12 Great Pieces Of Advice From Software Engineers With Diverse Backgrounds

From “how to detect female-friendliness in a company” to “do the hardest thing” — 12 female software engineers shared their advice on learning to code and becoming a software engineer on the Hackbright Academy blog in 2014! Here’s the “Best of 2014” roundup 🙂

The world is changing. Thanks to innovative businesses and brave pioneers, women and traditionally underrepresented minorities are really starting to make their mark in technical industries. That said, when it comes to building careers for themselves, some software engineers and software developers still feel like imposters — despite advanced tech skills and extensive experience. Other’s in software engineering sometimes have a tough time connecting with colleagues or finding progressive employers who are willing to bring them on. Finally, some wonder how best to continue to improve their development skills after their formal education is complete.

Well, we can help! Tapping into the years of experience and vast resources of industry know-how available on the Hackbright Academy Blog, we’ve compiled some of the best advice, tips, and strategies for women, gender diverse individuals, and their allies making their way in the tech industry. So, sit back and take a look at our top 12 golden pieces of forward thinking, action-oriented advice from diverse software engineers:

#1 – How To Detect Gender-Friendliness In A Company


Not every business sees inclusion as the benefit that it is. That’s why it’s important to get a feel for how progressive a company is before committing. Thumbtack software engineer and Hackbright alum Katie Thomas suggests 5 questions to ask an interviewer to detect how gender-friendly a company or engineering team is.

Ask “How do people ask questions” or “Are any engineers involved in programs aimed at supporting women in the industry? (e.g. PyLadies, Women Who Code, Hackbright, etc.)” to help you figure out if the workplace is right for you.

#2 – How To Not Suffer From Imposter Syndrome

Despite recent advances to the cause, underrepresented software engineers are still the minority in a largely male-dominated profession. As such, some who work in tech feel like imposters or frauds, despite their valuable skills. Hackbright alum and software engineer Gulnara Mirzakarimova shares 5 lessons on beating imposter syndrome.

Our favorite is #5 – “Accept the fact that there are things that you do not know, there are things that you will never know and there are things that You Can Decide To Learn.”

#3 – Focus

Burnout can hit anyone. And when it does, you may need to take a step back and look at your situation with a different attitude. Flixster engineer and Hackbright alum Aimee Morgan blogged about focus, how to appreciate all that you’ve accomplished, and learn to appreciate the variety that comes from a non-tech background.

She shares that “Being a beginner at something in your mid-thirties is alternately terrifying/humbling/awesome…  I can’t imagine anything more boring than a tech industry made up of guys who’ve focused single-mindedly on programming since age 13. One of the things I really liked about [my previous] profession was the wide variety of paths that brought people to it.”

#4 – Self Care Strategies For The Job Search


Applying for jobs, going out to interviews, and constantly trying to present your best self to prospective employers can be draining. Hackbright alum and instructor Meggie Mahnken shares self care strategies for the female software engineer’s job search.

She crowdsourced advice from Hackbright alumni — from not letting an interview outfit go to waste (go out with friends to dinner after an interview!) to “Set a mini-goal for yourself to have something more achievable and within your control as a measure of success, rather than just ‘did you get an offer or not’ from the interview.”

#5 – Learn Git and GitHub

Programming languages are essential to success as a developer, but if you want to really excel, you may need to take things further. Self-taught web developer Jenn Wong shares her story about learning to code.

Her advice? “Learn Git and use GitHub to keep a record of the work you’re doing.” Now she’s working on becoming a full-stack engineer.

#6 – Read It Three Times If You Have To

No matter how intelligent you are, you’re probably not going to really understand everything on your first try. Self-taught engineer and Spitfire entrepreneur Erin Parker shared her story of learning to code.

“I started going through the Michael Hartl Ruby on Rails tutorial and I ended up going through it three times before things really started to click. In tech, you learn that you can teach yourself anything by googling stuff, finding a book, reading documentation.”

#7 – Have Confidence But More Importantly, Perseverance

Believing in yourself is essential, but without dedication, it can only get you so far. Skybox Imaging software engineer and Hackbright alum Danielle Levi shares her advice about perseverance and confidence.

“It’s easy to compare yourself to others in the industry and find yourself lacking. However, it’s often not a fair comparison. In my case, I found my interest in technology and computer science at a later point in life. I’ve had less time to learn as much. Everyone has their own unique obstacles. It’s better to compare yourself to yourself. Think about your progress, how much you’ve accomplished, and exercise self-compassion. Stay passionate and keep learning.”

#8 – Find Your Local Programming Resources and Meetups

Rachel Ann Werner went to Nashville Software School and learned to program — she’s now a back-end developer! In her blog post, she shares her insights into the importance of becoming part of the female software engineering community.   

Rachel recommends “Getting out there and meeting people at programming user groups.” Rachel also founded the Nashville chapter of Girl Geek Dinners, an organization that encourages young women into technology careers. And on Meetup.com, she met the ladies of Nashville Women Programmers (pictured, below).

#9 – Ask For Help

When you find yourself stuck, sometimes your best resource will be those who’ve gone before. Uber software engineer and Hackbright mentor Martha Girdler shared advice on “politely and unobtrusively asking for help.”

She advises mentees: “Don’t be afraid to politely and unobtrusively email someone you admire in your field and ask for mentorship. It’s best to ask for a small amount of their time (a phone call once every few months, a few emails here and there). Always take notes, and research your potential mentor thoughtfully and thoroughly. If they say yes, your first priority is to ask thoughtful questions!”

#10 – It’s OK To Not Know Everything

No one expects you to know everything from day one. Medium engineer Jean Hsu assures new programmers: “it’s OK not to know everything.”

She continues that “It’s impossible to know everything, but sometimes, especially at the beginning, it’s easy to think that everyone else knows it all. There’s plenty of time to learn. You are not an imposter. It is incredibly unlikely that you got lucky over and over and over again. It’s much much more likely that you got where you are through hard work and your accomplishments.”

#11 – Remember, This Too Shall Pass

Ever feel overwhelmed? Are the stresses of the industry getting you down? When a solution isn’t readily available, a shift of perspective may be exactly what you need. At the same time, it’s worth recognizing that even the best of times are only temporary. Presidential Innovation Fellow and software engineer Sarah Allen was a young mom when someone told her “this too shall pass.”

Sarah reminds us that “When things really suck, remember that this too shall pass, and when things are really great, remember that this too shall pass.”

#12 – Do The Hardest Thing

We don’t improve when we only stick with what’s easy. That’s why Femgineer founder and software engineer Poornima Vijayashanker urges women to “do the hardest thing.”

Instead of doing what’s easiest — that will bring her the maximum benefit — Poornima always chose to pursue the hard path.

She’s programmed herself to do the hardest things in life, but they’ve also brought her the greatest joy.

Companies can partner with Hackbright Academy to recruit diverse engineers!

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