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6 Tips for Female Engineers to Advance Their Careers

Women 2.0 talks to Alaina Percival of Women Who Code, which puts on hundreds of events per year to help engineers advance their careers.

By Jasmine France (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

It’s no secret that men outnumber women in engineering leadership roles. Women Who Code, a global organization dedicated inspiring women to pursue and excel in technology careers, is aiming to change that. The organization offers free weekly technical study groups and larger monthly events including tech talks, hack nights, and career trainings. In addition to providing a fun and welcoming forum for women to practice and learn new coding skills, organizer Alaina Percival hopes that the WWC events can provide some of the stepping stones to help them better their careers in the future.

I sat down with Alaina, who draws on her experience as the Head of Developer Outreach at the tech recruiting firm Riviera Partners in advising attendees of WWC. “We really want to get women to maintain their careers in a way that’s going to help them advance, even if that’s not an immediate goal,” says Alaina. “There are things you can do along the way that will allow you to advance three to five years down the road.” So it’s not so much standing out when up for a promotion, but the steps along the way to get to that point. Such as:

Continue Your Education

You don’t have to go back to school to continue learning and improving or adding to your skillset. Events such as those put on by Women Who Code provide great opportunities to beef up your resume. “We do 300 or so events per year in 10 cities worldwide,” says Alaina. “One of the most recent was #CHIMEHACK, a hackathon for creating mobile solutions that support girls and women around the world.” In addition to the standard fare, WWC runs specialized events such as Ruby Tuesdays, iOS Workshops, Javascript Study Groups, Python meetups and interview prep. (Bonus: The events are all free.)

Give a Tech Talk

“We always have a lightening talk at the beginnings of our events,” says Alaina, “so even if you’re fairly new, you can give your first tech talk to a group of 30 women who have your back.” Once you have that experience, you can submit proposals to speak at larger events. Alaina also stresses that you don’t need to stand up for an hour or even be that much of an expert, you just have to find something interesting and relevant to talk about for a short period.

Lead a Project

Running a project and managing a team is a way to demonstrate that you have the capabilities for higher levels. “A good place to start is with some small or boring project at your job,” says Alaina. “It might not be the most desirable thing to work on, but it will show that you can take ownership and be a leader.”

Build Something

“Remember that your open source contributions are often your resume as an engineer,” says Alaina. If you create something others can build upon—and then have others actually use, follow and contribute to it—that will be noticed and help your career. Contributing to others’ open source also helps to get your name out there, but creating a program that people use takes you up another level.

Take a Leadership Role

“If someone wants to take a management role within Women Who Code,” says Alaina, “I’m going to say yes. Women who get involved enjoy advancement and, when they move on, open up a space for others to take the opportunity. It’s a win-win.” Volunteering to lead a team in an area that’s related to your career shows you have the chops to move up the ladder.

Talk to Management

It may seem obvious, but be sure to let your manager know you’re interested in being promoted, and ask him or her what you can do to make yourself a better candidate. Managers know their engineers get pinged constantly with opportunities at other companies, and they want to know how to keep you and help you in your career path.

Alaina is constantly looking for ways to help people advance and enhance their careers. In addition to Women Who Code, she works with CodePath and supports Code 2040 and the Level Playing Field Institute, both of which are dedicated to helping underrepresented individuals advance in STEM subjects.

Are you a female engineer? What are your tips for succeeding in the industry?

FB-3About the blogger: Jasmine France is a travel-addicted, food-obsessed Bay Area writer with a decade of experience covering consumer electronics, digital music, mobile apps and cloud computing. Follow her on Twitter @WeirdEaredJas.