It was apparent from the first time I took a computer programming class in high school that it was one of the few subjects that really excited me. Initially, it was just an option I was trying out, but I soon knew that engineering was what I wanted to major in and pursue for my lifelong career. The thing I love most about engineering is that there are limitless opportunities to do meaningful work and constantly learn.
There are always new technologies and trends with which to familiarize yourself, as well as new ways to build something better. At the end of the day, it’s incredibly satisfying seeing an idea transition into something tangible, unique and innovative.
After that initial class in high school, I went on to get my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Mumbai and a Master’s degree in Computer Science from USC. I then worked at a handful of tech companies, including, IBM, an early stage travel startup formerly called Triptrotting (now Wist) and Myspace. In the back on my mind, however, the startup space was calling me — it was something about the satisfaction of building, pivoting and scaling that was drawing me back.
I moved to San Francisco and joined YouNoodle, an SaaS platform for startup competitions, as one of the early engineers. After three years of hard-core engineering, which is what I wanted to pursue as my lifelong career, I moved to product management. I now lead the product and engineering team. Even though I don’t get to code like an engineer does, I am right there with my team, offering guidance and insight.
As far as studying computer science and working as an engineer are concerned, everyone knows that the male to female ratio is heavily skewed. The reasons for this have been attributed to everything from overt sexism and industry stereotypes to the fact that the scarcity of women is isolating in itself.
Although I haven’t faced direct discrimination (knock on wood) as a female engineer, there have been subtle things I’ve noticed while working in previous jobs. Most notably these included instances where I’d be left out of the “boys club.” But as long as it wasn’t intentional or had a negative impact professionally, I was okay with it … to a point.
Get beyond the stereotyping and position yourself for a successful career in computer programming and engineering.
Additionally, and unfortunately, on more than one occasion I have experienced the now-common reaction from some of my peers. It’s the same surprising comment every time: “Oh, you’re an engineer?!” I would think that being in Silicon Valley, where there are quite a few female engineers, my proud proclamation would not elicit this kind of reaction anymore. Surprisingly, and sadly, it still does.
My reply to this has transitioned from indignation to confusion, and now I’m just amused. No one assumes I’m an engineer, mostly because I am a woman. At this point, I enjoy surprising people with the truth about my profession and am happy to break free of their careless assumptions.
So what do you need to do to get beyond the stereotyping and position yourself for a successful career in computer programming and engineering? Here are my top insights for those young women out there who are looking to build and sustain a career in any STEM profession.
Focus On What You Love Doing. Whether it’s building products, writing code, seeing things work or helping people, you should always work toward what you are passionate about (clichéd as that sounds, it’s very true). Forget thinking about the preconceived notions of what someone in tech should look like and be like, because if you love doing it, you will likely do it well.
Be enthusiastic! Grab every opportunity that comes your way. In Silicon Valley, and around the world, there are unlimited opportunities from tech how-tos and networking events to idea competitions and mentorship programs.
Find A Workplace That Facilitates Growth For Women And Emphasizes Work/Life Balance. Vet a company while interviewing; ask questions such as who are the women in management? How does the engineering team learn and communicate? You don’t need to work only with women to feel comfortable. It’s the company’s culture and beliefs that matter more. My immediate team is mostly men, but YouNoodle in general promotes and fosters the growth of women, so I feel considerably well placed. A lot of companies lately are focusing on diversity — capitalize on that.
Find A Mentor … Or Two Or Three. Having a mentor goes a long way in helping you figure out what you want, how to go about achieving your goals, how to overcome problems and more. Mentors can be anyone from people you respect and admire in your profession, to co-workers, friends and family. I’ve noticed that there’s a real bond between women in this space, and that equates to a lot of support and fostering of growth.
Step Away From The Built-In Imposter Syndrome. Be yourself. The imposter syndrome is fueled by a number of things — the notorious wage gap, the sheer difference in numbers between male and female counterparts in the same field and a difference in levels of confidence. I used to notice that my male peers would be more confident in general when compared to my female peers, even though their skills and abilities were of the same level.
I myself have felt the imposter syndrome kick in on multiple occasions, both while studying as well as working. It took me a while to work on my confidence levels; but I did, and it has definitely helped me go a long way.
Last, but certainly not least, if someone is treating you unprofessionally (man or woman), change the situation. Get them to be accountable, or get out and into a better situation as soon as you can. There will always be other opportunities, and you deserve the best.
On July 7 I will be on a panel titled “On Women In Silicon Valley” that will explore the life and times of being female and hitting it big in the Valley and tech in general. You can sign up to join us at the event at Draper University from 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. in San Mateo, or watch it live by logging in here.