I am a mom who also works in information technology (IT) when I’m not tending to my children and here are my thoughts on being a woman working in the IT industry.
I’ve explored every aspect of it from design to programming, web analytics, development and user experience, so I guess you could say I wear and have worn many hats. Even when I was working long hours for a start up shop over ten years ago, I still could not compare the level of work involved to what I am experiencing now as a parent, which is much more challenging since you are raising tiny humans and hoping they turn out okay – while being on call 24/7.
Working in IT is a hard job too – especially as a woman raising small children.
Here is my experience, including why I would recommend this field to any moms outside the field now that are looking for a career change.
Let me start off by saying that I was never a gadget or tech geek, or even a little nerdy. I grew up as a girl interested in fashion and art. In fact – the majority of my friends are mainly in artistic fields. I would have liked to pursue that route ideally, but I considered artistic endeavors as something that should be left as a hobby. How could you make money from it? The really great money was in technology, I thought at the time, so that became my focus. (Trust me, if you have an artistic bent, you still have the capabilities to succeed in IT as I did. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for creative types.)
So I enrolled in an extensive technology diploma program locally that taught 2 years of course content within nine months from business RFPS, design, programming, networking, and database adminstration in a collaborative team setting. There were 36 people in my class and I was one of only 6 women. As women in the program, we were just a little bit outnumbered, but this fact strengthened our relationships amongst each other and I am still in contact with them today – and they are all still in technology and thriving in the field.
Overall, it was an amazing class of talented men and women. In fact, some of the smartest and most articulate people I have ever met. This accelerated program allowed me and my classmates to quickly find jobs because it was during the dot com hype. I left my country for more money and opportunity on a working visa, and found that I had to learn very fast in order to keep up.
I never pictured myself as a parent in the future. Quite honestly, I thought since IT was the path I had chosen, I would never have the time to meet anyone, have a relationship, or have children. I would be working weekends and spending all my time researching. It was a challenge to keep up a social life at times. But – all the puzzle pieces of my life eventually fell into place and more of a work/life balance was established. By that time, I was in my late thirties and wondered what happened to the time – now I was old I thought!
Although it consumed a great deal of my life for years, getting involved in tech was one of the better things to happen to me in retrospect. What I learned has indirectly helped me to be a better parent.
Here’s what I came away with:
- It taught me how to work hard. Working in a technology field means there is an unlimited amount of data and research often needed to accomplish a particular task. You spent a lot of time researching just to ensure you do your task with average competence. Some people like the gurus literally live and breathe tech to ensure they do things extremely well. Unlike some jobs where you can go home and leave your work at the front door, you are expected to keep up with trends. Most of this work can fall into your own personal time outside work.
- You need to be disciplined to do your work and not lose focus. You cannot get half way through a problem and just say, “Oh well – it’s too challenging so I’ll just give up”. This discipline is especially important to exercise on one of the many occasions you work from home where dealing with more distractions can be a struggle.
- You are encouraged to develop interpersonal skills since you are working closely with others in a team. When you try and tackle a solution by yourself in tech, there are times when you will overlook the most obvious answer to a problem. This happens a lot and why it is important to brainstorm and work with others, collaborating for the best way to do things. You can spend time finding out the solution on your own, but why when there are others who actually enjoy helping others? Go to any open source forum and you will see that to be the case
- You need to put aside your personal biases and see things objectively. I personally found this to be true when I started creating personas in user experience. That is, you cannot self reference; not everyone is like you and you need to recognize they have different goals and motivations for their behavior. It forces you to be more curious about others instead of just thinking about yourself. Judging others without thinking about their reasons are trumped by logic.
- You will learn to find solutions that are often outside of the box. All of us hit stumbling blocks as designers, programmers, user experience experts, analysts, database administrators, and network admins to name a few. We have all been challenged to find innovative solutions.
- As a male-dominated field, it allowed me to work on equal footing with both genders but particularly men, and realize they really aren’t so different than women. It was easy to fit in and I enjoyed the fact that there is a less caddy vibe you would sometimes experience in a female-dominated field. As long as the subject of Star Trek or any other Sci Fi subject didn’t rule the conversation, I could hold my own.
- I also learned not be dependent on men, for example, to “tune my website”, fix where my name servers are pointing, or fix my code. This is the strongest reason I can think of for women to pursue tech careers. Not having to rely on a man to help you, while making a living in a field that is flexible, creates a great deal confidence in this realm. Being good in tech can also gain you some extra respect from men, particularly from the geekier ones.
- It forces you to deal with all personality types. Tech is a field that usually involves working with various departments like finance, marketing, administrators, fellow IT staff, where there are many strong personalities as well as social inept ones. Learning how to effectively communicate with all of them helps in other aspects of your life. You can also have an opportunity to better understand that mildly geeky guy living in his parent’s basement who has mild Asperger’s syndrome because you work right next to him. You might not have given him the time of day in high school, but you realize that despite his awkward mannerisms, he can be one of the sweetest people you will be glad to know.
- Being in tech instills a strong desire to learn for a lifetime. You will always need to keep up to stay in the tech game. That is what I love about it. Just when you think that you have things figured out – technologies, strategies, social media, gadgets, etc change. You need to learn to adapt to survive. Being accomplished within the technology industry is like a survival of the fittest not in the physical sense, but within the knowledge realm.
- Being technical makes you believe that anything is possible in life because you have the skills to create your own destiny. The beauty of having technology skills is that it doesn’t matter whether you were born rich or poor, live in North America or South America. As long as you are plugged in, you will have an opportunity to improve your life because of tech. You can start your own online business with little or no overhead costs, work at home as a consultant while you look after the kids, be the family hero by being able to help them with a tech problem they are struggling with like choosing an operating system for their computer. My husband is successful in tech, despite the fact his parents could not afford to send him to school, because he was motivated to make it happen for himself and overcome all financial hurdles in his path.
These are the wonderful things about being in IT. Being a woman in technology before children, I have personally found that there is no glass ceiling providing you work hard and put in long hours. I have seen many of my female colleagues achieve a great deal of success in the field.
There are downsides to being a woman in tech, however – when you become a parent if you are working for a large company as I was. I was overlooked for a promotion once I had my first child. I guess from a business perspective, I can understand why they would choose someone who did not have an employment gap due to taking maternity leave, but I was still in the loop skills-wise and continually tried to improve myself to make me a better worker. Yet, even with self-improvement, when your kids are sick, it is typically the woman who takes time off work to care for them.
There is a stigma amongst managers that is attached to female technology workers in particular once they become parents; one that is hard to win . You want to spend your free time spending quality time with your kids and sometimes lessen your work hours from full to part time. Keeping up with technology trends is not the primary focus anymore. It is hard to balance both, and most women would opt to put their kids first. Managers know this and will not view you as a prime candidate for getting ahead. In fact, it is not just male managers who are this way, but rather female ones can be worse; they have worked hard and not had kids and may resent a woman that “can have it all”. Family men at larger companies seem to be the most compassionate in my experience and twenty-something dot com start ups the least empathetic to moms in the field.
That is the catch with entering this field; from what I have seen over the past decade, even in this day and age, it is usually only a highly lucrative career path to those women that choose to remain childless. As I mentioned, my husband is in technology as well. He continues to get promoted and receive bonuses since he does not have to take time off if the kids get sick and need you to pick them up from daycare.
I was a feminist before, but I’m realizing that sometimes you cannot fight biology; women are wired mainly to put their family needs before their own and men are wired to take care of their families financially.
Keep in mind, this is from my experience at large corporations.
Overall, looking at all the pros and cons, working in IT has taught me a great deal and much of it I can apply to my life as a parent. The life skills I learned are ones that I will try my best to instill in my children – who are both girls. When my kids do not know the answer to something, I plan on challenging them to find a creative solution, work hard at whatever they choose to do, and do it without someone having to micromanage their time to ensure it gets done.
Although – statistically – it is unlikely my daughters will go into technology, I will encourage them to pursue this route because there are so many opportunities for women in this field. It can teach them to be self-sufficient, and possibly stay at home with their own children if they have them and set their own work hours, and work from home if they choose. It will also teach them how to effectively deal with all personality types including ones that might be more challenging to get along with. Since the field is so saturated with men, they will hopefully gain a healthy idea of how to work and speak with men that will carry over to their personal relationships as well.
As for moms considering a change, I see this as a great career opportunity for them if they chose to be self-employed in the IT field and can manage to maintain a good work/life balance. It will require a lot of hard work, but it will allow them not only freedom to create their own hours, but to make a large amount of money if they go about it the right way that they can put towards their family.