It’s never easy being the only woman in the room.
It’s even harder to be the only woman more rooms. Sadly, this is still the case for many women working in tech – women hold only 25% of professional IT jobs in the US and just 28% of STEM jobs overall.
And, from our annual survey of women’s representation in the tech industry, Techopedia learned that one of the biggest things professionals say is holding women back in the field is education — or lack thereof. . In other words, many of our respondents said they think schools and universities aren’t promoting tech-related career paths to women enough. (Also read: Why is there still a gender gap in technology?)
There’s no better way to learn how to find a job in tech than to look to those who have done it. So we asked pioneering women in the industry to share their advice for those just stepping foot in the door. These women didn’t just “get a job” in tech, they built careers, businesses, and cachet.
Here’s who we spoke to:
Our conversations focused on each of the individual journeys of these women who entered the field and their advice for young women dreaming in binary code. When we asked them what they wished they could tell about their past as they were just starting their first tech job, four common themes emerged.
Here’s what successful women in tech want students to know:
1. Mentorship matters
We’ve said it before: it’s never easy to be the only woman in the room.
So, Buckley said, “I quickly realized that building networks and finding mentors would be important to my success.” She continued, “I would volunteer to work in different groups to learn more and build those relationships.”
Alemàn also highlighted the importance of finding female role models, saying, “…for women to start a business and embark on the entrepreneurial adventure, it is important to work on their emotional skills and inner strength. I also think that mentoring and coaching activities are very important.”
Continuing that sentiment, Alemàn noted how mentorships can help recognize, address, and unlearn unconscious biases when raising their heads. After all, it’s hard to talk when you’re outnumbered. (Also read: 5 ways to support women in your tech business.)
“I think the important thing is to generate instances where we can open the space for uncomfortable conversations that allow us to reframe the biases that exist in the workplace – to create more open cultures.”
2. Classes can’t teach you everything
“Basic Abilities [needed to succeed in tech] are not learned in school or in the workplace,” said Alemàn. “And it’s hard because you’ll have to learn them on your own. For me, the basic skills are self-esteem, self-care and resilience. This is what it takes to envision a brighter future for you and those around you, to challenge yourself to the max and challenge your preconceptions of who you are and what is expected of you and the right to do.”
Singh added to this, emphasizing the need for greater awareness of non-technical roles in the field:
“Everything on the market right now is about coding and bootcamps for women, and for someone who’s new to this, it tends to be overwhelming (and difficult obviously!)… Young girls, in particular, need to know that tech is an amazing field to get into and it doesn’t always have to be technical.” (Also read: Top career advice for women working in tech.)
And, for Buckley, this explains why transferable skills learned in other industries are so important for those looking to break into technology:
“Customer experience is key. From sales to support, ensuring the customer has the best experience is an in-demand skill.”
3. Your skills acquired in other jobs will help you
“There’s this business myth that you should have a tech background if you want to be a tech entrepreneur,” Alemàn said. “That’s not really true.”
In fact, many soft skills commonly developed in industries such as restaurants and retail can prove invaluable in breaking into the world of technology.
“To succeed, no matter where you come from, [you need] emotional or inner skills: self-esteem, self-care and self-awareness,” Alemàn continued. “It’s critical because if you’re able to take care of yourself, value yourself properly, and understand your own thoughts and behaviors, you’ll be able to understand the thoughts and behaviors of others, but what’s even more important thing is that you won’t get carried away by the value others place on you. For me, that’s essential.” (Also read: The women who shaped the world of technology.)
Buckley corroborated this sentiment, saying that “public speaking, teamwork, collaboration and accountability are all essential skills to possess, especially in a company like Park Place which works with tens of thousands from different companies around the world. You need to be able to think things through and trust your colleagues to support you as you learn and grow in your career.”
What tech jobs are ideal for those with a customer service background? Singh had a few suggestions:
“…scrum master, social media manager, customer support specialist, customer manager, technical writer, or marketing and sales,” Singh said. “These roles are highly dependent on communication skills and the ability to relay information between teams in an organization.” (Also read: The highest paying tech jobs for women.)
4. Technology isn’t that scary
Working in the tech industry is often described in two ways: either you’re hunched behind a desk doing boring, repetitive tasks all day, or you’re navigating a high-res fraternity full of talking-only men. in lingo.
And, the latter can be a barrier – the “bro” culture of tech is widely cited as one of the main things holding women back from advancing in the industry. (Also read: 5 key things that keep women in tech – and what can be done.)
However, Singh and Buckley pointed out that removing the veil of intimidation from the tech industry could inspire more young women to enter the field.
“I was afraid to speak up at first, but soon realized that everyone was in this together and that the technology wasn’t as difficult or boring as I thought,” Singh said. “I made some amazing friends and found some great mentors and I just wished all the other young women had the same chance as me. That’s why my first book was about why we need more women in technology.”
Buckley drew attention to the obfuscation that often plagues tech careers:
“Looking at the perception of STEM through the eyes of young girls, the concept is just as daunting as a child learning what it takes to become an engineer, scientist, surgeon, astronaut or mathematician. At a high level, I love to describe STEM as “creative problem solving”, which I find much more fun and simplifies complex ideas for an inquisitive young mind who is up for a challenge.”
We still have a long way to go to rectify the gender gap in tech, but it’s worth it: diverse talent pools are effective talent pools. And for women looking to break through on the pitch, Alemàn has one final note:
“…make mistakes, terrible mistakes, learn from them, and use them to create a better version of yourself. This is an ongoing, iterative work in progress.”
*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.*