Today is World Ada Lovelace Day – an international day to celebrate women in STEM – so I wanted to share some thoughts as a woman newly in tech and as the proud recipient of the Coder Academy’s Women in Tech scholarship.
Firstly, a little bit about myself: I studied pharmacy and started my career as a clinical pharmacist, working in metropolitan and rural hospitals. I then did a little sidestep into the health IT industry and became a functional consultant for hospital IT solutions. During this time, I never gave much thought to the gender gap issue. In pharmacy, the majority of students and colleagues were actually female and at my previous health IT company, although there were more men overall, there were also a number of women in leadership positions.
This year, I decided to study coding to go deeper into the world of health IT innovation. However, even as a woman hoping to make great strides in this industry, a small part of me still wondered if there was a legitimate reason for programming stereotypically being a “guy thing”.
So imagine my surprise when, in one of our first classes, I learnt about an amazing woman named Ada Lovelace. I couldn’t believe until 4 weeks ago, I never knew that such an accomplished mind existed. The first computer programmer was a woman! My life as I knew it shifted a little that day. I suddenly felt there was an invisible space-time thread linking me to this woman. Ada Lovelace wrote some brilliant notes in 1842 - the world’s first algorithm - and now here I am, learning Ruby. I realized there was absolutely no foundation at all for programming to be a male-dominated area.
So – we’re now 4 weeks in, and my own experience entering the world of coding so far has been very exciting. To have the freedom and the luxury of being immersed in a learning environment is something I truly appreciate. I am surrounded by enthusiastic and friendly classmates, and supported by teachers and staff who are generous with their knowledge and time.
Yet at the back of my mind, I am conscious of the fact that I am one of only three women in our class of 16 students. As I get more involved in the tech industry, through reading articles and hearing from industry insiders, I have become acutely aware of the gender gap and the need to address it. Therefore, while I started this course being a little naïve about the issues facing women in tech, as well as being motivated by personal reasons to forge a new passion and career path, I now willingly hold myself responsible for supporting girls and women in the industry, in any way I can.
There are varying statistics as to how many women are working in STEM and at what level and I believe there is more awareness now than ever to address the gender gap. I recently read a wonderfully succinct article by Sue Siegel (CEO of GE Ventures, Licensing & Healthymagination at GE) on this very subject. Siegel articulated what I myself was not able to put into words but I agree with her that the issue nowadays isn’t about overt sexism or misogyny but rather an acceptance of the status quo that is so ingrained. I now defer to her experience and expertise on how we can all take responsibility and have summarized her 3 key points:
Observe your situation and make it work for you
Change takes time and until time travel is invented, we can only work in the time that we live in. Sorry for using the word time 3 times in that sentence. (And twice in that sentence!) We can nudge progress in the right direction by doing our best in whatever capacity we can.
Share your lessons with others
At Coder Academy, we have had a number of mentors come through to impart their wisdom. All were inspiring, but one in particular gave me intense hope for myself in the industry. She was a fellow young woman, who had made it through her coding bootcamp course and is now working at successful IT company. It was like looking into a possible future (so pretty much like time travel). I only hope I will be able to do that for someone else one day.
Use your voice
Another way of putting this is to be the change you want to see. Sometimes it’s not easy to do “the thing”, whatever that thing may be. We can second-guess ourselves or get swayed by other people’s opinions. I grew up being too shy to use my voice but I’m learning it’s OK to question the status quo. It’s OK to look a bit silly or make mistakes, especially if the end game is creating an open and safe environment for all to enjoy. (It’s also OK to force your classmates to have a pizza party with you because you know, deep down; they love pizza just as much as you do.)
As with everything in life, I believe the goal is to achieve balance. From there, the only way is up - for men, women and the industry. I am grateful to Coder Academy for their part in supporting women in the industry. Hopefully in time, the Women in Tech scholarship will become the Humans in Tech scholarship!
Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
About Sharon Chen: Before pursuing a web development career and joining our Fast Track Bootcamp, Sharon worked as a pharmacist and calligrapher. She likes picnics, learning languages, and board game nights. She's also currently going through a pink phase.
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