13 years in Tech as a woman: Part 1

Being in Tech, and being a woman, I’ve been asked a lot to share about my experience… as woman in Tech.

I have to admit it is a slight nuisance because I consider my gender to be the least interesting aspect of my career. It’s not even that much interesting when paired with being in Tech. I don’t have any inspiring journey to share about how I “made it” in Tech as a female. I did not find anything particularly challenging that I can attribute to me being a female. I went with the flow, learned, tinkered, had fun.

But as they say, you can’t read the label from the inside, so I wouldn’t argue that there are some gaps in the way I experience the whole journey — blindspots and all, compared to what people perceive.

I think designing a more inclusive environment in the tech industry is a worthwhile cause. I just haven’t spent much deliberate time thinking about it. I then realised it also means that I haven’t done my best to use my voice and power to make positive impact in this direction.

More and more I’ve come to understand why representation is important. It’s somewhat empowering to see people like you talking about things you thought only you are struggling with and doing things you never considered or know is even possible. It normalises things, broadens the boundary of your imagination, and for lack of a better term: inspires you.

So, I will use the next couple of posts to share my current thoughts, observations, and experience as a woman who chose to have career in the Tech industry.

I decided to split it into a couple of posts so it’s more easily digestible. Trying to chew slower and savour more things in life!

I pondered whether or not I should include a) living limited mobility and b) being a double minority demography in Indonesia, a country with the largest population of Moslem in the world and a history of racial profiling and discrimination against Chinese descent, but I’ll postpone that one for now. Perhaps will revisit and expand this series someday once I collected more reflections of my relevant experiences on this aspect.

Part 1 (you are here)
1. Context
2. Why I got into Tech
3. A lens

Part 2
4. Mindset
5. It’s the norm
6. Caution

Part 3
7. So what do I need to do?
8. Why do we self sabotage?
9. Ask and you’ll get (?)

Part 4
10. I have a dream
11. The fourth be with us. Resources, inspiring folks and communities

Why I got into Tech

When I made the decision to major in Computer Science in college back in 2000, I had only two things in my mind:

  1. I really love tinkering with this black box and I’d like to dive deeper — like a pandora box full of things to discover and learn more about.
  2. Out of all my interests, IT seemed to be where I can acquire the most practical and applicable hard skills. I thought to myself that I can pick up psychology, literature, and philosophy later. First things first: make money. Very realistic South East Asian :D.

So I was quite oblivious or ignorant about the gender aspect. Sure I am vaguely aware of “IT is for guys” but I didn’t put too much thought into it. All I know is: I like this.

I went on to work in various individual contributor roles in software development. From desktop, then web — full stack then focusing on back end, and dabbled in mobile. From there I organically narrowed my focus to data engineering, and now specialised in Data Acquisition and Web Automation. I’ve moved into several technical lead and people’s manager role as well. All in all I consider I had a smooth and fulfilling career — always growing and learning.

A Lens

We are only limited to what we think is possible. There are four possibilities here:
– First is when you’re not aware of the box but you’re curious. You wander around and sometimes walked through a gate that everyone thought is locked. Infinity by oblivion.
– Second is you’re not aware of the box. But you’re happy where you are. Never strayed far from where you started. Untapped potential.
– Third is you know where and how the box is formed — the frame, the ceiling, the floor, everything. You then believe that the box is what it is, are so used to it, learned to fit in and thrive in the box. Paralysis by conformity.
– Fourth is you know where and how the box is formed but you seek for the edges, wanting to figure out how to expand the box or carve a way out. The activists.

Different people operate in different mode in different times in their lives. First mode was me in high school, and largely, even till now.

I think by the time we talk about “closing the gap” now, we are thinking about the second and the third mode.

The way we solve for untapped potential is we expose this path of technology to more underrepresented people and encourage them to try. We try to widen their horizon of possibility by giving stage to role models. Because yes representation matters.

This benefits mostly people who are just getting started in their career.

The way we solve for paralysis by conformity is to expand the box and change the status quo. For example, setting up fair and inclusive policies in the workplaces, making senior leaders and managers champions of diversity, foster an inclusive and respectful culture, calling out and dismantling toxic “bro culture”, and so on.

This benefits the people who have broken through that initial barrier, if he or she believes it exists, and are now in the system. They are now trying to navigate the system, which are sometimes not set up in their favour.

And thanks to the people operating in the fourth mode, I’m deeply amazed at the progress I’ve seen in the past 10 years or so. I see how many more women are in tech these days. From technical leadership, to down in the trenches getting their hands dirty with the stack. It’s working.

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