Lorina PolandLorina Poland is a technical writer at DataStax, an open, multi-cloud stack for modern data apps based on Apache Cassandra.

Lorina’s passion lies in decoding technical topics to ensure anyone from a geek to a luddite could understand. She holds Bachelor Degrees in Electrical Engineering and Chemistry, as well as a Masters in Electrical Engineering. Lorina spent the first half of her career with the U.S. Air Force and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel before first becoming a schoolteacher and later specialising as a technical trainer and writer.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m one of the lead technical writers at DataStax. My background is originally in engineering and I spent a lot of my career working for the US Air Force. Throughout my time with the military, I worked on aircraft avionics and I was one of the first people to work with GPS technology. I also analysed how lasers could be used in the atmosphere – some of that technology we now see readily available in the Hubble telescope.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, my path has been quite diverse. I started out as a dual Theatre Arts and Biology major, later choosing to focus on Chemistry. I was always interested in computers and worked as a computer programmer alongside my studies. Once I got to graduation, jobs were quite scarce, so I joined the Engineering programme with the US Air Force and spent nearly 25 years in various roles within the military.

After military retirement, I wanted to focus on computers so I worked at the University of California in Santa Cruz as one of the first webmasters for the School of Engineering. Before I found my niche as a technical writer, I also spent ten years as a maths and science teacher.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

There was such a lack of diversity when I was beginning my career. I’d often be in meetings with over 200 people where myself and the secretary were the only females in the room. Working in such a male-dominated environment, I learned how men interacted and chose to adjust my style accordingly. I tried to be more direct and assertive, but this often backfired where I’d be accused of being too aggressive. At that time, it was more important to me that the idea was heard than getting credit, so I’d pass ideas to colleagues to raise on my behalf. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to be myself, ignore that behaviour, and just focus on my work.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

There have been a lot of achievements; retiring from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel is the most obvious one. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a number of ground-breaking technologies. Yet I’m most proud of the work I do today.

I sometimes wonder whether I should have pushed myself further to become a CIO or CTO, but I hear how stressful those roles can be and I had enough of that endless workload during my days as a teacher. Maintaining a good work life balance is more important to me now than the job title and I’ve found my stride with technical writing which is very gratifying.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech?

It has improved, but there’s still a problem. It’s not an issue of attracting women to the industry, it’s retaining them. Most tech companies can place a lot of demands on your time, which doesn’t balance well with a woman trying to start or raise a family. Many companies also operate on hiring by peer recommendation, so you get men recommending their friends who happen to be just like them, and so the cycle continues. Even women that do overcome those barriers have to work so much harder to prove themselves, which can be exhausting.

What do you think companies can do to overcome these barriers and support the careers of women working in technology?

Mentoring can have a significant impact on someone’s career and their motivation to keep pushing. As I was coming up through the ranks, mentoring wasn’t that common but that has improved now. That support can be incredibly beneficial as they navigate the industry.

Companies also need to think about diversity further afield too. There’s not just an issue with a lack of women but LGBT, ethnic, and neurodiverse people, too. Most importantly, I’d ask companies to encourage and facilitate one-on-one interaction. As an LGBT woman, I’ve had colleagues struggle to comprehend my orientation. I’ve taken the time to interact with those people and found that has been hugely beneficial in breaking down barriers. That personal understanding has a far greater impact than a lengthy corporate presentation about diversity policies. We’re all just people with the same fears and concerns as one another – if we can take the time to speak to those who are different to us, we can achieve a mutual understanding. I believe in a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ ethos so it’s not about negatively impacting heterosexual white men, it’s about how better diversity in our industry can benefit everyone.

What top tips would you give to a woman who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Try to be true to yourself and avoid re-modelling just to fit the environment. Make sure you’ve got a really technically sound understanding as it’s a sad reality that you will need to prove yourself in order to be taken seriously. Developing strong relationships with colleagues is key too; that has served me really well here at DataStax when I need help with a project or in a moment of conflict.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here