Welcome to our Hedgehog live chat. The following transcript has been lightly edited.
Jackie (Jacqueline Baxter, Digital Strategist): Welcome to our live chat! This week we're chatting about the opportunities and challenges faced by women in tech. Let's start it off - what do you find enjoyable and challenging about technology as a career?
Radostina (Radostina Markova, Content Specialist Team Lead): To me, having to learn and grow constantly is what I find both enjoyable and challenging. I love the fact that people in technology are way more valued in general.
Maria (Maria Karakasheva, Senior Solutions Developer): I find it enjoyable because it requires a dose of creativity. You create something that positively impacts people and that is cool. What makes it challenging is that technology keeps developing and new things come up very often - so you always have to be on top of everything. Otherwise, you can't succeed in it.
Leticia (Leticia Shene, Marketing Manager): I really feel like I can use both sides of my brain all the time. Equal opportunity brain usage.
Melissa (Melissa Banks, Senior Web Designer): I like that the technology and best practices are constantly changing. It gives you something to keep learning about and continuously get better at.
Tanya (Tanya Gateva, Content Specialist): As a whole I enjoy working in the tech industry, as it is very dynamic. There is always something new happening. The challenging part is the constant need to refresh the things that I already know and stay up to date with the trends. That is also the beauty of it.
Ele (Eleanor Palmer, Solutions Developer): I think analytical problem-solving is fun. Sometimes that can also be very challenging, especially when you have a bunch of different moving parts.
Leticia: I also like that I always feel like there is so much more I can learn no matter what I am doing as the technology is always changing.
Jackie: There's been a lot of discussion in the last few years about gender parity in technology fields. Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that’s the case?
Maria: Well, there are definitely fewer women in technology than men. I think the problem comes from the fact that people don't really understand what cool stuff can be done in the technology field. I have met people with a completely wrong understanding of what a developer does. It's sad, you know ..because we create cool stuff 😊
Tanya: The situation is better than it was for previous generations but technology is still viewed as a more masculine type of activity. Young girls are less encouraged to participate in it – by parents, teachers or society in comparison to men. However, most women in tech that I know become more confident with time – not only in their field, but generally in life. I think it’s the right attitude towards the world as we need more confident women.
Jackie: I agree. It's especially discouraging to me that women leave tech fields at rates much higher than men - in the US it's 45% higher. Retention is a major issue. And that leads to fewer women in senior positions, which creates a cycle that benefits no one.
Ele: A lot of developers I've met have hobbies that tend to be more popular among guys and I think that makes some women feel like they don't fit in.
Radostina: Women are more interested in more creative jobs. I don't think that it's a matter of encouragement. I think young girls just don't see the full beauty of technology.
Leticia: As I look for toys for my young daughters I see WAY more technological type games/toys geared towards girls that I ever did when I was growing up.
Melissa: I think childcare sometimes plays a role in retention. Usually (at least in the US) the woman is the one to stay home with the kids whether it’s for maternity leave for a short while or the first few years of the child’s life. Tech is hard to stay current in so it’s a lot harder for a parent who’s taken time off to come back. They also need a lot more flexibility. For some of us we have that luxury but for some tech companies it’s hard to get the flexibility to be both a parent and a high performer. Some people feel like they have to choose between being a parent and having a career. (edited)
Jackie: There's unconscious bias too, that one is VERY insidious because, by it's nature, people don't realize it's happening! Gender parity is gaining ground, but as Shane Ryoo said, ' “better” is not “good,” and “good” is not “equal.”' There's a ways to go, and it all starts by being willing to admit there's a problem.
Jackie: Now that we're all depressed, let's talk about the positive. What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
Leticia: Shorter lines for the bathroom
Maria: Being in the tech industry, you make a positive impact, and this is what matters, I think 😊 And I totally agree about the bathroom situation.
Ele: Flexibility and job security is important to me. Switching to the tech field is one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Leticia: For me it's showing my girls that you can really do it all - there's no limit due to your gender
Radostina: You can't achieve anything in the tech industry if you are not good at your job, you know. Everyone knows that and there's no space for speculations. You have a career - you earned it. End of discussion. :)
Tanya: In tech you get judged by your skills and achievements more often than in other fields.
Jackie: It's a field that balances perfectly between the abstract and the concrete. Describing what I do and then having something to point at and say "THAT. I built that" is immensely gratifying.
Melissa: I also think performance is way less subjective here than in other fields. It’s a lot easier to see how you’re doing compared to everyone else in the field and at the end of the day the numbers speak for themselves. You don’t really have to “prove yourself” as much as women in other industries might.
Jackie: Speaking of objective benchmarks, anyone want to share their biggest learning opportunity?
Tanya: The biggest learning opportunity I got was the hands-on experience and the chance to learn from my colleagues.
Maria: Studying abroad and starting an internship during my second year in college.
Ele: I really value the guidance I've received from senior developers. It's been great to work with them.
Radostina: Joining Hedgehog. I didn't realize how little I know about technology before I got here. Before that I was the worst clueless client from hell.
Leticia: I've worked in a lot of different industries other than tech and my encounters here have really helped me think about how to accomplish things in different ways.
Jackie: I'll admit, the opportunity to make mistakes has been invaluable. Working in a field (and at a company) where making mistakes isn't something you're punished for but something you're asked to learn from...that doesn't happen everywhere. Making mistakes is how you learn. Gotta figure out all the ways not to make a light bulb
Melissa: Hedgehog allowed me to take a course on UX which was pretty cool. It basically helped me learn more scientific methods to apply to the greater design process to basically create objectively better end results.
Leticia: I’m surrounded by insanely smart people all day so every day I’m learning new things. And not just tech smart--- many of the people here came from other backgrounds before tech so there is always so much to learn. I’m usually surprised by someone’s background before they got here.
Jackie: I completely agree. Technology is a field that incorporates all kinds of skills and backgrounds, which is part of what makes it so dynamic. Taking another turn for the positive - what has been your biggest success?
Maria: Hmm not sure...I believe that every little win counts. At the end of the day, each of these milestones are part of the so called "big success."
Tanya: I never stopped learning. I switched my career focus from journalism to tech and it gave me a completely new direction, a whole new experience.
Melissa: Every time we try something a little different on a project I consider a success. Even if it doesn’t go as planned, the fact that we’re always trying to get better is important and means we’re going in the right direction.
Ele: I appreciate that I am always teaching myself how to do new things. I feel a degree of pride that I was able to break into this field. I had little guidance when doing so and taught myself a lot of what I came in with.
Leticia: Finally understanding HTML - no one ever took the time to explain it to me in a way I could understand it- so many people here have stopped and taken the time to help me. In my opinion everyone here wants to help each other succeed- there's no malice.
Radostina: Being here and being called "woman in tech" is the biggest success to me. 3 years ago, I wouldn't dare to call myself that. I think that's the best summary.
Jackie: One more serious question for the group. What challenges do you think the next generation of women in technology face?
Tanya: Pretty much the same as we are facing today. Women today and most probably women of the future would still have to prove that they need chances to develop in fields outside the care for the family.
Leticia: I think it’s important for girls/women to understand that having a career in tech is more than just writing code. There are so many ways to add value beyond programming.
Maria: Keeping track with everything. Being a superstar at your job, being a great parent, wife, friend… All these things are valid now too, but I think they will be valid for the future generation as well.
Melissa: It’s totally hard to find a balance in all the things you want to get out of life. I’m sure the next generation will face that as well.
Ele: Women will likely continue to have to battle stereotypes about what working in tech means. There are a lot of misconceptions that aren't really cleared up by TV hackers typing 2000 words a minute with html shown on their screens.
Radostina: I think we already see the tech industry getting more popular among women every day. The number of women even here in Hedgehog is growing. So, I suppose the biggest challenge will become the bathroom line, after all. Just kidding, but I think, you ladies, covered the rest.
Jackie: We're almost out of time, so last question. What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?
Maria: Do not be intimidated by people with more experience. Instead, work hard and show what you are capable of. Know your worth and be thick-skinned! I would get very intimidated at the beginning of my career. I wish I were a bit bolder in my decisions, because everyone makes mistakes, right?
Tanya: It isn’t scary to ask questions at first. Big, strong men with more experience also have to Google stuff and there isn’t one person with all the answers.
Ele: Don't be intimidated by the few naysayers and jerks writing certain kinds of blog posts. Most people you meet in tech will actually want to help you succeed.
Jackie: I want to like that a million times
Radostina: Never assume that you'll be underestimated and discriminated for being a woman. If you are strong and confident professional, no one will notice your gender.
Melissa: Don’t be afraid to get very good at what you do and own it. A lot of us are told to carry ourselves a certain way because other people might feel intimidated by a smart woman or we might be seen as bitchy and self-absorbed. Just do your thing and own it!
Leticia: Don't ever be afraid to ask a lot of questions. If you don't know something, ask! There is no shame in not knowing.
Jackie: You've got skills. You got this job for a reason, and you've got wonderful ideas to bring to the table. There's everything to play for and a different perspective is insanely valuable.
Leticia: Don't be intimidated by the unknown. Don't let anyone tell you what direction to go in- follow your own path.
Jackie: What an awesome note to end on. That concludes our live chat - thanks everyone!