Our “Jobs 101” series will look at women in a particular industry, their experiences in breaking into their field, and their tips for standing out.
The Industry: Software
Software has long been a mainstay in the world of technical jobs and, with the advent of SaaS (Software as a Service) and cloud storage, this has become an even more popular source of employment. Why? Because there are more companies than ever in the software industry, and more companies mean more open positions. Another huge benefit is the ability for these jobs to be worked on a computer from anywhere with a WIFI signal, which is a very different story compared to traditional retail jobs that necessitate the employee being present in the workplace. Work from home in your Star Wars jammies? YASSS.
Unfortunately, there is also a common misconception that working in software requires a college degree in a computer-related field. While that may have been the case when software was first emerging (and it certainly doesn’t hurt), there are more job openings than there are people armed with computer degrees. Companies, especially startups with limited budgets coupled with a willingness to take risks, are learning that an employee’s technical aptitude and problem solving skills can be just as valuable. Don’t believe it? We talked to our very own Geek Gals in the software industry to get their story on how they got started and how they’ve thrived.
So, what did our Geek Gals do before their software debut? None of them had thought much of software as a career and all started in other industries. In fact, the one thing they have in common is that they were in a position where they were willing to take a risk.
Geek power: gaming, especially Rimworld where she has a couple of mods out on Steam
Julie had her first job in high school as an assistant to an interior designer where she learned to use software to draw 3D models. She later began an associate’s degree in radio-television-film, working in radio as a news anchor and producer. When the radio jobs began to disappear, she finished her degree and found herself making ends meet at a pet store chain.
Geek power: Science fiction and fantasy, such as Dr. Who, Star Trek, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series
Melissa was studying for a bachelor’s in English when she was hired to work as an administrative assistant in a law office. Unfortunately, she was laid off with no immediate prospects. For a time she worked at Foley’s, a retail department store, but continued to keep her eyes open for a better job.
Geek power: Linux, specifically building a Linux laptop for her young son so he could use it without picking up any viruses
Rachel planned to become a neonatal doctor and majored in physics. Because she lived near NASA, she spent her spare time interning at a company where they challenged her to learn new things like software, and she discovered she was good at it. She decided she didn’t want to go to med school, graduated with her bachelor’s, and moved to a new city where she waited tables, looking for a more stable opportunity.
Getting in the Game
The first step of playing the game is getting in the game, which can be harder than it looks. Each of our Geek Gals found their own way in and you can, too. If you’re looking for an entry into the world of software, try one of these options.
Bootcamps, Workshops, and Special Entry Programs
If there is a company where you’d like to work, see if they have any training programs open to the general public that just require an application and an interview. Software companies are known for being open to working with people who have technical aptitude, but no experience. Because of this, it’s become more popular to have a sort of training ground where the software company can, well, give you a test drive! Julie was recruited into an entry-level program for jobs in software.
Before the interview, she studied by taking free courses online and searching the web for everything she didn’t know. While she wasn’t sure she would make it in, she decided to give it her best shot, walking into the room and telling the interviewers, “You can’t afford to not hire me.” That was exactly the kind of attitude they were looking for in their candidates, and they hired her. As Julie put it, “You have every right to be here and you shouldn’t feel like you don’t deserve it. If you’re good at it, you deserve it.”
Internships and Entry-Level Jobs
Sometimes the way to get your foot in the door is your willingness to start on the bottom rung of the ladder. Rachel had internships in college that involved learning and using software, which later led to a data entry job at a software company. One day she overheard a group in the breakroom making a joke about Schrodinger’s cat and she chimed in. The technical manager was in the group and was impressed with her, and he convinced her to come work on his team.
When in doubt, network! You would be amazed at the sources that can put you in touch with the right job at the right company. Join networking groups (LinkedIn, Meetups, etc.) and talk about your job search and goals on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Melissa had a family member who worked at a software company, and their colleague needed a person to take books and organize them to be scanned. They knew her personally through family events and that she liked books, so they offered her the job.
Differences, for better or worse
If you’re trying to move from another industry to software, it’s helpful to know what differences you might encounter. Not only can this help you determine if a software job is what you really want, it can also educate you on the type of environment in which you’d be working. Some of these things are also present in other industries, but they are especially important in software.
It’s a thinking
man’s woman’s game.
Are you a maker, a doer, a dreamer, a thinker? We all have a little of each in us, but it’s your unique combination that makes you, you. Listen to that and find a job that matches who you are. Software is a great job if you lean more heavily on the thinking side. As Julie says, “You have to think all the time. You have to stay focused, and you gotta have critical thinking and tenacity.” Problems solvers and puzzle players do really well in software.
Software is very black and white.
Rachel points out that, if you like things that are clear-cut and follow the rules, then software is for you. ”Software does what you tell it to do (unlike people with their agendas, biases, etc.). Computers just do what they’re told.” This is predictable, but it’s also easier to figure out where the problem lies and what the answer is. And as Rachel emphasizes, “There IS an answer. Just find it.”
Change is everywhere, and you can use that to your advantage.
There is no question of “to change or not to change” in software. Constant change is the norm. You have to ask yourself if change scares you or excites you. “The industry is more open to change and more open to initiative and growth,” Melissa explains. “Some places you get pigeon-holed, but not so in software. You can try new things in software, especially in start-ups. As the company grows, you can customize your hat.” If you can embrace the change and actually mold it to find new opportunities for yourself, then this is the perfect industry to do that.
Stand up for yourself.
While it’s nice to have a champion, someone to speak up for you, you won’t always have that. Sometimes software is about who speaks the most convincingly and persistently. Julie knows first-hand about being one voice in a chorus of many voices. “If you want to be successful, you have to know how to communicate. That means you have to be well organized, stand up for yourself, and push the subject when necessary.” In other words, don’t wait for a champion, be your OWN champion!
Tips and Trade Secrets
You’ve got the job, hurray! The game isn’t over, though, you’re just getting started. Read on for tips to keep your forward momentum going!
Take your training into your own hands.
Most places have at least some training for new hires, but don’t stop there. “If you don’t know something, search online for the answer. Your ability to find information on your own is very important. Learn everything you can about what you don’t know,” encourages Julie. Her favorite tip is to use W3 Schools, which is a great free resource site for learning and practicing code.
Rachel points out that you shouldn’t forget your people skills to help you in a software environment. “Find a mentor. Don’t try to be a lone wolf,” she cautions. “Women are better at people connections; use this to your advantage. Use relationships to bridge the gap.” This includes reaching out to others for help and advice, whether it’s a technical issue or a job issue. After all, some of the best discussions have happened over lunches, coffee breaks, and happy hours! And when you have been doing it a while, become the mentor yourself. People notice the person who helps others.
Follow your interests.
You don’t have to turn yourself into something you’re not. The great thing about software is that there are so many different kinds of jobs and new ones are popping up everyday. “Look for roles that speak to your interest and experience. Be broad-minded about things that might hit on the sort of problem you like to work on,” suggests Melissa. “Tailor your resume to show those skills.” After all, if you’re doing a job that interests you, you’re much more likely to enjoy the job and do it well.
Standing out from the crowd
Some people are happy where they are, and that’s awesome if you’ve found your niche. Others, however, want more. If you want to be recognized or promoted, you have to know what you can do to make an impression. Our Geek Gals weigh in on the techniques that have worked for them.
Get your facts straight.
Julie always does her research and double-checks her findings before presenting them to other groups. “Make sure your answers and solutions are thought-out. Remember: this isn’t a crystal ball. It’s a science.” If your answers are questionable at the beginning, you’ll either be fighting an uphill battle later or you may not be given a second chance at all. The extra investment of time at the beginning is worth not having to do everything over again later (and with a bad reputation you’ll be working your way out of for a long time to come).
Always give a little bit more.
We have all heard the advice of giving a little bit extra, but what does that mean really? Rachel knows first-hand about being recognized and promoted. “Do your job a little better than what’s expected. Finish your projects faster. Give additional functionality that they didn’t expect. Do something extra to get noticed.” If you know what the end result of a project or problem should be, then you can find a way to stretch it a little bit farther. Even if the extra step is extra documentation or communication, it will get you noticed.
Get your ideas heard.
Remember Julie’s tip about standing up for yourself? As Melissa notes, you can also build a good reputation if you stand up for other issues you see or find, especially if they’re not within your immediate job duties. In other words, don’t just be a champion of yourself, be a champion for other areas, too. “The industry is open to ideas and people who make things happen. If you see something to fix, speak up and be the change.” See something? Say something! Oh, and the powers-that-be? They want to hear about it, too. Melissa says you should get to know your executives for this exact reason. “Executives are accessible. Don’t be scared of them.”
Being a Geek Gal in Software
Ultimately, how do our Geek Gals feel about being women working in software?
- Julie wants you to know that it’s a lot of hard work, but you can do this. “Be disciplined and believe in yourself.” If you believe in yourself and your efforts, others will follow.
- For Rachel, the biggest lesson is that you will have to prove yourself and get people to trust you. “You’ll have to prove your tech chops. You will always meet someone new who doesn’t know you, and you’ll have to speak the tech talk and show you know it. Don’t be afraid to technology-drop (This is like name dropping but with technology. It means to talk about your past technical experience with software, people, or places). People need to trust your knowledge and that you won’t do something stupid with it. That means you gotta know your capabilities and you gotta be trusted. Trust is EVERYTHING.”
- Melissa is encouraged most about how things have changed in the software world. “The industry is evolving to be a more friendly place to females. You’re more likely to work with and for women. We are moving from a bro-culture to a more equal culture.” This doesn’t mean that we have reached complete equality, only that we have come a long way with indicators that we will continue to move forward to that goal.
Welcome to the world of software, Geek Gals! We can’t wait to see how you change it for the better. Now get out there and rock their software world!
Featured image credit: Courtney Langdon