As a woman in tech, 27-year-old Mikha Zeffertt, who works as a software engineer at HyperionDev, is used to being a minority. The stats confirm this. Approximately 20% of jobs in technology are held by women, states Techjury. Only 21.9% of Google tech employees are women; Facebook is not much better – 22% of technical roles are performed by females. So what is it like to be a woman in tech? We look at some personal stories to find out more about this thorny issue.
Learning to code
Mikha didn’t plan on pursuing a career in tech. She says: “I ended up studying IT in high school due to a scheduling error. However, I decided to carry on as it seemed flexible and engaging enough to adapt to whatever future I was heading towards.”
On the other hand, 20-year-old Phoebe Lyn, a Data Analysis Intern at HyperionDev, planned her tech career more directly. “Growing up, I’ve always been fascinated by STEM and cool tech innovations. As I got older, I started to think more about how technology can help people, especially those in third world countries, improve their lives. I decided to pursue a career in data science, because it affords me the freedom to apply my skills in virtually any sector I want,” she says.
Phoebe is an example of a Generation Z female coder. HackerRank, which has recently released its 2019 Women in Tech Report after interviewing more than 12 000 developers, noted that Generation Z female coders (those born from 1997 onwards) learnt coding at a younger age than previous generations. Almost a third of Gen Z women were coding before they were 16 year old. This figure sits at 18% for previous generations.
Here’s a graph showing the relevant statistics from the report:
Image Source: https://research.hackerrank.com/women-in-tech/2019
Once you’ve entered the tech field, women are likely to experience specific kinds of issues. Mikha explains that one of the biggest challenges involves what she calls, “imposter syndrome”. She says: “One starts to believe that one doesn’t belong or that one doesn’t know what one’s doing – that it’s a mistake that one was given the job in the first place.”
She continues: “I have had jobs where I was convinced the entire time that I was there to be part of a diversity quota and that no one actually expected me to be able to do anything. It is difficult to have faith in your abilities when everyone is responding to you with ‘Oh. You’re a programmer? Really? Huh?’, but at some point you figure out what you are good at and how to ask for help on the things you’re bad at.’”
Mikha traces her imposter syndrome feelings to her first job, which really knocked her confidence in the industry. “I was on a team with men 15 years my senior who didn’t value anything I had to say and who wouldn’t trust me to do any serious work. Luckily, at most other places I have worked, being female has had nothing to do with my position or perceived abilities.”
Phoebe’s experience, though different, was also not without its obstacles. She says: “From an early age, the gender stereotypes of ‘boys are better at STEM subjects than girls’ dampened my motivation towards my studies. I often thought of myself as ‘not cut-out for it’ or ‘not smart enough’, so it took great commitment to be able to push myself into the tech industry, but what really helped me the most was the empowerment from other women and girls in tech.”
So what advice do these two women offer women who want to enter tech fields?
How to get ahead as a woman in tech
Based on her experiences, Mikha suggests that women in tech find the right employers. “You need to find employers and colleagues whom you can trust, regardless of your gender.”
She adds: “Don’t undervalue yourself. Apply for the jobs you think you are under qualified for, ask for the salary you actually deserve, speak up in meetings when you have something to say. So many women get left behind because they aren’t willing to back themselves. So have a little faith, and know that it’s usually just a case of ‘fake it ’til you make it’.”
Phoebe advises women to “always seek out opportunities”. She says: “It’s easy to feel intimidated and voiceless in a male-dominated field, but I think it’s absolutely necessary for women to feel empowered in order to fuel and drive a business.”
In conclusion, the bottom line is that as a woman, one is a minority in tech, but don’t let that hold you back. Improving your tech skills is always an infallible way of making you feel empowered. Consequently, consider enrolling on a HyperionDev online bootcamp in Full Stack Web Development, Data Science or Software Engineering. You can also trial one of these courses for free. If online learning is not your thing, you could enrol in an immersive, face-to-face Web Developer or Software Engineering course in Cape Town or Johannesburg.