The path to Silicon Valley: How to get into the IT world as a woman and thrive in it

Female working in a Technical Support Team Gives Instructions with the Help of the Headsets. In the Background People Working and Monitors Show Various Information, SysAdmin Day

The path to success is a long one. Especially, when you are a woman. Especially in the IT industry.

I heard these statements lots of times on all kinds of different occasions. However, the years go by and these common misconceptions have become nothing more than mere stereotypes. Today the whole world is actively making its way towards gender equality. Wages and salaries are calculated based on skill, not gender, and women take over the leadership roles in business. Companies adopt policies with strict rules on hiring and career growth opportunities of employees, leaving no place for gender inequality.

However, even the most developed countries such as the USA and Canada are still far from true gender parity. Women there sure do feel more confident in their “non-female” professions but equality in payment and career growth opportunities is only yet to be seen. Senior Quality Assurance Associate at Testfort, Viktoria Voloshina, shares her personal experience on how a woman can go from being a trainee to a team lead with 100+ people under their management.

How it all began

Today a female quality assurance engineer would hardly surprise anyone. But let’s go 13 years back when I have only become one. I used to catch bewildered glances at work. A funny story happened to me when I got a new position. At a meeting, where I was the only woman, a client was asking a lot of technical questions that they addressed to my male colleagues. The funny thing was that I, a woman, was the only person in the room who knew the answers to those questions.

Today situations like this are very rare. People start realizing that women are as good for technical professions as men. And here is why.

Different perspectives lead to better products

Men and women see the world differently. They have different logical chains building up in their heads, so they notice different qualities of a product when they evaluate them. For example, women are good at noticing the smallest details, while men are good at analyzing the big picture. So together they can explore the product from a 360 degrees perspective. Quite often women have a very different perspective on working with products, and software development companies should exploit this. After all, the products we help our clients build and test are used by everyone—both men and women.

Self-development and career growth

Women have a bigger passion for self-improvement. According to the statistics presented by DOU, Ukraine’s biggest community of IT professionals, Ukrainian women are more intensively engaged in self-education than men. 66% of women go to online courses and trainings compared to the 56% of men that attend them. IT events are also more appreciated by women (33% of women compared to 23% of men).

It was my self-development efforts that brought me from the role of a junior to a middle, then to a senior, and now I am the head of my own department. I have a large team of 100 people under my supervision, but I started with only 10 employees. I like to see how the team develops and grows, and the complexity of our projects increases.

And as a leader I understand that it’s not the gender of a team member that’s important to me but their skills and desire to mature as a professional. A person with perseverance and determination for self-improvement can be seen from miles away—and it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. I always give such people a chance regardless of their gender.

Empathy improves processes within the company

Some may assume that there’s no place for emotions in IT, but they are mistaken. IT is a combination of complex processes, large teams, and constant communication. To keep all this in good shape, the self-control of men wouldn’t be enough, you need women’s empathy.

The result depends on a lot more than well-written code. It is important to pay attention to how the processes are established within the company, and understand how communication is handled. It is a little easier for women to build a dialogue, negotiate, and convey their message. A woman feels the person they are talking to, and this empathy helps them in their work. For example, when communicating with a client, a woman catches the mood of their interlocutor and can quickly turn the conversation into a different direction. It’s difficult for a man to rebuild a dialogue as quickly as a woman would.

Yes, some women get more emotional before important meetings than men. But in the same way some men can be too straightforward and persistent in situations they absolutely shouldn’t be. This must be accounted for when preparing for a meeting. And sometimes it is easier for a woman to predict how a person will behave at a meeting.

I take different approaches towards different employees depending on their personality. And it makes no difference to me whether they are a man or a woman. I see the person I communicate with and speak the language they understand. At least at some level, I understand the values and know the character of each of my colleagues, and there are more than a hundred on my team.

Balance in the team

The research shows that gender diversity has a positive effect on business. The surveyed companies have drawn a parallel between women holding management positions and company growth, higher shareholder value, and greater profitability.

When I joined TestFort, the female to male ratio in the company was around 30/70 percent. Today this indicator has grown to 50/50 in regard to the positions of team leaders. This helps provide, what I call, complementary thinking. The company gets different opinions, and thus can see the full picture.

Besides, a man and a woman differ in their actions and decision-making, which can only strengthen the team. It is easier for a woman to teach someone, to organize the process, and men are good at execution. This is how they complement each other. Even so, one must take into account that it is not only a matter of gender, but also of the person’s experience gained, their temperament, and upbringing.

Women love it in IT

Another well-known stereotype is that women quickly get bored with IT. It is not true. As for the professions involved, there is a wide range of possibilities from classic programming to product management. Some enjoy writing code, while others will find themselves well in a managerial position. But most importantly, both the first and the second can be a woman.

It is important to be clear at the interview about what you like and what you can do. Women tend to downplay their merits by saying “we” instead of “me,” even though one person did the job. You need to be specific and show your technical knowledge. Then it will be easier for the company to understand what tasks you can perform the best and what you enjoy doing.

Checklist: how to become a part of an IT company and settle

  • Understand what you want to do. The world of IT professions is so vast that every second person at least once thought about trying something new. Find your role in this industry.
  • Be persistent. It’s through perseverance and persistence that I learned everything I know today. 13 years ago I came to get a job. Completed the test task, did even more than I had to. I didn’t notice all the errors but I took the task with zeal. And now I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
  • Look up to other women. Nothing is more motivating than the success stories of other women in the industry. Their paths can show you the direction you should take.
  • Find yourself a mentor. Many companies practice mentoring. It is good when a woman is taught by another woman who has already passed the “baptism of fire” and can give some practical advice.
  • Try networking. Courses, trainings, and events are not just educational tools, they are an opportunity to meet the right people.
  • Never stop developing yourself. The world moves at a rapid pace: new technologies appear and people’s needs change accordingly. Keep up with trends and learn new things every day.
  • Don’t be afraid to be honest with your management about what you like and what you don’t. This will help you feel more comfortable in the company and be a part of it for as long as you keep it that way. If you are tired of a project, speak your mind freely instead of waiting, enduring it, or looking for a new job.

Closing thoughts

A woman is not a man in a skirt. But you can be both an attractive woman and an irreplaceable expert in your field at the same time. So far, you need a hardened character and the ability to stand up for yourself to prove this. But times change. More and more companies understand that IT is not a “male” sphere despite there still being more men in it than women. It doesn’t matter what your gender, race, or even musical taste are. A woman can be a great developer and a man can be a talented recruiter. After all, it’s your skills and passion for what you do that really matter in a career path you’ve chosen to take.

Victoria VoloshinaAbout the author

My name is Victoria Voloshina, Sr. QA Associate at TestFort. I have more than 10 years of experience in quality assurance and software testing. As a team lead on one of TestFort’s largest QA projects and a Sr. QA Associate, I use my broad technical background and strong knowledge of quality assurance processes to successfully tackle even the most challenging projects with the latest software testing tools and techniques.