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Mai Irie for The DEV Team

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Reflecting on my journey: we need more senior+ and directors+ women engineers

When I started out my engineering career back in 2006 (~17 years ago 😱), I specifically looked for companies that had at least one woman engineer. It wasn't easy as there weren't many choices and I was just starting out so of course, I had limited options. There were times when I had to take the gamble and be the only one (i.e., only woman engineer on the team, only woman in engineering leadership).

I lucked out that my gambles worked out, and I am truly grateful for that. However, it felt a bit odd at times to be the most senior woman engineer on the team. At that time, I didn't want the responsibility of being the first on the team. I didn't want to be different, and I didn't want my gender and ethnicity to be used as part of a company's brand when I gave talks, was put in front of clients, etc. I knew of women in tech groups, but took no action to join them or their meetups – I didn't understand their value at the time.

At some point, I decided to start attending lunch events for women engineers at conferences and women in tech meetups locally. I can't remember exactly what motivated me to do so, but I do remember seeing one talk on salary negotiation and attending because it was a weak area of mine. The meetups, conferences, and gatherings were unexpectedly helpful, supportive, and motivating.

Still, it made me sad when I met other women engineers who had never met any other women engineers higher than junior or mid-level. When I grew into an engineering director, I starting feeling this even more, and in turn, feeling more isolated in my own role too, with growing uncertainty and uneasiness. The idea of even considering the role of a CTO in my career path was not even on the radar since there weren't (and still aren't enough!) many who I knew of and see myself walking a similar path.

Later, through luck and circumstance, I was introduced to a few women CTOs and engineering+ directors. This was the first time I entered into mentoring relationships, as well as felt like I had peers with similar challenges.

It felt like a whole different world – less lonely, more diverse, more fuller, with greater possibilities. I was also introduced to truly amazing organizations like WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech) and SheTO (a play on She + CTO), which further expanded my network and support system.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be able to meet and network with other senior+ women engineers - to see your possible future self. I didn't realize that I was missing out on this wonderful and invaluable support system until I finally had it. We need more leaders in management (director --> CTO) and also in non-management roles (staff engineer+) so it feels less uncommon, and other women engineers can have a different experience from my own.

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