As a college student or teenager, it can be incredibly intimidating to approach and network with more experienced professionals. And, okay… as a young professional myself, I haven’t found the experience to get that much easier. After all, the whole idea is that you’re approaching a stranger (or colleague, or colleague-of-a-friend, etc.) that you don’t actually know very well, and asking for a few minutes of their precious time. In exchange for, well, nothing.
The good news is, I’ve found that more often than not, if you ask politely and respectfully, and have a real willingness to listen and learn, that person will almost always grace you with their help, either over the phone, via email, or in person.
Some of the biggest roadblocks for women in STEM include a lack of role models and the idea of feeling like an "outsider" in the industry. To help more women feel less alone — and find a community within the science, tech, engineering and math industries — we partnered with Dice, your go-to resource for discovering opportunities, insights, and connections in technology. And proving my earlier theory to be true, professional women in STEM were more than happy to answer my call for help. Here’s the best advice for women interested in tech, according to six women in STEM.
1. Never Stop Learning
“Never. Stop. Learning. Tech moves fast.
"I'm self-taught in writing code and believe that if you are passionate and have the drive to be in the tech industry, you can jump in headfirst and move up very quickly. Places like Code Academy and Treehouse offer online courses; organizations like Girl Develop It (which I work for) and Women Who Code offer affordable classes, workshops, and networking events that help you meet people locally, and even checking out Meetup for groups specific to what area of tech you want to get into are all great options.
I also try to use each project as a step to learn a new technique or try out something I've never done before. It helps me add more things to my toolbox and keeps me excited on every project I do.”
— Andrea Cannistra, Interactive Designer at Ringling College of Art & Design, Co-Founder of Girl Develop It Tampa Bay.
2. Everyone Learns Differently
"Learning how to learn is perhaps harder than learning how to code. As an instructor for Girl Develop It, I see students getting started in programming struggle with this. You must keep in mind everyone learns differently, and you need to understand how you learn best. Maybe you will do better at learning from a classroom, or learning from online videos. There are so many resources out there, many of which are available for free. You just have to find the one that fits your learning style best.
— Cecy Correa, software engineer at ReturnPath
3. Ask For Help
"My best advice for women interested in tech is not to go it alone. When you are thinking about your goals, look for people who are doing the things you hope to be doing someday, and ask them how they got there. I have had many mentors over the years and I try my best to keep in touch with them. Now I am finding that I can start to return the favor, to help advise other women in tech and pave the way to a better industry for them to thrive in.
"Today, I work at IBM on the Watson Data Platform as a Developer Advocate, which means my job is to be the face of my company to the developer community. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for a slew of amazing mentors who advised me and helped me reach my potential. "
4. Don’t Get Discouraged By Failure
“Don’t get discouraged if you fail the first time. You just have to get back on your bicycle and go! In college, I felt ready to take on the tech industry, so I decided I would study computer science at University of Michigan. The first computer science class I signed up for, I failed badly. But hey, the first time I tried to ride a bicycle, I failed too and had a skinned knee and a twisted ankle to show for it. I knew if I wanted to achieve my goal I had to put in the work, so I signed up to take the class again, and passed. This was a pivotal point in my college career and I still follow the same method. If I fail at something, I try again almost immediately. Most times, it takes me three to five times to get something right, but hey, it’s better than just giving up on something I really want.”
— Dona Sarkar, chief Windows Insider Program lead at Microsoft
5. The Sky's The Limit!
"You can learn anything you want! When you are in the STEM fields, technology is constantly evolving. You may have learned one language or program in college and now the field is using a newer language. Just remember, you aren't behind or 'stupid' — you just get to learn something new each day."
— Nicole Kelner, co-founder & COO of The Coding Space
6. Ignore The "Haters"
"There are going to be people — including yourself, once in a while — who do not believe you are naturally good enough, smart enough, or that you belong.
"There is not a lick of truth to this sentiment. Ignore them, keep going, and you will amaze yourself. Get involved with a network of people who support you (i.e., tech meet-ups or conferences that are specifically inclusive, geared towards women, or have codes of conduct), give back to and support other women and underrepresented groups in tech, and maintain your relationships with your non-tech friends. It is tough being a woman in tech simply because your gender is always on the table as a talking point — it wears down on you. Keep good people around you, and keep going."
— Tam Dang, software engineer
This post is sponsored by Dice.