I know, I know. It’s February now, isn’t my end of year blog post a bit late? True, but some important things happened in 2021 that are worth mentioning, so here goes ….
As we’re entering the third year of the global pandemic, a common theme that a lot of folks feel is hopelessness. A lot of things feel out of our control. I too have felt discouraged. But I’ve also been fortunate to not have contracted COVID yet (being vaxxed and boosted might have helped 🙂 ), or lost anyone close to me to COVID. I certainly don’t want to dismiss the trauma that many people have experienced over the past two years. Rather, what I’ve tried to do myself in this time is to focus on changing the things that I can control, instead of focusing on the things I cannot control. Understanding that every person’s situation is different, I encourage you to make a positive change in whatever area of your life you can control.
I’ve written before about the challenges of being a woman in tech. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked in the tech industry for as long as I have (20+ years) and am now in a position that I can give back and help others experiencing similar challenges in their careers. So rather than being discouraged by everything that I’ve faced and continue to face, I’ve been focusing on building the world that I want to live in through mentorship and allyship. And 2021 has been a big year for that!
The world I want to live in is one where I’m not the only
There have been many times in my long career where I’ve been the “only”. The only woman engineer, the only Asian in the room, etc. Without going into the many reasons why this is problematic, the daily microaggressions and implicit biases of “well meaning” managers and colleagues can add up and take its emotional toll. Seeing faces like yours can change the culture of an entire project or organization. It can even mean the difference between staying in tech or getting out of the tech industry altogether. Since I enjoy the work of software engineering and I’m very good at it, I didn’t want to leave the industry. But I also realized that the only way for me to stay is to be the change that I want to see. And the problem of being “the only” wasn’t going to change until I help do something about it.
Referring a smart and accomplished under-rep engineer leads to her getting an amazing start to an iOS engineering career
I met Claudia Maciel through the Mobile track community of Women Who Code. Claudia has two degrees in Computer Science, has worked as a freelance web developer, graduated from an iOS boot camp, and was looking for her big break in iOS software engineering. Oh, and did I mention in her previous career she was also an airline pilot AND director of a STEM school? Clearly, someone as accomplished and talented as Claudia shouldn’t have any trouble landing her first iOS job, no?
But getting that first job is hard for anyone, and odds can be stacked even higher for someone belonging to multiple under-represented groups, in Claudia’s case being a woman and Latina especially. After helping to test Claudia’s app which she published to the App Store, and mentoring her on several technical talks and workshops that she absolutely crushed in delivering, I knew she was the real deal. When a junior-mid level iOS position opened up at my company, Jack Henry & Associates, I referred her immediately. I helped her prepare for the technical interviews, and when she landed the position, I was thrilled. I onboarded and trained Claudia when she started and got to work with her as her project lead for several months. While I am moving to a different company in a couple of weeks, I am grateful for the chance to have worked with Claudia and help her get an amazing start to her iOS career. And she will continue to crush it and grow in her career, I have no doubt about that!
Teaching lightning talk workshops leads to more women engineers giving talks
Early in 2021, I taught a couple of lightning talk workshops in the Women Who Code Mobile track. I mentored aspiring technical speakers in the Mobile track slack asynchronously, giving assignments with deadlines, and reviewed talk proposals, slides, and met 1:1 with each speaker to go over their talk. Then, I split up the speakers into two groups and had them give their talks over two meetups that I hosted, and invited others in the Mobile track to attend and offer support.
The results were phenomenal. All the speakers gave amazing talks, and everyone attending was supportive and we had some great technical discussions. But what happened after that was even more incredible.
For a few of the speakers, it was their first time giving a technical talk ever!
Not only that, but many of the speakers went on to speak at other meetups and at conferences, some giving their first conference talk in 2021!
The Colorado (Boulder/Denver) chapter of Women Who Code, where I am also a volunteer Lead, asked me if I knew some folks willing to give lightning talks at their next mobile lightning talk meetup. I happily referred folks from the lightning talk workshops, and they delivered! (including Crystabelle, Claudia, and Rashi. Sierra, a long time technical speaker and current Fellow of the Women Who Code Mobile track, didn’t speak at the workshops I hosted but gave a talk at the lightning talk meetup)
And giving a couple of talks about technical speaking didn’t hurt either
In addition to teaching the lightning talk workshops, I gave a couple of talks about technical speaking myself over the year.
Doing these talks has led to me mentoring a few more women engineers on technical speaking, one of whom, Poojita Garg, gave her first technical talk at the end of last year.
It can be intimidating attending a tech conference or meetup and being one of the few, or the only woman attending. It can make a big difference to attend a tech event and see other female faces there or even better yet, see one of them giving a talk! I’m so proud of everything these women have accomplished and am glad I played a part in their technical speaking journeys. Not just the presence of women speakers, but also their willingness to share their knowledge and expertise, makes these tech events more inclusive.
I’ve been a beneficiary of allyship as well
At one point earlier in my career, I was long overdue for a promotion. My direct manager, a white male, refused to hear my case. When I went to his manager, a white woman, with my resume in hand as requested, she said I was more than qualified for the next level, and got me my promotion immediately.
This is not to say that all white male managers are bad. I’ve had some good ones, too, who’ve believed in me and given me roles with more responsibility, and helped move my career forward.
In fact, I am moving onto Atomic Robot next in my career in part because of the referrals from the friends I’ve worked with in the past, Steve Kohls and Sierra OBryan.
Regardless of our backgrounds, we’ve all benefited from someone willing to refer us, sponsor us, or give us a chance. That’s how we all move forward in our careers.
Which brings me to….
Anyone can be an ally, give back, or support others
Do what you can given your time, talent, and sphere of influence.
Many of the people I’ve mentored have also given back to the community of Women Who Code, from celebrating others’ achievements (there is a slack channel for that!), helping answer others’ coding questions, all the way to helping to plan events and give talks like I’ve done myself (as a volunteer Lead). There is a range of involvement, and that brings me to my final point. Anyone can be an ally …..
It doesn’t take much to reach out to someone and offer your support, even if it’s to like someone’s post on LinkedIn or Twitter.
We’re all in this together to achieve a more equitable world in tech. And when one person (who may be under-represented and not given a fair shot at success) wins, we all win. One by one, we can start transforming places (companies, conferences, other tech spaces, etc) that used to have “nones” or “onlys” and make them into more inclusive spaces for all. We can all play a part in helping to build the world we want to live in, through mentorship and allyship.