Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Women in Technology? Really? Silly?

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I ’m so old school, I decided to do this article after encountering many young ladies who reminded me of someone I know :), and who could definitely use some help listening to her advice.

I consider myself a success, not because I am at the summit of it, but because as a woman in technical workforce, it is a challenge to survive the years. If you are a woman and have survived more than a decade in technology, while successfully balancing the remainder of your life, do yourself a favor and consider yourself a success! My entry to technology (as sometimes happen) was not accidental either. In fact, I decided to quit my undergraduate degree in agriculture, just to stay in technology.

If you are a women and feel discouraged to step into technology, remember that during the times I started, some software companies did not even recruit women (Imagine that 🙂 ). Software development was labeled as a man’s job in Sri Lanka. Late hours were the norm (of course us women were not supposed to stay late) and women were labeled as not ‘that techie’ either.

I am a firm believer of women in technology. In fact I believed in it so much I was an anti-feminist to begin with. I was so strong willed and believed that there is nothing particularly affecting women from pursuing careers in technology track. That is until, few years down the line, credit for my work was forcefully taken away from me. You let that happen to you a couple of times and then you become a feminist. 🙂

So the truth is, it is indeed a challenge to survive, let alone thrive. If you wonder what it takes for a woman to uphold a reputation in tech industry, here are few lessons from things I did right, and from some more things I did wrong.

Attitude! it’s the first and foremost game changer. Thriving as a technology professional is much less about knowledge, but more about attitude. Let me tell you why. Our knowledge is invalidated every hour, as new trends come and old once disappear. It is how we face these changes that determines our fate. So be ready to encounter challenges every day. To go out there and to face problems, face to face with your computer (or at meetings :)). Here is when it becomes interesting. Society often tends to put labels on women’s attitude. I was once told, ‘Cannot work with you women!’ to my face at a meeting. Another time I was asked not to put extra hours because, ‘It’s difficult for the guys to justify leaving on time when a girl stays late’. We are always at a disadvantage when we show a compelling attitude towards work, because it looks ‘manly’ and does not stand well with being a women. Female bosses take the biggest hit on this one. They will label you as bossy, in fact a male with similar characteristics is more likely to be labelled as confident. Anyway, irrespective of perceptions, what is important is that we play the game by understanding the reality. Again, that is why attitude matters most. Take it with a smile, do not dwell on it and move on to your next task at hand.

Stay true! Stay true to your female soul. If you feel like you have to play two roles, one female and one male to stay successful in the tech world, it is not an approach that is going to work long term. Well, I can confidently tell you so, because I tried it. Somewhere down the line, your inner self is going to miss the woman in you. It is totally fine to code in heals, say no to a drink (if you do not drink), or be polite when others seem to be rude. It is very important for us to change this perception for the sake of future ladies to take on a technical career.

Make connections! Make connections with people. Find a good mentor and seek advice. Ok. so this advice also comes with a bit of a disadvantage. Problem with approaching and finding a mentor is that some mentors could approach us ladies the wrong way. So the best is to put the cards on the table with the mentor directly and wind up immediately if you start to feel uncomfortable. Even better, find more than one mentor so you can take a judgement call if things come to it.

Don’t just hang in there! This is the problem with us girls. We tend to do the job and go home. It backfires later in our careers. Do what you do with unparalleled passion and enthusiasm. Do NOT be satisfied with ‘black box’ explanations. If you forever think that you don’t need to understand why a piece of code works, because it just works fine, you are in for a lot of trouble down the line. Let us focus our female energy to question all the time and ask ‘Why?’ from the code we write, from the tools we use and even people we take meetings with.

Next is one of my favorites. 🙂 Do not expect people to come to you for advice. No, it’s not that easy, even if you are on top of what you do, you will rarely be called in for advice or help. Be it a cultural or gender based (I have noticed that European customers tend to be more gender neutral, compared to the Middle-eastern once I have worked with), you will be approached for technical matters as the last resort. Get used to it! I have made it a practice to challenge myself to somehow give a solution when they finally come to me. 🙂 Guess what! the good part of being the last one to respond is that you have a lot of failed cases which you can learn from and use your intuition on! Embrace it!

Balance. Yes, it’s important and it is the healthy way to live. It is not true that all techies have uncontrollably busy lives. In fact, most of the highly skilled technical people I know have a balanced life style. (I know a successful architect who take 2 good vacations a year to go skiing with his kids and comes back all re-energized.) When you start balancing your life from an early age in career, it helps you deal with the demands that is put on you when you become a parent (That is of course if you decide to). We cannot have it all at once. It’s not only women, no one can have it all at once. (We just cannot even have the basics at once.) So be prepared to ask for help from family, friends and co-workers.

Be imperfect! (without loosing passion). If you are raised in a culture where women have to be PERFECT, you need to put some effort and try to become imperfect. Because imperfection is a success criteria in technology. No one expects a ‘perfect’ outcome these days. Time and effort you spend to perfect everything will not get you to deadlines. I stopped perfecting things sometime back (including the house), it has given me time to learn and grow. Though it is every much difficult for us ladies to digest this, it can actually be a game changer in terms of balancing.

Pay it forward, Please do this. Pay it forward to the ladies who enter the man’s world of technology. Embrace them and empower them when you get a chance. I always think of the ladies who could fill up a position when there is one, I take immense care to write recommendations about them, appreciate when they succeed, suggest them for new projects and opportunities. We owe it to one another to help each other, because it is us who understand the struggles the most.

Alright! So the bottom line is, us women have to work hard to break the stereotyping in technical workforce. Until next time!

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

Brigham Young

And Oh! no offence given, none taken either ! 😉