Can you have a successful career in tech if you are like me and don’t fit into the stereotypical profile of a software developer?
My journey into tech
My path to becoming a software developer was not paved with enthusiasm from an early age. I can't claim that I was ever interested in computer technology before attending university. My knowledge of computers was limited to the ICT subject at secondary school, and I may have occasionally used Microsoft Word and PowerPoint a few times in college. And that was all the exposure I had to all things tech.
You might be wondering how I came to choose a profession in technology if I didn't care for it. Well, I come from an Asian immigrant family, and the stereotype that Asian parents want their children to pursue a career in medicine was true in my case. I soon realised in college that medicine wasn't my calling. But, up until that point, I had been following my parents' job aspirations for me. I hadn't figured out what I really enjoyed or wanted to learn more about.
I was always told that there was "the right time to study". Unfortunately, due to family and cultural expectations, I couldn't take a break from my education to discover my passion. I chose BSc Computer Science because I knew a few people who were enrolled in this programme.
Studying Computer Science
I was pretty clueless going into university, as I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it came to programming. It didn't help that some of my classmates began referring to me as "the clueless girl". I guess it was easy to notice as I was one of five girls in a course with over a hundred guys.
Most of my peers had spent much of their lives around computers, tinkering with tech and building custom PCs. And I was thinking, what the heck is this “RAM” that everyone keeps talking about?
Wanting to quit
Over time, I grew to enjoy problem-solving and programming. I made some great friends who supported and pushed me to reach my potential. But despite doing well on all my exams and assignments, I was plagued by self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Most of my classmates appeared very passionate about computer technology and confident and proud in their understanding of the subject, but unfortunately there was also a lot of tech snobbery. It also didn't help when two girls dropped out of the course after the first year. I felt entirely out of place and wanted to quit.
However, I knew that if I quit, I would always wonder if I had allowed my insecurities to get the best of me and miss out on a chance to work as a developer. So, I decided to keep working hard and finish my course.
Graduating at the top of my class
My hard work and dedication paid off, as I graduated with first-class honours at the top of my class. For my final year dissertation, I achieved the highest marks (95%) from not only my course but the entire Computing faculty at my university. I also published my first peer-reviewed journal research paper in a reputable AI journal. In my professor's teaching career, I was the only undergraduate student to accomplish this feat.
The same people who had previously mocked me for being clueless congratulated me at our graduation ceremony. It was undoubtedly a proud moment for me.
Working in the industry
I've been working in the industry for four years now. I've had my fair share of bad experiences at previous jobs, including getting talked over in meetings, having male co-workers take credit for my work, being told that I'm "too pretty to be a developer", and being approached for a date after an interview.
However, I know this isn't the complete representation of the industry. I've been surrounded by many people who want to see me grow and celebrate my success and hard work.
I don’t let a few bad experiences overshadow my achievements. My dedication and hard work have consistently been recognised, resulting in rapid promotions at every job I’ve had so far.
Rock Solid Knowledge
I'm currently at Rock Solid Knowledge, working with incredible individuals and cutting-edge technologies in a friendly working environment. I'm passionate about the products I build, and I thoroughly enjoy my work and coding.
However, I still don't code in my spare time. In fact, I don't have any programming IDEs installed on my personal PC. I zone out when my colleagues start talking about gaming or the best and latest gadget on the market. But I’m sure they also tune out when I start talking about cats and Gilmore Girls. So, it balances out.
We have a continuous learning culture at Rock Solid Knowledge, which is one of the main reasons I don't find it necessary to keep up with technology on my own time. We can spend 10% of our time researching and learning new skills and technologies. There is no tech snobbery because we all learn from each other in a flat organisational structure through in-house training and brown bag sessions.
We highly value diversity and are working towards getting B Corp Certified. I am valued as an individual, not just as a developer.
You can also do it
I hope that my unconventional story has shrugged off some of your doubts and fears about potentially pursuing a career in tech. You don't have to live and breathe software to be a good software developer, and programming isn't just for those who also pursue it as a hobby. As clichéd as it may sound, you will succeed in whichever path you choose if you put in the time and effort.
Here's some advice I wish someone had given me when I first entered the field:
- Don’t be afraid to break stereotypes - You bring a unique perspective and experience, which is essential for a diverse and creative team.
- Don’t compare yourself to others - Everyone’s journey is unique. Work at your own pace to achieve your goals.
- Believe in yourself - Everyone has ups and downs, even if they appear to have it all together. There are moments when I still doubt my skills and have to remind myself of how far I've come. Always believe in yourself and follow your career aspirations.
- Work hard and never give up - Progress is progress, no matter how small or big. Keep working on your goals, and you will surely succeed.
If you’d like some ideas on how to get started, here are some ways that have worked for me and my peers:
- Attend tech Meetups and events - Meetups are a great way to network with a wide range of individuals from various backgrounds. Through Women Who Code, I have met many incredible women who are in different phases of their lives and tech careers.
- Attend tech workshops - If you are new to coding, there are groups and workshops dedicated to helping women develop their coding skills, such as Code First: Girls.
- Learn online - Websites like Codecademy and Freecodecamp are great for interactive coding sessions.
- Follow tech influencers - Amazing female blogs, such as SheCanCode, Tess Ferrandez and Carmel Eve, and influencers, such as Tamara Johanna, provide a daily dose of inspiration and keep you attuned to events occurring in the field.
- Explore tech careers - If coding isn't your thing, don't worry; plenty of tech jobs don't require it.
See how you could start a successful career at Rock Solid Knowledge.