On Changing the Ratio in Tech, and Being a Connector at Hackbright Academy

As Director of Career Services at Hackbright Academy, the engineering school (or coding bootcamp) for women, I serve as a career counselor for Hackbright students and alumnae. Our goal is to change the ratio in engineering by helping guide Hackbright students and alumnae into the tech industry.

Before Hackbright, I attended graduate school to get an M.S. in Counseling, and worked in a community clinic and an educational setting with people undergoing a career transition. I’ve seen depression, anxiety and career often tightly woven together. There’s a reason why job loss and the ensuing career transition is often compared to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. If the trauma and anxiety is too intense, we refer out to a licensed therapist. Regardless, we are all trained to listen, empathize, and reflect.

Sexism and ageism in tech is real. I have seen it firsthand during my own past interviews – “Oh, so what are you, a single mom or something?”

What I heard in that question was, “Are you going to be able to put in the hard work here? Will you be good enough for us because of your gender and parenting status?”

Yes. I am good enough.

Thriving Despite Impostor Syndrome

Here’s where the challenge lies: impostor syndrome and/or lack of confidence. Encouragement and support are critical in keeping women on a pathway toward engineering jobs and careers. Reminding job seekers that they are good enough, and that they can do it, and that if they put in the hard work, most of the time they will get to where they want to be, or within arm’s reach of some variation.

Career transition as a minority in tech is hard. Learning to code is hard. Breaking into tech when you don’t look like the rest of the company is hard. I have been in this industry for a long time – selling in tech, then working with software engineers at Riviera Partners, leading job search meetups with Women Who Code, and now leading Career Services at Hackbright Academy, to see that a career transition into software engineering is a lot of work. For women, it will be even harder. For older, not cisgender, not caucasian women, harder even.

I acknowledge that I haven’t walked in your shoes with all of those, but I empathize. I hear you saying you can’t do it, that you feel like you don’t belong, that you’re not sure you know enough, that you aren’t sure why they are offering you the job or the promotion. Impostor syndrome rears its ugly head often.

This is where I come in with my career coaching hat. You can do this. It’s hard. You need to put in a lot of work. Code all the time, or if coding isn’t your craft, whatever your thing is, you’ve got to practice. Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers? 10,000 hours to perfect your craft is no joke.

If you see barriers all over the place, blocking your road to doing what you want to do – it can get depressing. You may feel angry, hurt, maybe emotionally abused. You may want to give up, as I did in 2002 when I was working in tech with long hours and lots of pressure. I wanted to have children soon and had no idea how I could sustain any balance the way things were going, so I left – for 11 years. 11 years!

I came back to work in tech, and I am so happy I did. My experience helps me understand why you feel the way you do, and I can help advise you on your journey.

Lift As You Climb (Mentorship)

Mentorship is a requirement to succeed professionally. I started my career in recruiting at Robert Half International, and my first manager happened to have two small children. She was the one who showed me the ropes in recruiting and sales. She put in hours of hard work each day, and also took time to meet with me and support me so I would be successful.

One of the reasons why Hackbright Academy is such a special place is because each student gets to work with at least two industry mentors, some of whom also went to Hackbright to get their software engineer career started. They want to help the next generation of software engineers navigate their way into their first engineering job, provide input on their project, and be a sounding board through their job search.

I especially find it inspiring when mentors and hiring partners who volunteer their time to support our community are men who come from companies with no women on their engineering staff, and they want to be advocates for changing the ratio.

Mentoring is a two-way street – mentees gain industry knowledge, and mentors gain leadership skills. (Volunteer to mentor at Hackbright Academy!)

The most gratifying part of my job is when someone I’ve worked with in a career coaching capacity gets a job where they feel supported, or when they have a mentor who is positive and encouraging, in a company that makes them feel good. If you know me, you may have experienced it when I ask you if I can connect you with someone I know for your expertise, where you work, what you do… because you’re a connector like me.

Change The Ratio

You know how we are going to #changetheratio? We have to know who the connectors are, and lean on them. We have to keep it going, even when it’s hard. We deserve to be here, we deserve to be doing the thing in tech, and we can do it.

You can do it. You are good enough.

Keep doing your thing, keep the good karma going by connecting with others in our community.

Tell them they can do it, too.