“You can be anything you want,” is a familiar phrase children hear from their parents, and my dad regularly said it to me. Of course, as a teenager, I had to try to prove him wrong. “I can’t be anything, Dad. I’m never going to be an Olympic figure skater!” Still, I never thought twice about whether I could be a software engineer. My father was a computer programmer and occasionally brought me to work with him. As somewhat of an introvert, I loved that he worked at a computer all day.
When it came time to pick a major in college, programming felt like the natural choice. It wasn’t easy though. At Santa Clara University, I was one of only a handful of women in my major, and computer programming didn’t come naturally to me. But I’m stubborn, so I kept at it.
Now in the professional arena, a variety of positions have allowed me to find new strengths and develop new skills — like how to work with a diverse team. The different backgrounds of team members provide me with new perspectives every day, making the workplace more fun. Diversity also better reflects your customer base. When you’re designing a product, you need to make sure you’re hitting the needs of your whole population of users, and having a diverse team increases the level of insights you can bring to the product. It will give a better idea of how different populations respond to what you are building and improve your communication with customers — both current and potential.
Find Your Way
Being a woman in a male-dominated field can be lonely. It can be difficult to find people with whom you share common ground, which is often the path to closer working relationships. This can become more acute once you have children; your priorities change, and so does your work social life. I’ve been lucky. I made good friends — both male and female — early in my career and that has made learning, forming friendships, and enjoying my work a lot easier.
Having a mentor is probably the single most important thing you can do to help find your way in an organization. Your mentor doesn’t have to be another woman or a supervisor — just someone you feel comfortable with. Mentors not only listen and offer advice, they also encourage you to take steps in your career that you might feel unsure of. One of my early mentors planted a seed for moving toward my current position by simply asking if I had thought about a broader managerial role. He didn’t have a job to offer me at the time, but it did help me to expand my own idea of my place in the organization.