Mythbusters, women in tech edition.
By Mary Godwin (VP of Operations, Qumulo)
Let’s face it. Engineering and computer science have a bad rap for not being the most glamorous professions for women. The opportunities in technical professions are not well represented to women when they are making their career decisions.
And why not? Working in tech can mean good or even great money. Upward job mobility. Working with super smart people. Maybe even happy hours and free food. Do any of these qualities and perks of working in technology sound gender-specific? Of course not.
And yet the tech industry continues to suffer from a manifest lack of female computer science engineers. The number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science has declined 7 percent since 2000 – even though 1.2 million computer-related job openings are expected by 2022.
The question for women really shouldn’t be “Why choose a career in technology?” but instead “Why not?” And yet misconceptions about the opportunities for females, and what their day-to-day lives are like in a tech company, abound.
Here are five common myths that could be scaring women away, and why they’re not true.
Myth #1: You Have to Be a Math Whiz
I’m not. In fact, I was petrified of the four semesters of calculus I was required to take as an undergraduate engineering student. But it was all in my head. Once I started the coursework, I worked doggedly, even camping out in the graduate teaching assistant’s office and refusing to leave until I grasped the material. And I passed, not with flying colors, but good enough.
I could have become a victim of all those stereotypes about women not being good at math. The reality is that there is no calculus gene. With the help of really great graduate teaching assistants, professors, and some personal sweat equity, you can learn anything.
The really valuable lesson that this experience taught me was to remain focused on the long-term goal, do the hard work and not to let something I thought was scary stop me.
Myth #2: You Work Alone Most of the Time
Television shows and the media seem to present a picture of programmers working alone, in the dark, eating Cheetos, headphones pounding music into their brains, while they blissfully write code.
If this stereotype were ever true, it is now downright outdated.
The engineers at my company work in teams, chattering endlessly about how to solve problems and create new product features. They try things, they change things, they pair program, they work together to come up with great solutions, and they teach each other.
Engineering is primarily a meritocracy. No one on the team cares about whether the engineer is male or female. They just want to work with other people who have ideas, want to try new things, and are fun to work with.
Myth #3: You Have to Work with Nerds
Labels like “nerds” end the day you finish high school.
I’ll admit, there are times when prior knowledge of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” comes in handy. But the engineers I work with are some of the most interesting, diversely talented people I have ever met.
They may write code during the day, but they’re also musicians, athletes, foodies, well read, and totally into really cool footwear. Also don’t sell “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” short. I’ve learned some of my best leadership and teamwork lessons from both.
Myth #4: You’ll Be Stuck in One Career Path
One of the great things about choosing engineering or computer science for a career is that they’re fantastic entry points to a variety of roles in a company. Once in the door, you can see what other roles are of interest to you.
It’s easy to go from a tech role to a non-tech role. It is very difficult to do the reverse. I transitioned from engineering to the business side after some time. So in a way, those college days winning my battle with calculus eventually led to senior non-engineering management positions in some very cool tech companies.
Myth #5: You’ll Never Find Work-Life Balance
Tech companies have come a long way in respecting women’s – and men’s – roles at home. My company, for example, offers unlimited paid time off and in-home backup childcare. Work hours also tend to be much more flexible than they were back in the dark ages of 1980 when I started my career. We also have spaces set aside for playing guitars, ping pong, pool and board games. You can even take a scooter ride around the office if you need a break.
Full disclosure though: There are going to be times at any tech company – say, you’re critical to the success of an upcoming product launch – where balance will be a challenge. But if your skills are core to a project’s success, believe me, you will want to be with your team to see it through. It’s not always an easy job, but that’s what most of us in this work like about it.
The technology field provides women with endless opportunities for professional and personal growth and financial stability: Challenging work, being able to support yourself and possibly live your dream – what’s more glamorous than that?
About the guest blogger: Mary Godwin has worked in the tech industry for 28 years and is Vice President of Operations at Qumulo, a data storage software company.