Written by Leemay Nassery
Find the author on Twitter @LeemayNassery
Before I get into the guts of this essay, let me be clear that this is not one of those pieces about how we need to fix the imbalance of women in the tech industry. We all know that this is the case.
This, however, is a piece about the art of being a female engineer in software development; or said otherwise, in the tech industry.
Let us start with a formal definition of the word “art”:
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Often considered the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.
Looking back at my own experience in the tech industry, I have been wearing black t-shirts and jeans and my hair up in a ponytail for over 10 years; while working as an engineer or engineering leader building platforms that support millions of customers per day. I like writing software. I enjoy managing engineers and giving them the space to grow and succeed in their own careers. I don’t drink beer, I don’t play videogames and I haven’t seen a single movie in the Star Wars series. This is kind of my brand.
Notice I used the word “brand”. That is something I have found most women in this industry have or have alluded to in one way or another. Whether it is the intimidating but very intelligent female who just knows how to get things to production or the female engineer who has a tattoo sleeve that is nice to everyone and always happens to know the answer to the question at hand.
We are all conscious about our brand. It is not something that just happens naturally. As the definition of art suggests, we have deliberately arranged the way we dress and the things we decide to do vs not do so that we can continue to succeed in this male dominated industry.
We as women, have perfected the art of either conforming to the stereotypes that surround us in this industry or adapting ourselves so we can fit in where we are respected. With the goal of always shifting the focus from our gender to our skill sets and accomplishments.
Ultimately, that is the goal when you are a female in this industry; to be known for what you do vs being known for having two X chromosomes instead of having an X and Y chromosome.
How we express ourselves in a room full of men. How we navigate situations that might not be ideal. How we manage to not focus on the gender experience and instead on our work while dodging the inevitable imposter syndrome… It is an art how women succeed in this industry.
Statistically speaking, the world consists of just as many males as it does females. When we go for a walk in the park or eat at a restaurant, we are not typically surrounded by more men than women. It is somewhat unnatural to be in settings where that is the case. The mere fact that we can be in such situations on a daily basis is again, an art.
Irregardless of tech, when you see a female in a predominantly male industry, you realize a few things. First, there is a slight chance she is not as far as she could be in her career. Second, there were many more women before her that did not make it. Third, she has crafted her own unique art that allows her to continue to prevail and succeed.
Hopefully one day a piece like this will be irrelevant, because women in this industry would be more in the norm. Until then, I would like to applaud the many women before me who have been in this industry far longer than I have.
As human beings in general, we should be thankful for the wonderful experiences and life that we have been given but at the same time; we are living complex lives that include mastering this modern form of “art” in the workplace.