Women in tech: The new generation

Technology careers for women
"I was always drawn towards problem solving and debugging, and found myself happiest when I was doing hands-on design and development."
–Vidya Menon

The number of women participating in other sciences, like biology/biomedical, mathematics, and physical sciences, has increased significantly over the past 15 years, however, the percentage of technical occupations held by women has been steadily declining. It is estimated that women only hold 25 percent of all technical occupations in the tech industry.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked a few Pega professionals from around the globe about their individual experiences working and advancing in the tech industry, and advice for recruiting women into more technical roles. Our respondents include Meghan Atkins, Senior Manager of Software Engineering (U.S.); Olga Egorova, Scrum Master (U.S.); Vidya Menon, Industry Architect (India); and Joan Du Triou, Lead Business Architect (U.K.). Each plays an important part in the development and delivery of our software, and is experienced in leading diverse teams of coworkers.

How did you become interested in the type of work that you are currently performing?

MEGHAN: As a kid I always was very curious as to how things worked and very much interested in working on puzzles or building objects from scratch. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I got to take my first computer science course. I became very interested in the Software Engineering field once I took that first course, as I loved being able to come up with solutions to complex problems, and loved the fact that I could build something tangible from scratch and help others by building software that suits their needs. I ended up gravitating towards a management role, as I still love the idea of helping others.

OLGA: I was always interested in human behavior and decision making. I started my journey at Toyota Manufacturing and worked on projects aimed at establishing processes and instigating big change. I also was exposed to an open concept office with hundreds of people: Russian, Japanese, Polish; men and women; office workers and workers from the assembly line. It helped me understand that for my processes to work, I needed to make them work for others, listen first, strengthen my communication, and be flexible.

VIDYA: I started my career as a quality assurance engineer. I realized I enjoyed designing and implementing software more than testing and shifted into the development stream after some years. As is the norm, I was eventually entrusted with project management / people management responsibilities. But I was always drawn towards problem solving and debugging, and found myself happiest when I was doing hands-on design and development.

JOAN: I’ve been in business-focused IT roles most of my working life. I started as a programmer, and after a number years, found I preferred the customer facing / business facing activities. I changed my direction to specialize in that area after about seven years of programming.

How did your training & background prepare you for your current role?

VIDYA: I hold an Engineering degree in Electronics. Computer Science was an integral part of the curriculum, which introduced me to the basics of technology. The extensive training program that was part of my first job helped me relate the practicalities to the textbook understanding. The various roles I played during my tenure with different organizations (QA Engineer, software developer, scrum master, development manager, architect, etc.) have provided me with sufficient on-the-job training, and each day continues to be a new learning experience

MEGHAN: My Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were both in technology related areas. I felt that getting those degrees and getting exposure to various technologies helped prepare me for an engineering role. For my management role, I had taken various management courses for my degree and participated in many management and leadership seminars, plus company-offered training. Once I started managing I found that a lot of managing just comes down to using your best judgement.

It’s clear that many people – not just young women – don’t really understand what’s involved in a technology job. How can companies best convey the work and work culture to someone not yet in the industry? How can we best recruit more women to the industry?

JOAN: For me this started at university with degree selection. I had no insight or experience within the family of such roles. It may be that companies need to start addressing the younger generation earlier in the schooling timeline to present the options.

OLGA: Job descriptions for Developers state only dry, technical requirements, such as, “You’ll focus 30 percent on testing and 10 percent on training others.” That’s not what the life of a developer is – it’s 50 percent science and 50 percent art. Developers also need to be passionate and creative.

MEGHAN: I think we just need to start raising that type of awareness at a younger age. From my perspective, the problem stems from the fact that technology is not a required part of the core curriculum at the high school/junior high school level. Because of that, many individuals don’t really know anything about the field. Until that gets fixed, companies can help by partnering with public schools to help offer things such as training, job shadowing opportunities, high school internships, etc.

What advice would you give a recent college grad who is thinking about working in the software industry?

VIDYA: Go for it. In my opinion, it is one of the most intellectually challenging and satisfying jobs to have. The fact that you are constantly learning and keeping pace with ever-changing technology trends makes it a fresh experience and new beginning each day. A far cry when compared to monotonous jobs in several other industries. I have personally loved Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and my advice to anyone looking to enter the software industry would be: “Sit at the table” and “Don’t leave before you leave.” Good luck!

JOAN: Get (enough of) the specific specialist skills that help you to communicate with your support team. Being able to talk in the languages of those around you – business speak or technical speak – will build the rapport, the trust, and enable you to be part of the team.

MEGHAN: Try to keep an open mind – the software industry changes quickly. This means you always need to be open to new ideas to stay relevant. Don’t be afraid of failure – the most successful people in this field are the ones who take risks and are not afraid of failure. If you are able to bounce back quickly and learn from your mistakes you will do well. And finally, find what your passion is and own it – software is a rather large industry with many different niches. Find the niche that you are most passionate about and stick with it.

OLGA: Just Do IT! Most of the time what stops us is the voice in our head. Trust your instincts and knowledge. Use your observations and past experience. If you’ve seen a situation before and can offer guidance and direction, don’t wait for permission from others – go ahead and make it happen.


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