What we talk about when we talk about tech jobs.

I stopped reading main stream news articles about the lack of women in technology. I care deeply about the gender gap in tech, but I don’t need to read the article to know what they’ll report. Lots of women go to college, not enough get computer science degrees, even fewer get jobs and stick with programming or development after they graduate.  I’m a woman in tech, and none of that is my story. Let’s talk more about all of us without a CS degree. Let’s talk about the jobs that aren’t programming or development.

Working in tech puts you in a position for high-salary, great benefits and access to further opportunity.  I want more women to do it.  However, the stereotypical tech employee, as depicted in main stream television and film, is a young male developer with a CS degree. (Ok, sometimes you get the male dev who dropped out – Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs – but how many of us can honestly relate to them?)  Tech jobs aren’t limited to developers, CS degrees or men. The media isn’t addressing the large number folks like myself that don’t get paid to develop, yet still reap the benefits of a job in technology.

There’s a huge demand for application development, and for that reason I’m thankful for efforts to teach programming and computer science to girls. The stronger the demand for application development, the more opportunity exists for these surrounding roles in tech. In addition to developers, tech companies need:

  • Design (Web, Graphic Designers, UX engineers)
  • Infrastructure (Data centers, Networks, Systems)
  • Database Administrators (DBAs)
  • Testing (Quality Assurance)
  • Project and Product Management
  • People to answer and resolve your questions and issues (Customer Service and Support, Community Management)
  • Documentation (Technical Writers)
  • Data analysis (Business Analyst, Data Scientists)
  • Sales and Marketing to ensure longevity or the application
  • HR
  • IT (Helpdesk)
  • Administrative assistance, office management…
  • The list goes on….believe me

This is the story that needs to be told. We need more examples of technology jobs and more diverse role models for women who have not yet stepped in to this industry.  Women need to know where to aim before taking the leap in to the mostly unknown. My ego wants you to understand how much impact I have on technology empowering free-speech around the world, without being a developer. I want to tell you what I do so I can encourage you to do this, too. I’d like for you to know that the doors are still open to you.

Technology is created and supported by folks from all sorts of backgrounds. I encourage anyone to consider working in tech regardless of experience, talents or background. The more broadly we talk about all tech jobs, the better chance we have of recruiting a more diverse group. Technology companies will benefit from this diversity. We will better meet the needs of our users when we are made up by those we serve.

This Sunday I’ll be discussing this topic along with other women on the panel “Tech jobs you never knew you wanted”. Come say hi to us at GeekGirlCon!

18 responses to “What we talk about when we talk about tech jobs.”

  1. Well said, on several points; like you I find the themes in a lot of mainstream articles to be missing the point, especially that comp sci graduates are not a substantial part of my view on the computer industry, that there’s a good mix of people with a broad range of technical and non-technical qualifications, and those without.

  2. I’m so thrilled you’re coming to GeekGirlCon!

    As a woman who has a job in tech that didn’t exist when I was growing up, YES. Cannot wait for your talk.

  3. Great list. As a developer, most of those jobs don’t interest me. It can be hard to sell other people on a job when you don’t understand how it could be enjoyable.

    1. Jameson – honest feedback, I like that. The funny thing is, I can’t sell a developer job 😉 Get me talking about technical operations or database administration to an interested party and I won’t stop.

  4. This is a really great article! I just started learning Python at Hackbright Academy (for women), and I love it!

  5. Thank you SO much for this article. As a tech recruiter who focuses on getting more women in the industry, I often get frustrated that the focus is always on typical IT jobs – sysadmins, developers, etc – rather than looking at the industry as a whole.

    In volunteering in the schools, they wanted us to find Engineers to encourage kids to look at careers in tech. And what I had to convince them of was, we need a diverse group of people working in technology, not just Developers! The company I used to work for had so many “hybrid” positions (i.e., consultants who had been sysadmins, product managers with software marketing background, salespeople with experience working directly with sysadmins) – how are these not important roles to encourage people of all color/gender/age to get into in the tech field? And hey, they even let me, the tech recruiter come along, because I hire all of these folks.

    Why? Because the more involved in tech, the greater understanding there is. It eliminates ignorance. It broadens horizons. It encourages bravery.

  6. Lisa,

    Amazing writing as always! 🙂

    I absolutely agree that the tech community at large benefits tremendously from diversity of thought. As a hiring manager, I have found that my most cohesive, productive, and innovative teams consist of team members from completely different walks of life, educational backgrounds, etc. The consistent narrative that the mainstream media pushes about gender inequality regarding CS graduates completely misses the point, and misinforms millions every night about the tech industry. For one, CS programs do an objectively poor job of getting students ready for the workplace. Secondly, as you said, there are many technology-driven jobs that don’t require graph theory or the knowledge of how to build your own compilers, or how to implement your own sorting algorithm. By maintaining the narrative, we are effectively steering women, among others, away from possibly lucrative careers, in very much the same way that grade schools steer girls away from hard sciences or mathematics, and in the same way that high schools steer less privileged youth toward careers in the military.

    For many entry-level developer positions and ancillary technical jobs, often times all it takes is initiative, an opportunity, and the confidence that you can do the job. The media narrative that CS degrees are necessary, and that fewer women are taking CS classes creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I guess my question is then..how do we as a technical community change these disenfranchising perceptions, and in such a way that media portrayals are more accurate?

    1. Thank you for highlighting what you value on a technical team. I don’t think you’re alone, but it is a voice not often heard. We continue to see this focus on recent college graduates, leaving out so many in this country who can use their initiative toward an industry that the US actually excels in!

      I think addressing it starts with conversations like these – and continues through company sponsored programs and recruiting efforts that look outside of colleges. More focus should be placed on in-house training opportunities for entry-level workers. It wasn’t formal, but that’s how I got my training.

      I think a lot of tech workers of my generation who didn’t go the college route had mentors and opportunities to learn from small tech companies. A lot of us grew up at ISPs or internet cafes and learned as we went. I wonder if these opportunities still exist for youth who are interested and ambitious?

  7. Hi Lisa! Funny thing to me that anybody reports on number of women in CS departments as being relevant to anything. My core computer skills were mostly self-taught through tinkering, which was highly encouraged by my parents. I wonder what the gender gap is for encouragement to tinker!

    As for formal studies, I barely minored in CS. It was an awful environment for learning. I majored in Linguistics, and at least half of my classmates were women. The skills I learned in linguistics class — systematic thinking, formal logic, concise communication and argumentation — are ones I use every day at work as a programmer.

  8. […] Celebrate the Female Geek GeekGirlCon ’12 Preview: Lady Coders Geek Girls Support One Another What we talk about when we talk about tech jobs Why You Need To Go To GeekGirlCon This Weekend! A review: The Treatment of Women in Geek Culture […]

  9. Hi, Lisa. I think you make an excellent point that anyone who equates “tech jobs” with “developer jobs” should think again. But I guess my experience in reading mainstream articles about women in tech has been different from yours — I try to find articles about women programmers, and instead all I seem to be able to find is articles about women in so-called “supporting” roles.

    I recently watched a video that was billed as containing interviews with women programmers. I started watching with high hopes, but in the first interview, the first words the interviewee said were “I’m not a developer!” In the next, the interviewee said that she no longer wrote code after becoming a manager. It’s similarly frustrating when “women to watch in tech” lists mostly don’t include programmers. It never seems my role models are being represented.

  10. “Tech jobs aren’t limited to developers, CS degrees, or men.”

    Absolutely. But one of those things is not like the others. About half of humanity is born male. No one is born a developer or with a CS degree.

    Ability to write code is learned, not innate. It would be a shame if someone read that sentence and thought that it meant that, for a woman who’s not a developer, becoming a developer is about as attainable as becoming male.

  11. I think you make an excellent point when you say that anyone who thinks that tech jobs are limited to developer jobs should think again. Certainly no woman considering a tech job should think that being a programmer is her only option. But my experience has been that it would be hard to come away with that impression from mainstream news reporting about women in tech. In my experience, “women to watch in tech” articles seem to mostly be about business development people and product strategists, not programmers. In fact, my fear is that the reader will come away thinking that being a programmer is not an option for women.

    1. Lindsey –

      Valid points and thanks for taking the time to reply. I, too, feel the pain and have that ugh moment when “women in tech” means a marketing position in a tech company.

      That said, for those that have an interest in a tech job but don’t have a CS degree, or do not yet program, taking a supporting role is a great way to get your foot in the door. What you do from there is largely going to be based on your interest and aptitude.

      As a MySQL DBA, I work in a strictly technical role and have for the last 15 years. That said, I’m not a programmer. Perhaps a good follow-up is discussing roles in systems, database, network administration and operations work – all very technical roles that are well paid and vital in any web operations company. I addressed this in my post, but that point may have been lost. I find more women programmers than women filling in the technical operations roles in my industry. I’d like to see that change.

      1. Thanks (and sorry about all the separate comments — thought WordPress ate my first comment, but I guess it got through!).

        I find more women programmers than women filling in the technical operations roles in my industry. I’d like to see that change.

        Ah, yeah. It would be interesting to know why that is. My hunch (although I have no data to support it) is that, although double standards are everywhere, there’s a worse double standard for those without formal CS education than for those with it: women technologists who don’t have CS degrees are trusted less than men technologists who don’t have them, and men are given the benefit of the doubt and assumed to have been self-taught, whereas women are not. I wonder if you’ve experienced this?

        I usually encourage women to get CS degrees, because I don’t want them to have to experience that situation of not being given the benefit of the doubt. But it’s infuriating that the double standard exists, especially since, as one or two other commenters have said, a lot of formal CS education at the undergrad level is honestly going to be boring and irrelevant, and someone who goes that route is in many ways going to be at a disadvantage to someone who jumps into, say, a sysadmin job after high school or a couple years of college, and learns on the job. (And I say this as a career academic.)

        One other unrelated thought is that I’m not sure where the line between programmer and not lies. It kind of surprises me that you say you’re not a programmer. I guess one way to differentiate between programmers and not-programmers would be to say that if code itself is the product that someone is expected to deliver, then she’s a programmer, whereas, say, a data scientist’s job or or a DBA’s job or a sysadmin’s job is to deliver on some other goal, and the fact that she may happen to write some code to do it is just incidental. But there doesn’t seem to be any hard line between the two (and besides, code itself isn’t ever really the end goal, regardless of job title).

  12. […] Once inside the company, learn from peers in other departments. Volunteer for projects that are outside of your comfort zone. You may find you are particularly interested in an area you hadn’t considered before. You may find you don’t want to learn to program. That’s fine! […]

  13. Amen says an IT Project Manager with a specialty in information security policy!

    I was in the first class of the MS in information security policy and management program at Carnegie Mellon. I was one of two women in the program. I was also pretty much the only one in the program who was truly interested in policy and management without any hands on technical work. I still pushed myself do well in my more technical CS classes because I felt that I had to overcome any perception that I chose my focus because of an inability to grasp technical details. I, however, was unapologetic about the fact that although I was perfectly capable of doing the tech work, my interest was more in guiding solutions to success and creating security awareness across the user community.

    Nowadays technology touches everything, which means women with a variety of strengths can find a home in our community. IT needs instructors, designers, managers, writers and so much more. We have to let women and girls know that technology is an option even if they haven’t written a line of code or memorized the OSI stack.

  14. […] their work without a CS (or any) degree, nevermind a graduate degree on top of that. In the article What we talk about when we talk about tech jobs, after a great description of her own story and types of tech jobs, Lisa Phillips notes that […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: