The Next Generation Of Women In Tech

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I applied to UC Berkeley as an undeclared engineering major and got accepted. I was initially planning on doing mechanical engineering but ended up taking a MatLab course that I really enjoyed even though I didn’t get the best grade. That course sparked my interest in Computer Science and I ended up declaring an EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) major. The hardest thing for me was this constant feeling of being inadequate or stupid. It was easy to feel like I wasn’t as smart as everyone in the class because it seemed like a lot of people in EECS had been coding out of the womb, while for me it was something I had no experience with. On top of that, coding was not my only interest; I was also on the cheer team throughout college. It was hard to balance those two worlds not only because cheer was a huge time commitment, but also because I felt like ‘real’ engineers spend their weekends working on a side project or learning about a new framework. I felt like in order to fit in and keep up I needed to do the same thing, but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t the kind of person to sit in front of my laptop all weekend coding. At times I worried that I wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. I had never had to deal with that before because in high school I had been in the top of my class, and it made me feel like maybe I just wasn’t good at coding.

This feeling of inadequacy in tech definitely followed me into the workplace, which fed into my imposter syndrome. I had to remind myself quite often that I was qualified, that I wasn’t stupid and that my company had not hired me because they were being ‘nice’. People always make this joke that it’s easy to get hired if you’re a female software engineer because everyone is trying to fill a diversity quota. Outwardly you laugh along, but on the inside that really makes you question whether you got hired for your gender rather than your talent and it can take a while to snap out of it.  I went to a woman in tech conference and one speaker talked about how everyone has their own unique perspective and experiences, which no one else has, and that is something that should not be downplayed. This is something that I’ve held on to and often repeat back to myself. Companies that hire the same type of engineer or PM or designer miss out on other perspectives and use cases, and they ultimately deliver incomplete products that cannot serve a wide variety of users.

It took me a year and a half after college to feel comfortable expressing my ideas during tech meetings and feeling like I wasn’t saying something stupid. I am not the type to fight my way into a conversation, and it took a lot for me to voice my opinion in a room full of tech nerds, especially knowing they had more experience than me. In my mind, they were way more qualified. I remember being so grateful when people asked, ‘Ashley what do you think?’ because I actually had things to say but didn’t know whether they were worth saying. It was after a lot of practice that I finally became comfortable voicing my opinions and even arguing (constructively!) or standing up for my ideas. I believe it is common for women to feel that if they don’t know everything about a topic, then they are not qualified to speak on it. When I first started working, I found myself turning down opportunities because of that. One piece of advice I was given and that I always remind myself is that if someone asks you to do something-- whether it is presenting on a topic, leading a project, or stepping into a certain role-- they aren't asking you because they want you to fail; they are asking because they think you are qualified and will do a great job. Since receiving that advice, I’ve learned to take more opportunities, which has opened doors for me in my career and taught me a lot about myself and what I am capable of. It’s because of all these experiences that I make sure I take time to help out others who are new to tech or at least listen to their story. I would have loved to have someone to relate to and talk to about my challenges in college, and I hope to be that person for someone else in the future.