went off without a hitch! This was a significant milestone to the Air Force since it allowed missile deliveries to resume” — Kristina J. Halona
“It’s not a stripped down laptop It’s still the lowest power laptop in the world by 10x” — Mary Lou Jepsen
Every story is different, but the advice is universal.
Irrespective of position, location, education background, women engineers’ advice is universal. The four main themes that resonated throughout our interviews were:
Find a support system:
Only 20% of students pursuing degrees in engineering are women (ASEE, 2015). This low representation of women has shown to be in part due to women’s low self-efficacy in engineering (Plant et al, 2009) and lack of supportive communities to sustain their motivation in an often competitive engineering classroom culture (O’Connor et al, 2007). Look for support systems around you to help you figure out how to code and how to push through the tough times. Don’t let stereotypes define you.
“Find someone who is where you want to be, pick their brain and find out what it takes to get there”. — Denae Ford
“Don’t underestimate the power of networking and making connections. This can be as simple as reaching out to a senior at school or alumni and learning from their experience”. — Eva Feng
“Don’t give up! Look for support systems around you to help you figure out how to code and how to push through the tough times. Don’t let stereotypes define you.” — Ilona Bodnar
Don’t doubt yourself:
Research suggests that self-efficacy, or one’s belief in their abilities to achieve a task, is critical to persistence, emotional responses to stress, and performance (Bandura, 1986; Stumpf et al., 1987; Gist, et al. 1989). Research also suggests that there is a relationship between self-efficacy and student registration in computer science classes in universities (Hill, et al., 1987), career choice and development (Betz & Hackett, 1981; Jones, 1986), and innovative technological work (Burkhart and Brass, 1990).
“If you doubt yourself, trust that you’re probably creating more value that you realize. Doubt is normal, common, and even our most inspiring leaders have it”. — Ayna Agarwal
“Act like it’s impossible to fail”. — Kendall Byrd
“Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Remember everyone who has ever learned to program gets frustrated”. — Melissa Halfon
Break down problems, stay persistent:
Programming or any engineering task can feel quite overwhelming. “How the heck am I supposed to send a woman to moon?” or “How do I manage 10 million queries per second?” Engineers can feel overwhelmed and daunted, but they still carry on. The women we spoke to didn’t grow up feeling confident, or wanting to be engineers. But they were curious, persistent and had a deep passion for learning.
“Break up big goals into smaller tangible tasks. Problems that seem huge at first will look much easier when tackled in smaller chunks”. — Ella Weinsberg
“Learning to code is just like learning any new language. When you start, it can be frustratingly hard to communicate, but give it time and patience. Anyone can eventually learn how to speak”. — Raylene Yung
“My rule is to just keep going with them. Even Einstein said it: ‘I’m not a genius, I just stick with problems longer”. — Olivia Ross
“Don’t be afraid to step up to new challenges even if you feel not quite ready for that new role. The only thing that should make you feel uncomfortable is feeling comfortable”. — Lilia Abaibourova
“Gumption is the most important skill you can have. If you have self-drive and an ability work independently, you can teach yourself technical skills, communication skills, or whatever else you need to learn. The important thing is that you have the drive to do it and stick to it”. — Adrienne Porter Felt
“The harder you fall the higher you bounce”. — Hurmat Ul Ain
Thank you to every wogrammer who shared her story with us. Change the narrative, and share what you are most proud of! Follow us on Facebook, Medium, Instagram & Twitter and break stereotypes one story at a time.
Zainab + Erin