How to be a (better) human in tech - Technical.ly Philly

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Nov. 22, 2019 11:44 am

How to be a (better) human in tech

Engineering Manager Leemay Nassery shares her experiences as a woman in tech — and how she wants to see the industry change so other women don't feel the need to leave it.
Women at work.

Women at work.

(Photo by CoWomen from Pexels)

This is a guest post by Leemay Nassery, an engineering manager at Comcast NBCUniversal.
I am an engineer who has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years.

Or another way to phrase that sentence could be …

I am a female engineer who has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years.

Do your thoughts differ now that I have included my gender? Let me be specific as to what I mean by “engineer”: I have built products that scale for millions of customers. I have written code, architected platforms, and led engineering teams that support millions of customer interactions per day.

This essay is not about the engineering teams I have worked on, or the code I have written. Rather, it is about my feelings toward identifying not just as an engineer, but a female engineer — i.e. a woman in tech.

I realize that the current state of the tech industry consists of mostly men. There are statistics that suggest most women leave the tech industry before they have even reached the 10-year mark. They leave for many reasons but one of them is because of the “brogrammer” culture or bias toward women engineers. And I myself have had experiences that have led me to think: Maybe I don’t want to deal with this.

Some of these experiences are funny. And some of these experiences are cringeworthy.

For example, years ago, I mentioned that I was looking forward to working with an engineer who, of course, was male (because most engineers are of that gender) and my boss at the time said, “Oh, you have a crush on him?” Nope, that was certainly not the case; I simply was looking forward to collaborating on building features with another experienced engineer who knew his stuff.

How do we prevent the feeling of helplessness when a female engineer looks at an org chart and realizes every engineering leader above her is male?

Another example from when I first started out in this industry: I was in a meeting and I suppose I gave a stern look when suggesting changes on the response format of a web service we were building. Someone in that meeting then felt like it was OK to follow up my suggestion by saying I look like an “ice princess.” Keep in mind, I sometimes do give these looks that could lend themselves to being interpreted as … cold. But come on — don’t say that to the one female engineer in a room consisting of 10 or so male engineers that at the time were far more experienced than myself.

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Of course, these situations could happen at any job or in any field. However, I do think it happens more often in tech.

Now the question is, how do we change this? How do we ensure that future engineers who happen to be women do not drop out because of similar situations as I described? How do we prevent the feeling of helplessness when a female engineer looks at an org chart and realizes every engineering leader above her is male?

Do we make change by having groups specific to female engineers or women in tech and hosting conferences specifically for women? Do we make change by shouting from the rooftops, “Hey! I am a female engineer!! We do exist!”

Or …

Do we make change by simply being better humans? By focusing on building great platforms and engineering teams together, and accepting one another’s ideas regardless of gender? Being kind to one another and realizing that having different backgrounds and experiences can make both the team and product better?

Or …

Do we make change by making more of an effort to ensure that women who are already in the technology space continue to stay in this industry by supporting them just a little more than you would support, say, a … male engineer?

It takes an entire community of different people to keep any individual in tech, but especially women.

At the heart of it, I think it is a combination of all of these things. But I do think the biggest change will happen if we start by being better humans and open to each other’s differences while also building great products with code. If we start by doing this, everything else should fall into place. The industry would be less known for promoting a culture that has a bias toward women, which would then lead to having more women who were turned off by such an environment to join or continue to stay in the field.

From my own experiences, I have had the luxury of having really great mentors, leaders and friends who have helped me progress in my career. Alternatively, I have also been in situations where the best thing to do is to pivot and look forward. Thinking back on all of the platforms and teams I have worked on, I have realized it takes an entire community of different people to keep any individual in tech, but especially women, as it is fairly obvious by looking at just the raw numbers that this is something we need to lean into and fix.

Being an engineer, we all have at least one common thread: We like to build things. That is why writing code and architecting platforms that scale for millions of customers is appealing. It’s fun to build things that people use. With that, wouldn’t it be even more appealing if not only the work was technically satisfying to the brain — but also the culture of the team or the environment we work in was open and welcoming for all humans, regardless of gender?

If we can do all of these things, I think we will stop talking about gender and lack of diversity in tech, and instead, enjoy building and look forward to future innovations.

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