Reflections on my journey as a woman software engineer
Recently I became a Women TechMakers Ambassador and it made me think “how did I get here”? Thinking about where I’ve been in my career and how I got here is not something I’ve had time to reflect on until now. I’ve been working, raising kids, helping husbands on the road to their success and always frantically trying to keep up with my own life. (Oh, I think I forgot also being a Dog mommy, too.)
I’m a software engineer for almost 15 years now. When I started I took any job I could get because I had no confidence in my skills and felt like I needed to pay some dues. If I had it to do over again I’d toss caution to the wind, and go for the best job I could get, instead of less than I deserved.
Reaching out was a real problem for me. I had to learn that It’s faster to get help by asking a colleague than trying to dig through documentation for the answer. Stuff that ego in your pocket - you’re going to need a lot of help over an entire career. Here’s the catch: getting the help, in a way you can understand is harder than you think.
I’m going to be bold here and give an opinion. Men and women have different ways of communicating. This makes communicating technical information difficult. It’s already hard to talk tech; but I’ve found my conversations with male engineers seem less focused and less clear, than with my female colleagues. The real problem is not the quality of information; but, again, the fact that men and women communicate in different ways.
My comfort level was never very high to begin with so asking questions made me feel like I was going to say something so stupid I would be the laughing stock of the engineering profession.
Well, that never happened. In fact I think my male colleagues really tried hard to give me solutions when I did ask questions; but I didn’t dig hard enough. Again, I was afraid to sound stupid.
This was a ‘me’ problem. My colleagues did their best. I wasn’t aware of how much it would affect the rest of my career. And it wasn’t imposter syndrome. I was just plain scared.
So, the road I took was a bumpy journey through massive amounts of videos and tutorials. If there is a dev community out there anywhere I became a member! Really, like at least a hundred of them.
I found answers in those communities. Learned about the tools I needed to do my job. I met women online who straight up told me what my problem was. They helped me dig out the answers I needed by learning to ask better questions. And also showed me tools that made the most scary tasks way easier than I thought!
That’s how I became an evangelist about tools and workflow. It made sense because I could learn and mentor at the same time.
Once I did an “ask me anything” (AMA) on my favorite dev community, dev.to, where I’m still a moderator. The dev.to community is big for newbies so the AMA was commented on and bookmarked a lot.
The best part was that I reviewed my own workflow and tools at the time and learned new things from the generous thread of comments from other users. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn new tricks in chrome dev tools? Or best the set up in Webstorm or VS Code? I could go on and about this but it’s better if you read the post yourself here:
So, to answer my original question, “‘how did I get here?”. The hard way, that’s how. It shouldn’t have to be hard or uncomfortable. For me, my technical skills really benefited from improving my soft skills. Good communication skills makes teamwork so much easier.
So, let’s not try to hide the “elephant in the room”. Speak up. Ask questions. If the answer isn’t clear ask more questions. Still not clear? Ask again!