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Stories from the Women in Tech Panel


Today, the tech industry is more diverse than ever, but there’s still more work to be done. That’s why last week, we went live with a panel of talented women from the Skillacademy team and our larger community to learn more about what it’s like to navigate the tech industry as a woman.

Hosted by Skillacademy community manager Fede, our Women in Tech Panel featured stories about successes and challenges in the tech industry, how the industry has changed for women, and what advice our panelists have on finding mentorship and community with other women in the industry.

As Calla, one of our panelists, shared: “This is valuable for everyone to hear, not just women. It’s a great learning opportunity for people both in and out of tech — women, men, everyone.”

To watch the entire conversation, check out the full recording of our Skillacademy Women in Tech panel and read highlights from the event below.

Meet the panelists

From software engineering to data science to curriculum development, these are some of the talented women who are paving the way in the tech industry.

Sanam A., Skillacademy: Sanam is a Software Engineer at Skillacademy, where she works on features to keep learners engaged.

Julia D., Autobooks: A former Accountant, Julia is learning SQL and tech skills on the job. She also leads the Skillacademy Detroit Chapter.

Calla F., Skillacademy: As a DevOps Engineer, Calla primarily focuses on monitoring, infrastructure, and CI/CD at Skillacademy.

Mariel F., Skillacademy: Mariel is a Senior Curriculum Developer specializing in Data Science, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing. She was a teacher and then marketing strategist prior to joining Skillacademy

Shirley L., Skillacademy: Shirley improves Skillacademy’s learner experiences. She started as a fashion designer before going into web development.

Mackenzie P., Honeywell Aerospace: Mackenzie is an Accountant for Honeywell Aerospace and the leader of Skillacademy’s Phoenix Crypto Chapter.

Sophie S., Skillacademy: Sophie is a Curriculum Developer focusing on Data Science content. Sophie is a former classroom teacher with a background in learning analytics and education research.

Negar V., Elara Tech: A Junior Machine Learning Engineer and the Founder/CTO of Elara Tech, Negar leads the Skillacademy Georgia Chapter.

Q: In what ways has the tech industry changed for women since you’ve started?

Sanam, who has worked in tech for 6 years:

Every job that I switched into, there have been more women. The tech industry as a whole has become more open to non-traditional backgrounds and pathways into tech, and that has benefited a lot of folks who growing up were excluded from being talked about as going into tech. The fact that there are so many different resources to learn from —and now it’s very public that you don’t need a CS degree to work at a lot of the larger tech companies — I think that has helped diversify the field overall.

Culturally and politically, we’re in a moment where people are more open and more aware that they have implicit biases and unconscious biases. So that awareness also helps — it’s not necessarily that we mean to discriminate, but we all grew up in this society that’s shifting, and now we’re talking about it more.

Calla, who has been in tech for 8 years:

As we’re seeing more and more women in tech, the general awareness of microaggressions, of these pre-existing issues in the tech culture — people have become more aware of them.

When I started, there wasn’t much in the way of training on microaggressions or on how to interact with people. But as awareness increased, the recognition that trainings like that did need to exist increased.

Every company that I’ve been at in the last few years has had some sort of training about what microaggressions are, how to avoid them, and how to deal with them. So there have definitely been some major strides and improvements.

Mariel, who started in tech 3-4 years ago:

I got into tech at a point when a lot of women were just starting to get into the field more. I started out with a lot of peers who were really new to everything, but one thing that I’ve noticed is that there’s been an increasing number of women in more senior positions over the past few years. And that makes for an easier situation because you start to see the pathways forward as you’re gaining your start.

There was an engineer at Skillacademy who was particularly inspiring to me as I was getting started. Having her there made it easier for me to feel like I can do this. This is a place where I belong.

Q: Who are some of your role models in tech who are women?

Calla: Most of my role models have been people within my own realm of existence. Not necessarily someone I’m watching from afar, but my own peers. There’s something really great about getting to know someone personally and getting to understand their story. And working with them means you can help to support each other.

Shirley: When I started my first job, one of the most important things was having a woman there whom I looked up to and became close to. For me — and for a lot of people I’ve talked to in the industry, especially women —it’s really important to have a supportive group of coworkers that you can relate to and talk about things with. Especially when you’re entering the industry and you’re new and everything is so scary. It’s really valuable to have role models and mentors who’ve been in the industry that can share their experiences, and you can share your experiences and what you’re going through. At Skillacademy, we have a really great supportive group of engineers, curriculum developers, and women in tech, and that’s really valuable.

Q: Where can we find role models and other women to connect with in tech?

Sanam: Back in 2015, I joined the Women Who Code DC chapter. And more than anything, that community taught me that there are so many people getting into tech at all different ages. I felt like I was behind because I didn’t major in software engineering, and I didn’t do an internship in the summer with a tech company. But there were just so many people who had switched careers and were working in tech at good companies. On top of being a good place to go and practice your skills and hear of what companies were hiring in the area, it helped solidify, Oh I can do this. Plenty of people are doing this. Everyone’s background is different. So that was something that was really helpful for me.

Sophie: I ended up taking classes and enrolling in graduate school to learn more technical skills. I enrolled in a graduate program called Applied Statistics for Social Science Research because I was specifically interested in the social sciences and education. And that also attracted a lot of women. As we went through the program together, we saw how people were graduating and getting jobs in tech, but were able to still contribute, for example, to education. So if you can find things that you’re interested in, and use that to wind your way into a tech career, you meet a lot of people along the way.

I also joined an R-Ladies group in NYC and went to some of the talks and met people and networked through that. That was another really great community of women.

Mariel: The CodeNewbie community is a really welcoming community for people of all genders. It’s for people especially interested in web dev, but they have folks across the spectrum of tech. It was started by Saron Yitbarek, who is just a phenomenal person. She’s a great role model for any person getting started in tech.

Mackenzie: One of my first on-ramps was this group called SheFi, which is a DeFi educational program for women. That was one of the first things that got me really interested in crypto. And the woman who runs that, Maggie Love, she is just so smart about all things crypto and DeFi. That was a really big inspiration for me. I don’t think she’s a developer, but she is just so inspirational and knowledgeable about this space. And I was like, You know what, I can do this too.

I’m also part of another group called she256. There are a lot of women in crypto groups, and it’s really heartening to see that they exist. New ones are being started all the time, and there are a lot of role models in that space.

Calla: I’m relatively active in the Skillacademy community Discord server, and one of the things I enjoy most is watching people interacting with each other and helping each other figure out answers to their questions — whether it’s technical or career-oriented. Community can be super valuable and super important in navigating this field. We’d love to hear from you!

What advice do you have for people who want to get into tech?

Julia: I think people get really bogged down sometimes with, Where do I start? What should I do first? I think the answer is, What is interesting to you? What sounds like it could be fun? Or even if it just sounds easy to get started, just to get you hooked. I feel like there’s not one correct way to start.

Online learning through Skillacademy is really great. Or, if you have any, local meetups. Here in Detroit, we have a code bootcamp called Grand Circus that I’ve done free classes through. Or code workshops. Anything where you can get your feet wet, meet other people, and just learn what you like before you commit to trying to learn a skill.

Negar: I think the main question would be, Are you good at coding? Rather than, What should I do with coding? Because coding is fun, but it can be really frustrating. And dealing with that frustration, I think, is the main key to if you will become a successful programmer or not. So I would say, Go learn C. And if you survive, pursue coding. That’s my advice.

Mariel: Start with what you’re actually interested in, and also what your current background is in. I kept thinking, when I was getting into tech, that I was starting from nothing. But in fact, I had several careers behind me already, and those contributed to the direction I went in tech.

Having a master’s in education meant that I not only knew tech after going through a bootcamp, but I could figure out really innovative ways of teaching that tech. And knowing linguistics meant that I understood how languages work. So when I came across programming languages, I was like, Oh these are just languages. This is just another way of working with essentially nouns, verbs, and adjectives. And all of these components basically work together in the same way. So start with where you are and your interests.

Mackenzie: If you want to get into tech, you don’t have to be a programmer or developer. You can do something non-technical but still be in a tech company and get that atmosphere. You can do community in tech. That’s why we’re all here today. A lot of tech companies want to have really strong community leaders because it makes the community better for others when you’re learning or using a product.

Shirley: There are so many spaces in tech. Especially as more and more industries go into tech and need technology and need the Internet, there are so many aspects of technology that you can be in.

Are there any topics you’d like to hear about in future panels? Drop a comment below!

June 16, 2021

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