Last month, I was privileged to have been invited to participate on an entrepreneurship panel at the Annual Women in Computing Conference, and be on an Advancing Women in STEM focus group. As usual, it included a lot of discussions about the challenges we face in the industry. But upon reflection, I came to realize that women in technology are in fact in a privileged position.
Yes, there are biases and yes, we often have to work harder to prove ourselves. But I truly believe that the future is in our hands.
Those non-technical skills that women tend to be stronger at – collaboration, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and other characteristics – are sought after in the workplace. Thus, women trained in technical skills and committed to leveraging their natural abilities have a great advantage.
Here are my biggest lessons learned and advice to my younger self starting my career in technology.
Own your successes and failures.
Don’t be shy to speak up and share your experiences — successes, awards, recognitions, side projects, personal achievements. This also includes failures. That’s because what’s really valued is determination, curiosity, and hard work. And when you tell someone your lessons learned from starting a past project, they will be impressed, no matter the end result.
I’ve started a few startups and they’ve all failed. I proudly wear my “failures” as a badge of honour. One of these failures was one of my biggest lessons in business building and management. A few years ago I was on the founding team of a flower ecommerce startup. We took the company from idea to 15 people and daily sales in one year, with lots of sweat and tears in between. But in the end we ended up walking away from the business, but I carry the lessons learned with me.
Actively seek advice and feedback.
Fast learners are valued in every organization, no matter your role in the company. How do you learn fast? From those that have been there and done that.
Talk to those that inspire you — your boss, more experienced friends, colleagues in other departments, etc. Show interest in them, ask them questions, learn from them, share your ideas, ask for feedback. Most people are happy to give advice to genuinely interested and driven individuals, men or women. Most of my mentors probably don’t realize they’re my mentors, but I’ve been blessed with talented and inspirational advisors that have guided me.
For me, maintaining equality meant working extra hard at passing my first-year university computer science course. That was the first time I experienced my disadvantage as a woman in technology. I was surrounded my young men that spent their high school years locked up in their basements playing video games (and for many that lead to coding their own video games). This, of course, had a few social repercussions, but for the most part it helped them academically.
I was too busy playing sports, dancing competitively, and volunteering overseas throughout my teens. So when I got to university, I had to catch up. I failed my first mid-term computer science exam, and after crying my eyes out and convinced I entered the wrong field, I decided take charge. I asked for help and put extra time towards studying in an effort to catch up with the boys.
With a computer science degree under my belt, I’m glad I did.
Focus on your strengths.
Don’t waste your time improving your ‘weaknesses’. Be honest with yourself and reflect on your strengths. Yes, there’s a virtue to being balanced, but the real value is that which you’re naturally good at. Why? because doing what you’re good at excites you and puts you in a state of flow, which increases happiness and performance. And everyone wants high performing and happy employees/partners/entrepreneurs.
Many people are afraid of taking responsibility and making decisions, but I thrive on it. I love building teams, brainstorming ideas and managing the execution of the ideas, taking full responsibility for the success or failure of the project. This is why I love volunteering with Hacking Health. In my current role I do just that, in leading the Montreal team of 10–20 volunteers. I’m constantly being challenged and grow as a community builder and team lead.
Work for the job you want, not the one you have.
Whatever the ‘next’ position is that you want, make strategic moves towards it. Take on a relevant side project. Talk to people in that position to see how they got there. Take initiatives in your current position. Show leadership and don’t expect your next job to be handed to you.
I worked towards my current job without even realizing it. I’ve been involved with Hacking Health since 2013, without a clear idea or expectation of where it will take me. I always treated it as a side interest, because of my passion for the mission and the movement’s initiatives.
But it’s through Hacking Health that I met the CEO of the company I work at, PetalMD. The position has been a perfect fit and I love the company. Like they say, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. So go out and create opportunities for yourself.
As women in tech, we are in a privileged position
When I was Managing Director of FounderDating, a co-founder matching startup, it blew my mind at how sought after technical co-founders were. Coupled with female-esque skills of collaboration, empathy and communication, women in technology are in a privileged position.
We have the opportunity to take leadership and change the tech industry for the better. Don’t like the trend of the boys-club in tech? Let’s step up and change that. Let’s leverage our emotional IQ, and work together. Let’s lead by example of what it is to be a woman in technology.