Hello there! My name is Chloe Sumsion and I’m a woman in tech. I studied computer science for four years in college and have worked as a software engineer at Lucid Software for almost two years now. With all those years under my belt, I felt like it was high time I shared a few nuggets of wisdom with other women like me. So if you’re a woman in tech, or you’re wanting to be one, hopefully you’ll find something in here that helps you find success pursuing your passion.
1. Don’t Let the Fact That You’re a Minority Trip You Up
Without a doubt, women are a minority in the tech space, especially when it comes to software engineering. I was aware of this very early on in my major. My first computer science class had around a 30:7 split between boys and girls. By the time I’d started my third computer science class, it was more along the lines of a 30:2 split. That ratio hasn’t changed much since. My classes usually had one or two other girls attending, and I am still one of only a dozen women programmers at work. To prove my point, here is a picture taken at a recent developer conference I went to. I’m the girl. 🙂
Lucid Software is actively seeking to hire more female engineers, and the industry in general is trending toward encouraging more women to choose tech careers. It’s an exciting movement, but it’s also a slow one. For now, being a minority as a woman in tech is just a fact. So don’t let it trip you up. Don’t let your minority status make you self-conscious or stop you from being yourself. In fact, I’d argue that you shouldn’t focus on your minority status at all! Instead, focus on the fact that you are unique and have something great to contribute. Funny thing is that everyone else is unique too, so you’re actually a part of the majority when you think of yourself this way. Instead of feeling out of place because you’re a female in a male-dominated environment, take advantage of your uniqueness and help other people to do the same.
2. Don’t be Afraid to Break Stereotypes
You’re probably well aware of the thick, negative stereotype around programmers. Something along the lines of this:
Attractive? I think not! So it’s no wonder that women choose different majors and careers over computer programming. As women, we often feel that we need to “fit in” with others’ expectations in order to succeed. But who wants to “fit in” with a stereotype like that?! Especially when the media tells us that successful women are glamorous and attractive. And I’d argue that most women naturally want to look nice. I know I do. Plus, I’m not a gamer like these guys are. So what’s a girl to do? Break the stereotype! You don’t have to be a slob or a gamer to be a programmer. And, in fact, you’ll be happy to know that most programmers don’t fit the stereotype. My co-workers take showers, look nice, and don’t spend every waking hour outside of work on a gaming console. So, trust me, you can be good-looking and you can be a programmer…at the same time! That’s what I’m trying to do. When I tell people that I’m a software developer, they give me a shocked face and comment, “You don’t look like a programmer.” I just smile and realize once again how fun it is to break stereotypes. So don’t be afraid to do so yourself!
3. Be the “Wise Fool”
4. Don’t Underestimate Yourself
I once heard a study that said women tend to underestimate their abilities and men tend to overestimate them. That explains why women won’t apply for a job that they don’t meet all of the requirements for, whereas men will apply for the job even if they only meet a couple of the requirements. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad trait for women to have, but I do know that it’s important to stop underestimating your abilities. Take ownership for what you know and seize opportunities to use your skills. I’ve learned this from experience. Throughout my first year of full-time employment, I found myself unconsciously pawning off decision-making to some guys on my team. It wasn’t inherently a bad thing to involve them in decisions I needed to make, but I was also very capable of making some of those decisions by myself. Plus, it wasn’t very effective to interrupt them for trivial decisions or, when they weren’t around, feel like I was stuck until they got back to make the decision for me. Since I realized that I was doing this, I’ve been making a greater effort to take advantage of my abilities and take ownership for those decisions. It has been rewarding to be in control. Plus, I’ve grown through using my abilities to their full extent and I’ve had greater opportunities to contribute.
5. Get a Mentor, You Don’t Have To Do This Alone
It’s safe to say that women naturally like to communicate and build support networks. Sometimes I laugh thinking that women are like herd animals (we go in groups) whereas men are like territorial animals (they go solo). So it just makes sense that successful women have mentors who help them along the way. Be it a guy or a girl, formal or informal, you can learn a lot from having a mentor. Plus, that extra bit of support is fantastic! I’ve had many mentors throughout my years at school and work (a couple of whom are pictured with me below). From the computer science department’s secretary to my internship mentor at Lucid Software, each person has provided me with valuable insight and assistance. They have been key in helping me get wherever I want to go and they’ve been my champions at times when I didn’t even believe in my own capabilities.
I’ve also found that there’s a lot to be learned from mentoring others. I’ve been a mentor to fellow students and I’m currently mentoring one of Lucid’s interns. These experiences give me a broader perspective and improve my communication skills. Plus, helping others is a fantastic way to pay it forward. I am grateful for all the people thus far who have been my support network and helped me grow. Mentoring rocks!
6. Men Aren’t the Bad Guys
I’ve attended many events about women in tech over the years. They offer fantastic support and guidance to women who are pursuing their passion for technology. Yet, I’ve noticed that some of these events can give off the vibe that men are bad and women need to “overcome” men in order to succeed. Call me optimistic, but I have found it to be quite the opposite. The men I’ve associated with aren’t trying to make me feel out of place or hold me back. Instead, they cheer me on, give me support, and push me to reach my potential. They want me to feel comfortable and needed and they celebrate my successes. Men aren’t the bad guys that they’re sometimes portrayed to be. Of course, I acknowledge that there are some cases where men do not support the women they associate with and women have to stand up for themselves. I don’t pretend to be blind to that, but I will argue that it’s not the norm. Humans are naturally good and kind…and that includes men. So don’t buy into the vibe that you have to “overcome” men to be successful as a woman in tech. That’s rarely the case, and you’ll most likely find that men are some of your greatest advocates.
Well, there you have it! Those are just a few simple thoughts from a woman in tech. Comment below if you have some wisdom of your own to add!