I have been in the tech industry for more than a decade in various roles. I have chosen to pursue my passion as a technologist, against all odds. Being in software and systems engineering/architecture centric roles in a man's world can sometimes get daunting. It can be pretty overwhelming when you fly across the country to attend a tech conference and as you enter the conference room, you see an ocean of men with just one other woman in a corner.
Being talked over many a time and learning to re-assert the points to be made even after being talked over; having to work twice as hard to establish credibility specially when you are in a role which involves convincing a group of peers or junior technologists about a technical strategy or tactic; having to consciously work on not starting any sentence with 'I may be wrong, but...' I have been there, done it and figured out ways of venturing out of my comfort zone, while continuing to learn new lessons everyday.
I have realized that as an engineer and technologist, and a woman technologist at that, who often has to speak louder, work harder, have more data to prove my points... one of the best ways in which I can subtly align a team to a strategy or tactic, I believe will work, is to lead by example. There is no better way a technologist can lead by example than to provide a preliminary tangible view of the end result/product. With all the advances in the technology sphere, turnaround time and inter-team
dependencies for building prototypes has reduced significantly. One person working on one computer, with a plethora of virtual computing resources and services available to her/him at her/his fingertips, can churn out prototypes to prove a concept much more easily than it was possible earlier in the decade. No matter what your role is in a team, a prototype built in a short amount of time or guiding a team member to build a prototype, can work wonders in terms of aligning a team to a specific line of thought, which no number of meetings or discussions during that same period of time, can achieve. And that's the reason, even after all these years, as I have progressed through various roles in the technical ladder, in addition to keeping generally abreast of technology advances, I have made a conscious effort to keep my coding and software development skills as up to date as possible, along with all the other career skills that I have fortunately managed to pick up over time.
In any sphere, being able to subtly align a team to one's strategic point of view, without rubbing anyone the wrong way, is the key to making sure a concept sees the light of day, in terms of a customer facing product/solution. There's no better way for a technical strategist to achieve this than by leading by example, getting his/her hands dirty in the product design and development and thus setting the pace for the team to get a jump start to meet a business need.
I have also been fortunate enough to be around technology leaders(both men and women) who genuinely believe that engineering technology as a discipline can work wonders only with collaboration, cooperation, empathy along with technical aptitude and passion (not genetic pre-disposition). These same folks also believe that with most corporations/industries attempting to transform themselves into digital/technology companies, being tech savvy and having an aptitude for technical skills is no longer an option, but a necessity if you are in one of these industries.
Most technology companies, and companies which aim to become technology companies, are moving towards an organization structure that promotes product based, self-organizing, self-contained, agile teams focussed on a building and maintaining products with state of the art technologies to meet business needs. This also means that this provides an opportunity for men and women with servant leadership qualities to thrive. Self organizing, agile product teams require a mix of collaborative, cooperative, empathetic team members who are skilled technologists. Irrespective of what a man and woman's predisposition may be, to succeed and thrive
in such teams, both men and women have to be able to come out of their comfort zones, re-train themselves, practice and pick up skills (social and technical), that they may not be naturally pre-disposed to. Whether you are a man or a woman, a good combination of social and technical skills as well as a good combination of IQ and EQ, is required to thrive in such emerging technology organization structures. It will soon no longer just suffice to be a 'geek' or a 'strategist' or a 'visionary' or a 'people manager' or just a 'good communicator' to be able to survive and thrive in this fast evolving technical space.
So, no matter what anyone says, all of you girls who are passionate about technology, do not get disheartened. The future is yours to grab!
I am a strong believer that environmental factors(both at home and outside), passion and practice are the primary contributors of women succeeding as technologists.
But it has to start with the acceptance of certain facts:
- Gender stereotypes exist and will continue to exist in the near future
- We have to be prepared to find our way through this maze of stereotypes and get used to working outside our comfort zone, while the world adapts, transforms and finally achieves the utopian dream of being free of gender stereotypes.
- We have to look out for each other, and carry each other over obstacles.
For all the girls who want to code and be technology leaders, let me tell you this...there will be a time in your career when you will have to strategically guide/lead technical teams full of men towards a vision. You will see shadows of doubt in most of their eyes as they try to convince themselves why they should listen to a woman about something they believe they probably know better . But there's nothing more rewarding than you getting your hands dirty in code to build a quick prototype that drives home the points you are trying to make, and in the process seeing the shadows of doubt just as quickly disappear, as everyone aligns themselves to a shared belief and vision, which then gradually begins to take shape. There's nothing more exhilarating than seeing a product/solution you have actually helped design and build see the light of day!
So keep coding, be resilient and keep rocking the tech world!