Too often, women are asked what it is like to be a women engineer, rather than being asked about the groundbreaking technology they’ve built. In last three years, Code Like a Girl interviewed close to two hundred women engineers from all over the world, every continent in the world, including Antarctica. In those interviews, they learned about some incredible accomplishments and advice.
Talk about what you are proud of.
We were surprised to find that the hardest question for most women to answer, irrespective of whether she was a CEO of a tech company, a founder or a high school student, was “What are you proud of?” Many were surprised to hear the question in the first place. Most weren’t used to talking openly about their accomplishments. We interviewed a bright young engineer, Sanya Khurana from New Delhi, India whose first response was, “I am proud of being a mentor and starting a Lean In circle”. Those are obviously terrific. On prodding, Sanya realized that she actually felt uncomfortable talking about her cool Android app, which is what she is most proud of having built. It is not always easy to talk about what you are proud of, but it is important.
Every story is different, but the advice is universal.
Irrespective of position, location, education background, women engineers’ advice is universal. The four main themes that resonated throughout our interviews were:
Find a support system:
Only 20% of students pursuing degrees in engineering are women (ASEE, 2015). This low representation of women has shown to be in part due to women’s low self-efficacy in engineering (Plant et al, 2009) and lack of supportive communities to sustain their motivation in an often competitive engineering classroom culture (O’Connor et al, 2007). Look for support systems around you to help you figure out how to code and how to push through the tough times. Don’t let stereotypes define you.
Don’t doubt yourself:
Research suggests that self-efficacy, or one’s belief in their abilities to achieve a task, is critical to persistence, emotional responses to stress, and performance (Bandura, 1986; Stumpf et al., 1987; Gist, et al. 1989). Research also suggests that there is a relationship between self-efficacy and student registration in computer science classes in universities (Hill, et al., 1987), career choice and development (Betz & Hackett, 1981; Jones, 1986), and innovative technological work (Burkhart and Brass, 1990).
Break down problems, stay persistent:
Programming or any engineering task can feel quite overwhelming. “How the heck am I supposed to send a woman to moon?” or “How do I manage 10 million queries per second?” Engineers can feel overwhelmed and daunted, but they still carry on. The women we spoke to didn’t grow up feeling confident, or wanting to be engineers. But they were curious, persistent and had a deep passion for learning.