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Words of Wisdom from 18 Women in Tech

As International Women’s Day approached, I thought about what I could do to recognize this day. Recently the news has been filled with stories from women like Susan Fowler at Uber and AJ Vandermeyden at Telsa about the discrimination and harassment that is pervasive in tech. These stories need to be told and shared, but I often worry these can scare women away from careers in tech. When we share our opinions and thoughts on our experiences, it often doesn’t turn out well—but this should not stop us.

Working in tech for almost 20 years, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some amazing women. These women all have different starts and different stories, so I decided to balance some of the disappointing stories covered in the media with some inspiration from the women I have admired for years. After a sending a quick Facebook post, some emails, and a few direct messages on Twitter and LinkedIn, I quickly started receiving responses from women (and one man) agreeing to participate.

The common thread among all the women here isn’t simply the fact that they are women; but, rather, the fact that we are all technologists doing something we love and care deeply about.

Here are the stories and advice from women in tech, highlighting the diversity of roles and opportunities in the tech community. Told in their own words, these stories show the journeys these women have taken, what they have learned along the way, and what technology innovation they hope to see in the future. They have inspired me for years, and I hope they inspire you as well.

Women of Catchpoint

Dawn Parzych @dparzych
Director of Product & Solution Marketing 

I figured it was only fair for me to participate in this as well. My first job out of college was a teacher, I didn’t venture into the tech space for another 5 years. My first tech job was developing websites.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I want a fully interactive hologram. Video conferencing makes working remote easier, but there is still so much I miss by not being physically present. If I could “see” things and interact with people through my hologram that would be great.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

The best advice I was ever given is “women can have it all, just not all at the same time.”  This really resonated with me as I made a difficult decision to leave the workforce for a brief period of time. I always thought I would keep my career after becoming a mom, when we became foster parents to a 6-year-old boy (who we went on to adopt), that changed. Our son was having a hard time adjusting and I couldn’t give my career and family the attention they both needed. The career had to be placed on the back burner. Before I hear, “why didn’t my husband quit his job?” “why is it always the woman that quits?” – he did as well. Knowing this didn’t mean I was failing made the decision easier. Being aware of your limitations and changing your priorities is OK.

Natasha Callender @kallsey
Performance Engineer  – Catchpoint

Natasha’s first job was for her parents’ video production company where she did whatever needed to be done. The highlight of working there was watching her father and uncle build a television production truck from scratch before the first Barbados GospelFest. Helping her father take an outrageous idea into reality was quite the experience.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

A carbon nanotube capable of being the basis of a space elevator. I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise describing the construction of such an elevator and it’s an idea that captures my imagination like little else. First, because it is in the realm of possibility and second, because the ability to reach Low Earth Orbit without rocket propulsion would open the doors to advances that are currently science fiction.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Without regard to success or failure, find something technically interesting or challenging and just try to do it. Make a habit of working on something new. Technology changes too fast to rely on formal instruction alone. My experience has been that the most valuable skill anyone can have in tech is both the ability to learn and the willingness to fail spectacularly. The caveat being, of course, that those failures lead to continued learning. In fact, the best advice for women in tech comes from the literary world. It’s a saying I keep in my inbox, on my phone, and I scribble on the inside of every new journal and notebook. It’s my insurance against laziness and complacency.

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your work. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.

“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent. Never let pride or laziness prevent you from learning, improving your writing, changing its direction when necessary.

“Persist.”

— Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”

Camille Fremed
VP Technical Operations 

Camille took a job as a secretary in the group working on the RISC processor at IBM T.J. Watson Research center to get her foot in the door at an excellent company that provided a technical path for those interested in pursuing this dream. From there, she moved to HR and primarily worked on the systems that supported the organization and taught herself to use every tool she could get her hands on. Her final transition to tech occurred when she joined the group creating and supporting the compilers and OS for IBM’s Unix Platform.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Universal affordable online education.  That would include the delivery, available network, and material. Gadgets are cool, but education is cooler.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Don’t be intimidated, no language or tool is insurmountable. Classes are great but nothing beats teaching yourself and surrounding yourself with mentors who are bright and want to share their knowledge. I would not be where I was today without the amazing support and push I received from my mentor and manager in my early days at IBM. Sometimes you will need to take the not-so-ideal job to get where you want to go, don’t shy away from that.

Women today have a lot more opportunities in tech then when I started out, but it is still largely a male-dominated world. Look to what interests you rather than what can make you the most money, and find a mentor that you can trust and learn from.

Remarkable Women in Tech

Suzanne Aldrich @SuzanneAldrich
Solutions Engineer – Cloudflare
Suzanne’s first job was as a Technical Consultant for HREF Tools Corp. She was the administrator for a rack of Linux and Windows 2000 servers running IIS and WebHub. She lead a team to transfer an entire rack to a new datacenter with less than 2 hours of downtime.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?
I would like to see an invention designed to help people optimize their day-to-day lives so that they have more time for family and friends instead of worrying about chores. This invention could use big data and augmented reality to provide the information necessary for making better decisions on tasks like buying groceries cheaper and more quickly, catching the best window of time for your daily commute, and finding the best-suited people to help you out with tasks.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?
Always keep digging in and never give up. Even when it feels like you will never be able to solve a technical problem, that’s almost always the point where you’re really close to solving it. The expertise you develop solving these issues is the same set of skills you will use every day at your job. You don’t have to know everything about technology in order to be an IT worker; you just have to be willing to stretch your brain with new concepts and tools. Every day I strive to learn something new.

Suzanne Carter  @iambrandsuz
Manager, Analytics

Suzanne’s first tech job was as a telephone interviewer with Gallup. She then moved up to a role as survey coder using paper and pencil! Today, software takes care of a lot of the work that used to be done with paper and pencil, but the skills in validating the results stay the same.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I’m really interested in what biotech has to offer. Precision treatment. Treatments for the heretofore untreatable. For selfish reasons, I’d like to see hearing loss reversed. There are two biotech firms I’m aware of that are working on this issue, so: go, team, go!

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Don’t underestimate what might get you there. I wanted to be a psychologist because I was fascinated with people – so many different attitudes, reactions, behaviors – from there, I became fascinated with data of all stripes. I love data and what gets me access to lots of it.

Tammy Everts @tameverts
Director of Research & Editorial – Soasta

Tammy’s first job was as an editor at a company that published educational, non-fiction books for children. Two lessons she learned from that were how to be conscise and explain difficult concepts so anyone can understand have been hugely valuable throughout her career.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I’m really looking forward to seeing autonomous cars become mainstream. It’ll validate the fact that I never learned to drive!

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Keep your mind – and your options – open. There’s a very good chance that the job you’ll have one day hasn’t even been invented yet. If someone had told me when I was a teenager (back before the internet as we know it had been invented) that some day, I’d be blogging about web performance for a living, it would’ve sounded like complete gibberish.

People talk a lot about “imposter syndrome,” and I’ve definitely suffered from my share of it over the past twenty years. But I’ve recently realized that there’s a flip side to imposter syndrome that you can harness and use. I call it “outsider syndrome.” I’ve always felt like an outsider, both as a nerd and a woman – and as someone who’s chosen to live way outside the Bay Area and other tech hubs – but I’ve realized that my outsiderness gives me an objectivity in my research and my writing that I might not otherwise have. I see things from a different perspective than an insider might, and it makes me comfortable asking weird questions and approaching problems and data in unusual ways. I’ve come full circle and now I value and cherish my outsider status.

Laura Hendrickson
Program Manager F5 on F5 – F5 Networks

Laura’s first job at 13 was in a kitchen washing dishes, taking out trash, setting up and breaking down, and washing the floors. Her first tech job was as a Help Desk Analyst at Medalia Healthcare.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Something that gives me amazing work/life balance.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

If you love tech, heck if you love anything, don’t let anyone talk you out of doing what you want. And don’t be afraid to disagree with people (or agree with them) and never lose your voice in the room.

The women who I have had the good fortune to work with have been confident in their abilities and in what they do. They understand gender dynamics and don’t cow to them. And they respect their own intelligence.

Helen Johnson @mizhelen
Technical Account Manager – Dell EMC Technologies

Like many Seattleites, Helen’s first job was in a coffee shop. Her first technical job was as a Network Analyst at XPoint Corporation (now a part of TCS).

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

A Roomba that cleans the toilets? Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing more tech applied to organic farming–what that invention would be, I’m not entirely sure.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Do your homework and don’t be afraid to speak up, be it in class or meetings. Also, be yourself.

Lori MacVittie @lmacvittie

Principal Technical Evangelist – F5 Networks

Although it may be dating her, Lori’s first job was as a Programmer/Analyst for an electronic tax software company.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Hover boards. We were PROMISED there would be *real* hover boards.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Stick with it.                 </div>
      
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Catchpoint radically transforms the way businesses manage, monitor, and test the performance of online applications. Truly understand and improve user experience with clear visibility into complex, distributed online systems.

Founded in 2008 by four DoubleClick / Google executives with a passion for speed, reliability and overall better online experiences, Catchpoint has now become the most innovative provider of web performance testing and monitoring solutions. We are a team with expertise in designing, building, operating, scaling and monitoring highly transactional Internet services used by thousands of companies and impacting the experience of millions of users. Catchpoint is funded by top-tier venture capital firm, Battery Ventures, which has invested in category leaders such as Akamai, Omniture (Adobe Systems), Optimizely, Tealium, BazaarVoice, Marketo and many more.

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