The other week I went to my first WiTWA TECHXchange and got to listen to four amazing women and their experiences of working as women in tech, as well as stories from people in the audience. It was great to hear such amazing stories (especially as I knew two of the women), and it really got me thinking about how I got into tech and the journey I’ve had along the way.
I consider myself to be very lucky, my parents raised me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to, regardless of my gender. Growing up I had Barbie dolls, but I also had trains sets and LEGO (the good, non-gender specific kind) and learnt how to do everything from using various power tools, to being able to do the ‘model twirl’, to how to make small explosives with things you find at home (don’t worry, it was just for a small bang, nothing more). I grew up knowing that I could be anything I wanted to be, and my genitals had absolutely nothing to do with it.
I’ve never really considered not working in STEM, although the area has changed and I always seemed to tend to the ‘S’, ‘E’ and ‘M’ more than the ‘T’. I originally wanted to be a scientist just like my dad, then an engineer because I was also good at maths (thankfully I realised that was a horrible idea), and when I eventually landed on working in tech I wondered why I hadn’t considered it all along.
Despite the fact that I’ve always enjoyed technology, learning new things and playing with anything I could get my hands on, it’s not something I ever considered as a potential career path. I come from a small country town and there was barely any form of computer science classes offered, and they were for the real ‘nerds’ (I was bullied a bit so didn’t want to do anything more to be excluded).
Then, when I was 2 years into my Engineering degree, I was convinced to apply for an onsite tech support job at the uni. I almost didn’t apply because my only experience was providing tech support to my family, but as soon as I started the job I wondered why I didn’t think of working in tech years before. I’ve always been technically proficient, and managed to pick things up fairly easily. Even when I studied programming in my first year, it clicked with me and I understood it quite easily while a lot of my class struggled. I found the code logical, as you could step it through and see where something was going wrong.
While I was working in IT support, I decided to re-build my parents’ website for their Christmas present. It seemed pretty easy, like anyone could do it, and I built my first website with a builder. It was a complete surprise to them, they loved it and pointed out that this was something I could do. I came to a realisation then…
This is something I could do!
I’ve never really half-assed anything in my life, and when I was getting started in web development I sure as hell wasn’t going to start. Within no time at all I’d started online courses, and took on more small freelance projects and learnt as I went, still not believing that people would pay me $100 to build them a website (if past Amy saw what I was charging now, she would fall over). I dreamed big! I dreamed of a small freelancing business that would eventually become a multi-national empire, and spent my time working in IT support and slowly expanding my freelancing on the side. While I always saw IT support as a temporary stop-gap, I also did well in my job there. Within 2 years I was managing the team I’d started in, and my 4 week casual contract ended 4-and-a-half years later as a full-time salaried employee.
As a young, relatively inexperienced woman working in IT, it was hard at times. I was working with men who’d been doing their job longer than I’d been alive and while most people were respectful and supportive,
There’s always a few assholes who don’t respect you, and don’t believe that women have a place in the industry.
My family always liked to tell me how stubborn I am — and this was a trait that served me well when getting started in my role, because I took these moments as a learning experience (for them), a chance for me to prove them how capable I was. It was nice to see though, how many men I worked with who were supportive, and helped to mentor me in my new role.
When I eventually discovered Fenders, I was overwhelmed by this group of amazing, supportive and encouraging web developers in Perth, and it was because of this encouragement that I decided to take the leap and started applying for jobs to work in web development full time.
It was also through Fenders that I started to meet inspiring women in my industry (IT was pretty much all men). Given the areas I've studied and worked in (science, maths, engineering, IT), this was the first time I’d really been around other women and it was nice to have people around me who got where I was coming from.
Last year I got the chance to listen to Kris Howard talk at DDD Perth, where her talk was centered around mentors (both having and being) and I came to realise how many mentors I had in my life and also how many of them were women. I got a little bit emotional at the realisation of how many women I now had in my life who supported me, encouraged me and were there for any questions that I had. Since then, I’ve had the chance to meet even more women (and men) who’ve joined the list of ‘mentors’ in my life.
I’m still coming to terms with how many people I have who support my journey (family doesn’t count), and are pushing me everyday to try something new and take one step further. I feel incredibly lucky to have these amazing people, and I would not have made it this far without them.
Sadly, some women don’t have the experience that I’ve had. They’ve been raised to separate things into ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’, they’ve had people tell them they can’t do something, and they’ve had people put them down along the way and tell them they don’t belong. This is a much bigger problem that will only be fixed if we all work together.
Thankfully there are people out there who are helping to solve this issue from the bottom up. Last year I got the chance to listen to Sara Chipps and Linda Liukas at YOW Brisbane, and they made me realise that we need to go back to the very beginning.
Linda writes a series of children’s books called Hello Ruby which introduces kids to the concepts of programming and computers. Written in a way that explains concepts children can understand, and yet not making it dumbed down, these books help to get kids excited about computers and programming, with a fiery young female protagonist. A character that all young girls can relate to (and also some in their 20s), Linda is charging ahead and hopefully we’ll see more girls getting interested in tech in the years to come.
Sara is aiming a little later than that, and created Jewelbots to encourage pre-teen girls (again, and also some in their 20s) to get into coding with a customisable, code-able friendship bracelet.
When I see women like this and look at how far I’ve come in so short a time, I feel inspired to do the same, and to give back to the women still to come. Whether it’s explaining to someone that ‘women are not genetically suited to technical roles’ is complete bullshit, encouraging another girl or woman to pursue her passion, or going right back and teaching young girls about computers and how amazing they are.
While I’ve already taken on a few things this year, I’m also planning on doing more to help encourage women in tech. And if nothing else, I’m going to make sure that I never, ever buy the “girl” LEGO.
A huge shout out to the wonderful women who inspired me to write this post and to those who proofread it for me at the last minute 🤗