10 years ago, as a freshman in college, I took my first intro computer science class as an elective. I never thought that elective would turn into a career, but 10 years later I’m now working as a senior software development manager and I am about to start teaching programming classes to my coworkers.
I often get asked now what it’s like to work in a male dominated field. It’s definitely unique but it’s not negative. At first, it’s easy to let it become a daunting challenge that you have to face everyday. This is how I viewed it in college and starting out in the workforce. Over the years, it’s become normal but could have been a smoother transition at the start. Here are 5 things I wish someone would have told me as a female about to enter this male dominated field. I’m not going to sugar coat things but I hope to prepare you and leave you with the confidence that the gender gap has no effect on your ability to succeed.
1. You’re not different.
Seriously, you’re just not. You may feel different sitting in a room full of 15 guys and 3 girls but you’re not. Maybe it’s your first STEM class, your first interview, or your first internship. It doesn’t matter, there are people there in the same spot that you are. You’ve all taken a series of similar, yet completely unrelated steps to all end up in this place together. Everyone’s nervous and everyone’s trying to act cool. Your gender has absolutely nothing to do with any of this.
2. At some point, someone will ask you if you’re in the right place.
On the first day of my sophomore year, a 300 level professor asked me if I was looking for ‘Intro to Computer Science’. I replied, “No, are you?” Just kidding, I probably got flustered, mumbled something incoherent and took my seat. Hindsight provides the best comebacks. But really, I had no reason to be embarrassed. He looked like an idiot in front of an entire class of very smart students. Later that year, he was fired for unrelated incompetence and I never saw him again. The moral of that story is that successful people don’t underestimate other people, they learn from them. If someone makes assumptions about you, it’s because they’re stuck and it’s only a matter of time before you surpass them.
3. Posting a Facebook status about the wage gap isn’t helpful.
Instead of the online rant, do something about it. Enter a STEM field (they pay well), work hard, move up, and get to a position where you are hiring people and paying them based on their work and not their gender. That’s how we end the wage gap and reserve Facebook for far more important posts like that #TBT of you on spring break in Mexico.
4. Be a role model.
Time to delete that #TBT and think about someone else besides yourself. At some point, you’ll realize you’re over the hump and this field is your future. Now it’s time to help other girls also get over that hump. Teach, mentor, and encourage those who are just starting out learning computer programming. There are programs worldwide that offer volunteer and paid opportunities like these. You’ll not only feel good afterwards but you will see an impact made on these kids immediately.
5. You are different.
I know I said you weren’t different in #1, but you are and this is an advantage. In my job searching and interviewing experience, every strong software development team wants to hire a female developer. There’s something to be said for diversity. Working with 5 people exactly like you isn’t that exciting. Diversity offers different outlooks and experiences. So when you get to that interview full of all guys, don’t be intimidated. Realize that you’ve already stood out among the 10 guys that are also interviewing. You have their attention and you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
See your gender as an advantage, not a disadvantage. One of the great things about STEM fields is that your skills and results are what will create your future opportunities. If you have questions, need advice, or even a mentor, don’t hesitate to reach out.
My contact info is below. Good luck!
Senior Software Development Manager