(Photo by Ashley Nguyen)
Four women lined the stage at DC Media Innovations’ #WomenInTech – Bridging the Gap panel at the Washington Post Monday night.
Shannon Turner founded Hear Me Code, D.C.’s well-known nonprofit that offers free beginner classes to women. Yuriko Horvath is the director of technology at 1776. Valerie Smith works on apps at Gannett as a senior iOS developer. And Julia Beizer, the director of mobile products at the Post, is a woman who “go[es] hard at a 137-year-old startup.”
Just like any group of people, the four women have different backgrounds despite being in the same field. Horvath grew up with parents who were software developers. Turner and Smith were inspired by video games as kids. Beizer was an English major.
"When you find a group of people you want to spend time with and who share your passion, it’s so much easier."
But, as many of the speakers emphasized during the panel, diversity matters in technology, as it does with any profession. Good teams have varying personalities, specialities, cultural backgrounds — and yes, a mix of genders.
“This isn’t a men versus women thing,” Horvath said in response to an audience member’s question about what men can do to help women rise in tech. “As a manager, it’s important to make sure everyone has a voice.”
Horvath pointed out that not every person will share ideas in a massive meeting, but pulling people aside to have one-on-one chats is important. If the person is more comfortable talking individually, they’ll share opinions their supervisors can echo in meetings.
After seeing their voices heard and taken seriously, those people might come out of their shells a bit, Horvath explained.
Creating a collaborative environment will help your team thrive. If you don’t have that community of people, you can find it, Turner said.
“In my experience, community is everything,” she said. “Find a community you can really sync with. When you find a group of people you want to spend time with and who share your passion, it’s so much easier.”
“If the community doesn’t exist, find it [and] make it,” Turner added. “You’ll enjoy it so much more.”
Smith, who often kept to herself while learning code, now finds community and working with others important aspects of learning.
“I would tell myself, ‘You don’t have to do it all alone,’” Smith said of her younger self. “It’s OK to collaborate with people a little bit more. People think of programming as a little isolating, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We’re human beings, we want to interact, why not leverage that?”
Other quick tips from the panelists:
- Don’t get overwhelmed with the speed of technology. “Just like if you were going from English to Spanish, there’s going to be a word that translates ‘hello,’” Horvath said. “It’s the same with [programming] languages. If you learn a language, you’re going to be able to learn another.”
- Learn new things for fun by doing tutorials. “It’s good to see something in action, and build something really quick … even if it’s not perfect,” Smith said. “You don’t have to learn every single thing that comes out … but put yourself out there and try new things.”
- You’ll find a job in tech if you want one. “There is no recession for people in tech,” Beizer joked. “It’s a good place to be.”
- Find a mentee. “Having mentees is one of the best ways to create a change you want to see,” said Turner, who has mentored plenty of women. “A lot of women who make some of the best mentors have only been doing this for a couple of months. Having mentees is going to do wonders for your career as well.”
- Send those kids to coding camps. Beizer has a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. “There’s nothing I want more for my kids than to have them in this field,” she said. “We should look at it like art class and expose them at an early age.” But be prepared for some resistance. “If you have a girl who is interested in technology, and they go into the class and they’re the only girl, that can be daunting,” Smith said. “If you don’t see people who look like you, there are huge cultural factors,” Turner added.
- Ask for equal pay:
— DCMedia Innovations (@dcmediainnov) April 28, 2015
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