Things I Learned During My Epic Battle With the Gatekeepers
I have been in the technology industry for 25 years, and while the title may seem a bit over the top, it isn’t. Women leave this industry at a 45% higher rate than men, according to a study by Forbes. I have always been passionate about increasing overall diversity in this industry, so I would like to share a few of the values and words of wisdom I’ve gained from my tenure in this field. I hope that my advice will help someone out there on their own journey in the technology industry find less difficulty on their road than I did in the early years.
Let Go of Ego
The number one thing to do, before any of the other suggestions will even be useful, is to take your ego out of every situation. Try to keep your emotions out of disagreements, code reviews, meetings, etc. This will open up so many opportunities for growth, but is way easier said than done. That does not mean you should not set boundaries for yourself or stand your ground. Instead, refuse to allow disagreements to disturb your peace or sense of self-worth. Use each difficult situation as a stepping stone to bigger things. Trust me, this was a hard pill for me to swallow. It took so much discipline and I had to bite my tongue often in the beginning. I still keep this as an ongoing practice. This by no means suggests that you should not speak up for yourself. You should engage in difficult conversations as needed, but keep this tip in mind. I have found that choosing to remove your ego from these conversations is beneficial for both parties. I have also found the practice of separating emotions from disagreements to be very helpful in the resolution of problems and in my own personal growth—and I hope you find the same.
Embrace Your Differences
You may have already heard that women or other minorities will have to prove themselves twice over in many cases. I am not going to sugarcoat things and say that this is not true, especially if you do not look the part of what some people may expect a person in tech to be. My suggestion is to not succumb to the fear that comes along with this. It is not representative of the whole industry. Embrace this challenge as a chance to break molds and stereotypes, and be someone that people soon realize cannot be underestimated. I am in no way condoning the “bro culture” present in many places; I am saying that until the culture changes as a whole, use your differences to shine. There will be people who notice.
Never Stop Learning
The one constant in this world is change. That is especially true in our field. Continue your learning as much as you can. You can find a few YouTube videos on topics you want to learn more about, attend free trainings offered by most of the big tech companies (e.g., AWS, Microsoft, you name it), or take advantage of training opportunities. It may take an hour or so of your time per week, but this will pay you back tenfold. Collaborate with others whom you work with and join Twitch streams (rwxrob and learn with Leon do a ton of cool stuff). Anything that fits your learning style will work as long as you make it an ongoing practice. You will be surprised at the amount of confidence this small effort will give you.
The mentors I have had throughout my career have been invaluable to me. I do not think I could have made it without several strong, kind mentors who saw me and my talent and helped me to go further. Seek out people who notice you and ask them for their mentorship. Seriously, just ask. This will develop your skills and give you someone to emulate as you are introduced to new things. On the flip side of the coin, as soon as you are able to, mentor those who can benefit from your experience, in any way you can. The more you give, the more you receive. Usually, I find that when I am teaching someone a skill I already know, I learn something new through their questions. It is a win-win situation for both parties.
Find Your Voice. Use It Well.
Another key piece of advice that has been so very helpful to me, both professionally and personally, is to find your voice, and use it effectively. There will always be people and situations that will be difficult to deal with. I have found it best to address them head on rather than letting them fester. If you need guidance in this area, you will find that there are many self-help books that discuss this. You could also talk to a life coach, mentor, or someone who you know deals well with conflict or difficult conversations. The strategies I have found to be the most useful when dealing with difficulties are to let people vent when they need to (you will eventually get a chance to respond), if delivering criticism always sandwich it between two compliments, and keep the conversation in scope so things do not get out of hand. So many situations I thought were insurmountable were resolved by a simple conversation handled in this manner, and both parties came out for the better. Also, do not be afraid to ask for what you want: a raise, an opportunity, whatever you need to be happy in your work life. I have found that things are not handed to you, but many things can happen if you start a conversation.
Value Your Talent
This is an uncomfortable topic, but an important one. There will be places where the treatment you face is so blatantly biased that you know you can’t succeed in that environment—it may even lead you to feel like this industry is not the place for you. It happens to many and has happened to me a few times. Do not wait until your spirit is broken. If you take away nothing else from my thoughts, walk away with this—you belong in this industry! Start seeking employment elsewhere immediately, because if you don’t, your mind may become jaded and you may carry the experience—and its impacts—with you through the rest of your career. If you are faced with a toxic environment, get out of it and into a positive one as soon as you can. Reach out to your network and groups. A great one is Women Who Code. You can also connect with other groups that you belong to for advice on how to navigate these difficult situations. But don’t give up! There are plenty of places that will respect you and treat you fairly. Don’t accept anything less.
Room for All in Tech
I hope that my experiences help those entering the tech field (or even those who are looking for an opportunity for growth), and I hope that everyone who reads this finds a workplace that makes them feel seen, respected, and valued. For me, our team at Teaching Strategies has, without fail, been the most collaborative group of people who have seen me for my skills instead of what I look like. I have learned so much from so many people, from my executive mentor, the head of engineering; from members of my team; and from people I work beside on our DE&I effort. I hope that you are fortunate enough to find the same in your career. Or just come join us, it is a wonderful fast-paced ride!
About the Author
Tanis handles all things data at Teaching Strategies with experience backing it up since cash money records was taking over the ’90s and 2000s. She has wide-ranging experience, starting in network administration, SQL development, ETL processes, and has a passion for administering, securing, and in general taking care of data. She has designed data architectures and transformations in a range of scenarios, excitedly having her head in the cloud for a good portion of the past five years. She sees every obstacle as an interesting opportunity to work and learn with others, and believes there is fun and joy in everything, as perception is reality.