by Frances Advincula
Yes, I am writing a post inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In. I mean, how could I not? The gender disparity is quite possibly the most obvious in the tech industry. Just last week, a software engineer friend brought up that they had no women engineers in their startup! A cause close to my heart, I could go on and on about how these companies are doing themselves a great disservice (“We Need More Women In Tech, Here’s Why”), but instead, I thought I better stick to what I know best — the musings of a 21 year-old fresh grad software engineer.
In her TED talk “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders,” which her new book expands on, Sandberg lists three main tips:
1. Sit at the table.
2. Make your partner a real partner.
3. Don’t leave before you leave.
So, I thought why not take those and apply them to the context of a femgineer’s every day life? Let’s start, shall we?
Sit at the table.
For me, battling the impostor syndrome is a regular occurrence, and as a young woman in tech, I see a lot of examples of women undervaluing themselves. I know this because I do it all the time, and I should know better. I apologize for broken builds that are not my fault, I assume a build is broken because of me, I don’t challenge opinions in meetings enough. In fact, when someone told me I was the talk of the town, I was shocked. I didn’t even remotely see myself as that, and I still don’t know what they are talking about. Most girl programmers I know feel bad when they can’t solve the problem; they must not be smart enough. But guys? Nah. It’s the code’s fault, or the framework’s fault, or someone else’s fault.
Femgineers of the world, why do we do this to ourselves?! Instead, I challenge us to be aware of the impostor syndrome and recognize it for what it is. And then let’s go on about our day, getting stuff done, thinking about what kind of software engineers we want to be, and proactively making positive choices that build-up our careers.
- Finding a mentor. Some people differentiate between a mentor and a sponsor, but I will just define it here as someone who can guide you to be where you want to be. Someone who is doing what you want to be doing and can give you guidance and advice to get you there. It’s better by a magnitude if you can find a mentor within your company. I was lucky enough to find one within Accenture, and he has fought for me tooth and nail. Fought for me to be in a big, high profile project. Fought for me to be able to move to the location that I wanted. Fought for me to be in the front lines of UI development. In fact, he was about to hop on a plane with a few other execs, and he asked me if I had anything to say to them. Me. At the bottom of the totem pole suddenly has access to execs? So you get the point. Sheryl Sandberg had Larry Summers. I suggest we find ours.
- Finding a peer confidante. Having a mentor is great, and having a peer to trudge the waters with makes for a killer combination. One of my greatest friends also works at Accenture, and she and I have lunch once a week just to talk about what we are going through. Because we are close in age, she understands what I am going through and vice versa. We also feel more comfortable telling each other dreams, failures, insecurities, and worries we might not want to share with our mentors just quite yet. In fact, take the idea to a new level by hopping on over to LeanIn.org to read about the concept of a Lean In Circle.
- Developing your voice/confidence. It will be hard at first, especially if you are naturally an introvert like I am. But as one of my favorite TED talk says, “Fake it until you become it.” Start with baby steps, like being more visible. Start replying to group emails and be active with in-house social media. Participate in events that are going on. I volunteered to help with our Software Craftsmanship group and will be helping organize one of our Code Retreats. Now a lot of people outside of our office know who I am. Also remember that the senior guys you are scared of? They love people who are passionate about the work, and passionate people are always curious. Ask questions. Stay updated on the latest technologies so that you can have an opinion. Find something you love, and commit to being an expert in it. Marissa Mayer once said that it’s easy to catch up in tech because things are always changing, or something to that effect (I can’t find the quote now. Darn.) I’m a newbie, but I am now giving training and teaching new developers how to unit test and code with a new framework we are using. Most importantly, always be are aware of your body language and how people are perceiving you. A lot of research say simple things such as sitting up straight and taking up as much space as possible (arms spread apart, resting on a chair versus hands clasped together, on your lap) tricks the brain into being more confident.
- Paying it forward. Introduce a girl to engineering. Mentor an intern. Give advice to a fellow woman-in-tech. (Two of the younger kids I sort-of mentor told me they are now choosing to pursue computer science because I have inspired them. They said at first they were scared it would be “too hard”, but were encouraged by the thought that if I could do it, so could they!) Write for blogs that support women-in-tech. Doing “seemingly little things” matter. I sent Nilofer Merchant’s HBR article “Three Reasons Why Men Should Read Lean In” to one of my mangers, because I knew she would send it to the right people. She sent it to a lot of the (male-dominated) leadership and to her brother who heads an IT company and got a lot of positive feedback. Cliché as it may sound, change truly does start with ourselves.
Make your partner a real partner.
Sheryl Sandberg is fighting for a society where women and men equally share household responsibilities, a world where men staying at home raising a family is not considered the exception. That’s great! But what if we aren’t married or have a household or settling down yet? Since it won’t directly apply to us single ladies, I want to take it on a spin.
Date someone who will inspire you and make you want to do better. Date guys who don’t mind that you have to cancel because you have homework overload or had to do overtime at the office. Date guys who help you study for the GMAT. Date guys that push you out of your comfort zone, guys that challenge your decisions, guys that nudge you to take risks. Date guys that are not threatened by, but rather are attracted to, your ambition, passion, and drive.
Again, let’s go as far as saying not letting romantic drama prevalent in a young woman’s life to get in the way of a career. One of my favorite writers Jen Dziura has written articles about this. They’re hilarious, they’re genius, and they’re true.
My favorite, from “Bullish Life: Keep Your Love Life From Ruining Your Actual Life”:
”By which I mean that the probability that any particular guy will be around for forty years is extremely low. The probability that you will have to go to work for the next forty years is extremely high. So, it would be illogical to allow your romantic life to compromise your career and goals until those probabilities change in a way demonstrable other than by your intuition…”
She’s good, huh? Here’s another one: “Picking a Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Hold Back Your Career or Bank Account.”
Don’t leave before you leave.
Do everything you want to do now while you don’t have that many responsibilities. Work 120 hours for that startup or put in the overtime for the high-visibility project, now, while you don’t have kids, because you can. People scold me that I don’t know what work-life balance means, but I argue that I see work-life balance over a long period of time. I am working like a horse now so I can have a stable, flexible career when I have kids. In fact, I am doing lots of hard things now because of my “future kids.” Like pursuing a masters with a fulltime job. Because I know that it will be exponentially harder to do that when I’m trying to raise a family. I know that sounds odd coming from a 21-year old, but you know what smart women do? They plan way ahead.
Don’t just not leave. Aim high, stay passionate, give back, and dive in!
Frances Advincula writes the series Frances Fridays. Frances recently graduated with a degree in Computer Science and is currently pursuing a masters at Johns Hopkins. She now works as a Software Developer for Accenture Software. A proud geek girl, she’s sure she is the only one who can’t play video games. Tweet her at @FranAdvincula.
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