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From One Female to Another: 6 Things a Woman in Tech Should Know

From One Female to Another: 6 Things a Woman in Tech Should Know thumbnail

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. 🙂

Minority as a Woman in Tech

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:

stereotypes

Programmers are geeky weirdos with no social skills. They’re dudes drinking Mountain Dew while holed away in their parents’ dark basement—either programming or gaming. Oh, and their stench suggests they haven’t seen a shower in five days.

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”

This one’s interesting. I once had a college professor who told his students to be “wise fools.” What do you think he meant? Well, he went on to explain that when you’re a “wise fool,” you are wise enough to ask questions and foolish enough to not care if other people think your questions are dumb. Asking questions that might be dumb can actually help you move forward with a project, provide you with valuable information that you would’ve missed otherwise, or spark a conversation or thought process that will lead to rewarding results. You never know—so go for it (of course within reason)! I remember during my first internship at Lucid Software, I was learning Javascript on the job and I often got stuck on syntax or complex parts of our codebase that I struggled to wrap my brain around. I knew my co-workers could answer my questions in the blink of an eye because they were experienced programmers, but I also knew that my questions were novice and dumb. I let my fear of looking foolish stop me from getting my questions answered and moving forward. I’d hit a standstill until a co-worker would notice my floundering and offer help. But spending time waiting for someone to notice my peril in order to avoid looking dumb was not the most effective way to handle the situation. It took me a while to realize that being the “wise fool” was better than being the “ignorant sciolist.” When I was wise enough to ask the dumb questions, I was a lot more effective and successful. I think anybody can benefit from this lesson—especially women. As women, we are often concerned with how others perceive us which makes it harder to be a wise fool, but we can greatly benefit from it if we’ll try.

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.

My mentors as a woman in tech

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!

11 Comments

  1. Great advice! Love the wise fool idea.

  2. Great article with even better advice

  3. This is inspiring. I’m male, but initially felt in the minority in my first job, given that everybody was more experienced than me, and mostly younger than me too. Luckily I found some helpful people to guide me there in the first few months. We tend to use gender or ethnicity as the defining attributes to denote minority/majority status, but depending on the environment we could use many attributes: experience, age, personality type, socioeconomic status…so this article is applicable to a lot of people. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Chloe HaleJuly 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks for your comment Colin. Glad you liked the article! You have a very interesting point and I agree with you. Too often, I think people limit themselves based on arbitrary metrics. But when we focus on the important things and get help from others, that is when we can truly succeed.

  5. I haven’t read much on or have gone to any sort of support groups for women majoring in computer science but after reading this I feel I should. The very first bit, about being a part of an unrepresented group creates really discouraging situations for me. In group projects I have often heard the sigh or groan of disappointment of my peers as I’m being assigned to their group. I often put in much more work just to prove my worth and it’s becoming exhausting. In my final years of schooling I will definitely heed your advice in creating a support system via mentors. Thank you for taking the time to write this!

  6. Chloe HaleAugust 2, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for commenting Yoe Lin! I’m glad you liked the article. Keep up the good work and don’t underestimate the value of dedicated effort either. I firmly believe hard work is the foundation of success. Good luck developing your support network too. It can be very rewarding to have mentors and to be a mentor to others!

  7. Carolyn GreenwoodAugust 2, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    I have to admit I was a little skeptical about this article when the author seemed to think that 4 years of college and a couple of years on the job was a lot of experience as a woman in tech, but she has hit the nail on the head. Between college and various jobs, I worked over 20 years as a woman in tech, starting with a computer class I took in high school in 1972, and I can confirm that her advice is sound. I would add that it was some of the work of women who came before, who broke down some barriers that make it easier now to not think of yourself as a minority. Anyway, it took me longer than the author to realize how important it is to for women to be themselves and to bring their perspective to computer software teams and to the tech industry in general.

  8. I just wanted to thank you for this. I’m trying to get into a different field of study, programming namely, and I get discouraged sometimes. I wish you all the best and sincerely thank you!

    (I spy a few other women buried in the sea of men with you there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you never ran into them.)

  9. I completely agree with you Carolyn. Many amazing women have paved the way for today’s females in tech. I’m grateful for their strength and dedicated efforts. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants and I hope we can carry their legacy forward into the future.

  10. Love the optimistic tone of your writing, Chloe! This was a great read. 🙂 Going to share with my followers asap!

  11. Chloe HaleAugust 8, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Thanks Holly! I appreciate it!

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