Deciding to study computer science was one of the bravest and hardest things I have done. My family wanted me to study something that—as they saw it back then—would guarantee a better future for me. Coupled with the fact that I would be the first person in my family to go college, I was under enormous pressure to be successful.
My shyness and social awkwardness have always been my Achilles’ heel, but I ended up attending Texas Tech University and found myself in a lecture hall filled with almost thirty men and one other woman. I remember my professor making a point of calling on me during class, and while he may have thought he was helping me gain more confidence, it was an extremely stressful experience. I wasn’t afraid because I didn’t know the answer, I was afraid of being wrong.
I made it through with top grades and decided that from then on, I wanted to make sure women in engineering would not have the same experience as me. I started to get more involved in outreach programs and activities that allowed me to connect with other women in engineering. Around this time, I decided to help revive our small women’s computer science group: Extraordinary Women of Computer Science (EWoCS). Being part of EWoCS helped me gain confidence in my schoolwork and empowered me to tackle a new beast: how to find a job as a software engineer.
Finding Sprout Social
As I started looking into how to get a software engineering job, I discovered that the environment of some of these companies were all too similar to what I experienced in college: all-male teams and all-male leadership. The percentage of female software engineers is small to begin with, as women made up only 14% of software engineers in 2018, and I started to question if the gender gap in engineering would ever change. I am a firm believer that diverse teams bring incredible value to both the organization and the product, and I decided to only look for companies that valued culture and diversity as much as they did technical skills.
Enter Sprout: a company whose vision and values highly align with my own. I was hired as a front-end software engineer intern on the Analytics team. Not only was there another woman in my cohort of interns, but there were more than a handful of full-time women in engineering that I got to know and connect with.
During my internship, I was blown away by the diversity of the engineering team and the efforts the company made to maintain that. For example, Sprout holds monthly diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) Guild meetings that focus on educating our team about different cultures, identities and societal issues. I was surprised to see the team willingly talk about topics like systemic racism and women’s rights, and after my first DEI meeting, I decided that Sprout was the place I wanted to work long-term. I was offered a full-time position as a Software Engineer in July of 2018.
Starting a Business Resource Group
Engineers are constantly faced with complex problems that need to be broken down into smaller tasks. Even though Sprout had a more diverse team than any other company I looked at, it was not perfect—but I wanted to help change that. I knew that if I could tackle a problem as difficult as supporting women in engineering and our underrepresented community, I could apply similar learnings to my everyday work as an engineer.
I started to get involved by joining a Slack channel aimed for women in engineering called #BarbieIsAProgrammer. We would share resources, volunteer opportunities or just chat about what we were going through as non-male tech employees. Over time, Sprout’s DEI efforts grew and with this came the emergence of Business Resource Groups (BRGs). BRGs are employee-led groups for traditionally underrepresented communities who share a common purpose, interest or background. So when applications for BRGs opened, three amazing colleagues and I decided to help turn #BarbieIsAProgrammer into an official BRG, which we called “Underrepresented Genders in Tech,” or UGIT for short.
Like the name suggests, UGIT provides a space for underrepresented genders who work in tech fields at Sprout, including engineers, designers and people from our product team. Our first goal was to raise internal awareness and build a community so that people could connect with one another and meet potential mentors. Now that we are more established, we’ve been able to host events, coordinate panels with our own engineers, participate in community outreach programs and foster an intimate and safe space for our members at monthly meetings.
One of my favorite speakers we’ve hosted to date was Natalie Kissinger, a corporate litigator, who talked to us about how to negotiate—a simple and broad topic, but one that I have personally struggled with as a female engineer. After this event, I walked away with new techniques on how to communicate effectively while sharing my thoughts and ideas in a way that I was comfortable with. It’s events like these that keep the retention in our group high, as we’re all trying to learn how we can succeed in the highly competitive tech space.
Through UGIT, I have been able to meet a group of people who are eager to learn and prove to themselves, and the world, that our perspectives offer a unique point of view to the engineering field. Together we are learning how to be more confident, embrace our mistakes and reinvent the status quo for engineering as a whole. Since I started, I have seen more women, LGBTQIA+ people and other underrepresented individuals joining our company, which shows me that representation is improving bit by bit.
My advice to women and other underrepresented genders who are wondering how to get a software engineering job is simple: own it, and don’t give up. It may not be an easy road, but I guarantee that once you get involved and reach your goals, you will feel accomplished. This journey will give you the greatest experiences and lessons you can imagine that apply not only to work, but to your life in general.
If you’re interested in joining our team, check out our engineering careers page and apply today.
This post Women in engineering: How I found and started my career as a software engineer originally appeared on Sprout Social.