What I've Learned From Working in Tech
A talk turned blog post
Recently, I attended AthenaHacks; my fourth hackathon of the fiscal year and my second focusing on supporting college aged women and non-binary folks. A few days before the hack, I was asked to do the opening talk. I have done this 30 second intro into why we are present and what we do a few times previously so I quickly agreed. A day later, it was clarified to me that this was actually a 5-10 minute talk at the opening ceremony and that it should focused on my experiences in tech. So, a within a few hours I put together some slides and sent them off, hoping that it was what they were looking for.
Fast forward to the hack and it’s time to take the stage. With about 400 people in the crowd and a spectacular keynote before me, I took the stage to give my quick run through and got through it without embaressing myself too badly.
After the talk, I was approached by attendees for about two hours telling me that they really enjoyed my talk and how it resonated with them. As much as I appreciated the kudos I was more intrigued about how so many of these students didn’t realize how many different options there were for them in tech (although neither did I a few years ago). So here I am, writing a synopsis of my talk, because I think it’s important that we recognize and talk about all of the roles that make up our tech eco-system and help make it great!
Lesson 1. Everyone adds value (and imposter syndrome is real)
This lesson is so understated and under appreciated. I firmly believe that every single person on a team adds value. Sometimes we question ourselves and the validity of our membership on the team because we don’t feel technical enough, like we fit in, or maybe even because no one else on the team looks like us. I constantly have to remind myself that although I don’t have a ‘traditional’ tech background, I have a skill set that most others I work with don’t and that it makes me a valuable member of the team.
During my talk I tried to highlight that there is no standard track into tech and most of our paths aren’t linear. Hell, I moved across the country to be a rocket scientist only to find that although I love all things space, I didn’t want to do the day to day work of an aerospace engineer. Business, operations, and organizational behavior courses were more interesting to me and even had a strong alignment with my extra-curriculars. I took (and made) opportunities that interested me. After collecting a long list of things I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, I ended up figuring out that program management was a role that I enjoy and could be successful in with my diverse (okay, sprawled) skillsets and passions.
Additionally, I highlighted to the students that it’s completely possible to bring your passions into your career. I’ve personally been super passionate about STEM education for as long as I can remember. So, when I was looking for my latest role, I purposefully looked for a role where I could have an impact on students and I didn’t stop looking until I found one. It was interesting to me how many students this resonated with as well. When they were chatting with me afterwards, I had three of them individually mention to me that they were also passionate about STEM education while another came and shared her passion for healthcare with me. Trust me when I say these young ladies are going to change the world.
Lesson 2. Be your authentic self (and bring it to work)
From a young age we are presented subjects as segregated topics. You’re either right brained or left brained. You’re artistic or you’re technical. You’re an introvert or you’re an extrovert. I’ve come to learn that it’s not this black and white. In fact, many of the best developers I’ve worked with are equally as talented in something completely separate. Some have their own Etsy shops, some act in professional theaters after work, some even set out to mountaineer the worlds highest peaks. I think that being passionate about things outside of your day-to-day job is a great way to maintain work-life balance as well as being able to build a personal brand. The other truth of the matter is that these people are more relatable and real because their passions resonate with a broader audience. They inspire me.
Speaking of being inspired, here are three women who I think are amazing examples of bringing your whole self each and every day.
Chloe got a BA in Theater Performance back in 2011. However, she decided to totally pivot her career and attended a bootcamp. Less than three years after graduating the program, she became a Senior Cloud Advocate for Microsoft. You’ll often find Chloe wearing a bow, fun clothes, and giving out Clippy business cards. She’s super approachable, fun, and totally herself!
Next up is Dona. Dona runs the Windows Insiders program for Microsoft ( which is totally bad ass if I may add). On top of this, she is a true fashionista and trend setter! How cool is that?!
Lastly (but certainly not least) is Ashley who is the Director of Open Source Initiatives at Microsoft which is no small feat. She’s also an incredibly talented artist and shares her work on GitHub. The cute racoons you’re seeing on these slides? That’s Bit. Ashley is Bit’s creator. Enough said.
These amazing women are so inspirational to so many because they stay true to who they are and bring all of their skills and passions each and every day.
Lesson 3. Diverse teams perform better
No really, it is scientifically proven…
Having diverse teams helps bring more ideas to the table and multitude of approaches. Many, many studies have been done on this but here and here are a couple of articles that explain the scientific portions in more depth.
In reality I added this in to highlight the point that companies should be working on building more diverse teams. When students have different majors, experiences, or educational backgrounds, they shouldn’t be discounted because they don’t fit the cookie cutter mold. Often these students will challenge the status quo and bring new ideas, processes, and passion with them.
Ultimately, what I wanted these students to take away is that there’s no one way to get into tech. Every single person will have their own journey and that’s okay! Their diverse experiences will bring new ideas and energy into their careers with them; what ever it is that they decide to do. I also want these young ladies to be proud of who their are and to really own what they bring to the table. So often as women in tech we feel that we have to hide certain sides of ourselves just to fit in, or pretend to be something that we aren’t just to gain respect from our male peers. I know it’s easier said than done but ladies like Chloe, Dona, and Ashley make me confident that it’s more than possible. Lastly, I wanted them to have fun and try something new. I never got to go to a hackathon during college but I wish I would have. There’s no better time to try something new because even if you fail, you’ll have gained a new experience, new friends, had lots of caffeine, tried some Soylent, and made memories that will last a lifetime.