Poornima Vijayashanker, co-founder of Femgineer, addresses some common questions women coders face in the tech industry.
By Jessica Schimm (Assistant Editor, Women 2.0)
About 30 women (and a few men scattered in between) who were mostly, if not all, techies, gathered Wednesday evening in San Francisco, to hear Poornima Vijayashanker, co-founder of Femgineer, speak on common problems women face in the tech industry.
Femgineer is an education startup that focuses on helping women stay in tech. They have a meetup event almost every month, during which, female technologists come to network, discuss issues and share practical solutions that they can take back to their offices.
“We hope that they get some education and hope they get some encouragement," Femgineer co-founder, Karen Catlin said. "And when they leave, we hope they feel empowered to do something different tomorrow.”
At this week’s Femgineer event, hosted by ThoughtWorks, Vijayashanker addressed the topic of mentors, how women can move into leadership positions, and strategies to keep one’s technical skills sharp when taking a break from the industry. Here are some of the main points that she told the audience:
It’s OK to Cycle Through Mentors
Addressing the fact that sometimes women feel they must stick to the same mentors, Vijayashanker told the audience that, "a lot of times you will outgrow your mentor,: and if and when you do, it’s okay to find a new mentor. She added that mentors expect it as well, and cycling through new mentors can help when your at different stages in your career. She also said that you don’t have to take all of the advice your mentor gives you, and to "filter what [advice] works for you."
Asking for It
One goal of Femgineer is to help women obtain 50% of leadership roles in tech industries, according to Vijayashanker. When considering a role with a leadership position, it’s not about waiting for an invitation, she said, it’s about asking for it. Women exchanged past stories where men had automatically assumed leadership roles and continued to emphasize self-advocacy. Part of asking for your desired position is also taking steps to proactively follow your own desired career path, Vijayashanker stressed.
When vying for a leadership role, Vijayashanker discussed the importance of taking “stock” of any previous leadership experiences. She said to call on examples, even small ones, when applying or interviewing for leadership roles. Managing interns, leading a team and taking on simple projects all count and are worth bringing up during an interview. She said to start looking for opportunities to exert self leadership, reminding attendees that there is "more than one route to the top."
Keeping Up On Tech Skills
Vijayashanker also addressed the fact that women who start out in tech, may not always stay in tech. And that "staying technical" doesn’t mean that you have to code throughout an entire career. But even as you step outside the tech industry, it is still a good idea to keep up on your tech skills.
Mentoring a junior coder is one way to do this, Vijayashanker said, explaining that when you teach someone, it helps you understand the content better. She also encouraged women to speak on panels, as it works the same way, forcing one to recognize and organize what you do know, and exposing any gaps in your knowledge.
Networking and keeping a blog are also other ways of keeping your tech skills sharp. Both allow for dialogue with folks in the industry on tech news, opinions and developments. Vijayashanker recommended starting a blog by talking about the kind of work you’ve done or an interesting story regarding your work. Meeting new people at tech events, even if you aren't in the tech scene is a good way to stay connected in the industry.
The next Femgineer event will be Oct. 22, in Palo Alto. The topic? Street Cred: How to Prove You Can Do the Job.
Will you be going to the next Femgineer Event?
Jessica Schimm (@JessicaSchimm) is the assistant editor at Women 2.0. She is a recent graduate of San Francisco State where she earned a B.A. in journalism and was the editor-in-chief of SF State’s Her Campus chapter. She has a strong interest in women’s issues and writes about them on her blog Women Who Run San Francisco.
Photo by Nathan Glencer, provided by Femgineer.