Four young strong women or girls standing together. Group of friends or feminist activists support each other, women supporting women

By Silvia Colombo, Senior Software Engineer at UserTesting

A 2021 report by TechNation revealed that just 19 per cent of the tech workforce are women.

It’s a depressing, if slightly unsurprising, statistic. But as we celebrate Galentine’s Day and the role of women in tech, Silvia Colombo, Senior Software Engineer at UserTesting, discusses how advocating for female peers and being a strong leader can help redress the balance.

Intro to software

I got into programming because I love maths; it evidently ran in the family as both my parents work in technology, and my grandmother taught mathematics. I was first exposed to programming in high-school, and it didn’t initially click. It was only when my mother, a former computer science teacher turned techie, introduced me to the concept of recursion, that I understood what it was all about. I was instantly hooked!

Through  high school, I became even more passionate about software and algorithms. It’s where I discovered the satisfaction that comes from programming – seeing it work and hold in place. At first I was passionate about the scientific side and the possibilities computational power opened up. Later, at university, I took a much more humanist approach. I started to think, “if it doesn’t serve people, what’s the point?” It’s where my interest in human-computer interaction and natural language processing jump-started, particularly with everything that helps to bridge the gap between technology and people. This is why UserTesting came to be a perfect fit further down the line.

Breaking into tech

When I started programming, it didn’t occur to me that it would be a male-dominated sector. It was only when I entered a major competition, and saw there was only one other girl there, that I realised it wasn’t a female-centric space. This continued at university with very few girls on the technology courses, and most of the mathematicians being men.

In the professional world, being a woman has its advantages and disadvantages. There are definitely gender biases, and times when I wish there were more women in the room, but there are advantages to this too. As a minority, you stand out. For an extrovert, that’s an additional advantage because you’ve got more opportunity to make your voice heard. For an introvert, it can be extra daunting. I like to think of myself as a bit of both, so I will zig-zag between the two.

Women supporting women

I’m incredibly passionate about supporting other women in the industry. At UserTesting I do my best to encourage, uplift and advocate for my female colleagues. To me, the most important thing is that there is room for everyone in the tech world. There are so many amazing women in technology, and I want them all to succeed. I urge all women in tech to support, help and guide others in the industry!

It’s also important to make sure you LOVE your job! If you love it, you’ll do well, and this will pay off when working with others; they’ll see your passion and it’ll hopefully be infectious. Think about your attitude in the workplace and make sure that if someone was to mirror it, you’d be happy to have them on your team. This will encourage women to be brave, work hard, and ensure their passions and voices are heard.

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Career advice

  1. Be your own self-advocate

Push through the nerves. Ask to take on a new role, put yourself forward for team lead, make yourself known and be proud of what you achieve. If you’re trying to get into a leadership position, you have to advocate for yourself, so your employer and your peers know you’ll advocate for the team too, when the time comes.

  1. There’s room for everyone

Never be bitter about the success of other women or think it’s a competition. Be proud of them, applaud them and push them – there is space for everyone and now is the time to bring a greater gender balance to the tech world.

  1. Show off your difference

In an interview, don’t try and blend in with the men and fit the model of the ‘typical candidate’. There will be loads of “typical candidates” applying for the job. Take advantage of the fact that you’re different and use it as a way to stand out among others.

  1. The importance of role models

Studies have shown that it’s easier to attract women to a workplace or industry where women are already represented. At work, I always try to put forward role models. Advocate early on for making sure interview panels are diverse, especially for tech roles – women need to be represented in positions of power and decision, so that more women join your team knowing these opportunities are open to them!

  1. Join networking groups

Networking with other women is vital! Share your experiences, challenges, advice and successes too. At UserTesting there are groups for women across the company, along with tech-specific groups as well. It’s a great opportunity to meet exceptional women, hear about their career paths, and learn. Be sure to get involved in regular mentorship sessions if your company has them! If you need guidance, lean on other women. If you think you have some wisdom to share, be supportive and share it.

Networking recommendations

Women Who Code is an international organisation with local groups available to join. The goal is to inspire women to excel in technology careers.

Code Bar is a charity that helps the growth of a diverse tech community by running free regular programming workshops for minority groups in tech. I joined this as a coach, but you can join as a student too!

Silvia ColomboAbout the author

Silvia is a senior software engineer and team lead at UserTesting, the leading provider for on-demand human insights. Previously, she led the front-end team of Spiritus, an Edinburgh-based health tech start-up, developed smart television applications, and worked on an open-data platform for public and private organisations. In her free time, she is passionate about volunteering in STEM outreach, education, and child wellbeing programs.