Being a woman in a male-dominated industry has its obstacles. Here are best practices recommended by female developers in the field.
Developers are in high demand within the tech industry, however, women only make up 11% of the developer workforce, according to a Pearson Frank survey. Despite some improvements, developer job positions have some of the largest gender pay gaps, a topic that is even more critical to highlight with International Women’s Day on March 8.
SEE: 5 questions software engineers should ask in a interview (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Breaking into the male-dominated IT world as a female developer can be difficult. The tech industry has been male-driven for so long that many women suffer from imposter syndrome when either considering entering, or actually joining, the developer landscape.
“Even from a grade school age, tech is not a widely taught subject. It is presented as a more elite field of work, and it is targeted more towards the male audience as a potential career,” said Kirsten Lindblom, software engineer at VideoNet Holdings.
“Though there are some strong women role models in the history of tech, there is a disproportionate amount of male figures leading the publicity of tech,” Lindblom said. “This becomes even more relevant to women who find their first role as a developer, they are less likely to have a senior-level female developer within their own company who could potentially be a valuable mentor in the early stages of their career.”
Alicia Frame, Senior Data Scientist at Neo4j, found it intimidating to break into the male-dominated field.
“I struggled for many years with imposter syndrome–I was afraid someone would realize I wasn’t ‘really’ qualified or wasn’t as smart as I was ‘pretending’ to be. That held me back tremendously,” Frame said. “As I progressed, I realized that It’s incredibly important to remind yourself that you are smart and confident that you know what you’re doing.”
To help other women either break into the field or advance in their work, eight female developers offered their own advice for success.
8 tips for success
1. Do not be afraid of failure
“Something that I learned at my coding bootcamp, Flatiron School, was how to fail (and try again),” said Sadie Bennett, full-stack engineer at IBM. “It seems cliché, but in the world of tech, failure is common, from the smallest of bugs to accidentally deleting all the data from one important section in the database.
“To fail is not an if, it’s when, and learning that as a woman is especially important. Studies have shown how more women tend to apologize, and when your job includes so much failure, constant apologizing can lead to lack of confidence and feeling like an imposter,” Bennett said.
“I learned that failing is not just normal, it often gives better results,” Bennett added. “I learned so much more from the failures about coding, about reaching out for help, and about the inner perseverance I had to find the solution on my own.”
2. Ask for specific feedback
“In my career, I have gotten the feedback that I need to work on my technical skills. This feedback was discouraging because I thought I would never be perceived as technical,” said Caitlin Kaphaem, team lead and senior software engineer at Genesys.
“My kind of technical was different than the men. I didn’t know all the terms for things and I didn’t care about the smaller details in precise programming,” Kaphaem said. “But what I did have was an ability to debug complex customer problems. I could also creatively come up with solution designs.
“I wish I would have asked what exactly I needed to improve on technically earlier in my career,” Kaphaem added. “I would have then known sooner and more specifically what to work on. That also would have given me the opportunity to communicate the uniqueness of my contributions.”
3. Try to combat your imposter syndrome
“Don’t fall victim to the impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome affects 70% of all people at some point or another–and women are typically more susceptible,” said Sara Faatz, senior manager of developer relations at Progress.
“In a situation where you are different or unique (i.e., one of the only women), you may experience feelings that you do not belong or you don’t deserve to be there,” Faatz said. “If you start to feel that way, check yourself and your feelings. Remind yourself that you are in the role you are in because you worked hard and you earned your spot.”
4. Garner support
“Have a support system in place,” said Alyssa Nickow, software engineer at The Graide Network.
“This can be an affinity group within the company, friends/family, or there are some great online communities that I have seen serve as a sounding board for how to handle issues, as well as a whisper network to get some insight into companies or offices that are less welcoming to women or other minority groups,” Nickow said.
5. Never stop learning
“Know your stuff,” said Mary Pearce, software engineer at Braintree. “Dedicate yourself to continuous learning and don’t be afraid to go for stretch goals.”
6. Become familiar with the full software development lifecycle
“Understand every aspect of the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) so that you know exactly what other teams need from you,” said Darva Satcher, engineering manager at GitLab.
“Each organization implements the SDLC differently. Ensure that you’re familiar with every aspect of how software is built in your organization and that you understand what your counterparts need to do their job successfully,” Satcher said. “This will enable you to facilitate good relationships and in turn ensure that you will be a high producing developer. It takes teamwork, so invest time in your entire team.”
“Find other women at other companies with whom you can share ideas, thoughts, and struggles,” said Jossie Haines, platform engineering director at Tile.
“As you progress in your career, you’ll often be the only woman in the room and feel like there’s no one else who understands what you are going through—you want to have your network ready for that,” Haines said.
“Make sure to network with men too,” Haines added. “If you’re only networking with women, you aren’t networking with the largest population of people in positions of power in the tech industry.”
8. Know your worth
“Don’t accept less of what you want just because you think it’s the only way in. It’s not,” said Sofia Forsell, back end engineer at Squarefoot.
“[For example,] I don’t like working remote full time, but I’m getting a lot of offers for that. If you don’t want to do that, then keep looking,” Forsell said. “You’re your next opportunity is out there.”
For more, check out How to hire more female developers: 5 tips on TechRepublic.
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