Women engineers entering the field now are definitely in a better support system. By Sujata Menon (Java Developer, Marqeta)
For a woman in tech today, there are quite a few resources out there to help one advance technically and professionally. This was not the case even 5 years ago. Being the lone woman engineer in an all-male team was the norm for me; and I hardly ever discussed being female or anything related to it. I really did not miss any discussions that were female-centric, and was happy and proud being a techie.
As you stay longer in the field, however, your needs change and isolation starts setting in. It is hard to figure out why you feel the way you do. I read in a Women 2.0 article that “you can’t be what you can’t see.”
I discovered that I do really miss role models, mentors and a support network. When I entered motherhood, I decided to take an extended break from work. Later, when I started looking for employment again, I hit some significant roadblocks. The advice I got from my male friends was either irrelevant or impractical. The female friends I had were not in tech and they could not offer any suggestions that were useful in the tech industry. I interviewed after a 6 month break and I got questions from employers like - why did you take the break? What have you been doing the last 6 months? Did you do any projects to stay up to date?
I was not sure if I would jeopardize a new offer if I told the prospective employer that I am a new mother and may not always be able to put in long hours. I didn’t know that I could seek out specific jobs based on how supportive the workplace would be, and accepting of the fact that I am a new mother. I constantly wondered: are startups ruled out for me? Am I destined for a boring job? I had so many questions and wasn't even sure if these were valid questions.
This is when I actively sought to be part of support groups for women in tech. I do know now that one must always have a support network and not start looking for help when you need it most. Lesson learned. It is fantastic to know there are quite a few groups now. Women engineers entering the field now are definitely in a better support system. I found many groups with different niches like Women Who Code, DevChix and Girls in Tech.
One of the groups that has been helpful for me and that I can readily identify with has been Poornima's Femgineer Forums. What I really like about her forum structure is that it's not a panel of high achievers talking about women's issues somewhat in the abstract. It is all about the participants and it is hands-on. I found this format very useful as it directly applies to the average every day engineer and not the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world.
After meeting the femgineers, I got a lot of feedback and ideas to approach my job hunt which proved very helpful. I am looking forward to Poornima's next forum which is about fostering female-friendly companies. I hope to see you there to discuss this important topic.
About the guest blogger: Sujata Menon is a Server Side Payment Processing Java Developer for Marqeta. She holds a Masters Degree in Computer Science from National Institute of Technology Karnataka, India. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and an infant daughter.
Photo credit: mutednarayan