As International Women’s Day approached, I thought about what I could do to recognize this day. Recently the news has been filled with stories from women like Susan Fowler at Uber and AJ Vandermeyden at Telsa about the discrimination and harassment that is pervasive in tech. These stories need to be told and shared, but I often worry these can scare women away from careers in tech. When we share our opinions and thoughts on our experiences, it often doesn’t turn out well—but this should not stop us.

Working in tech for almost 20 years, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some amazing women. These women all have different starts and different stories, so I decided to balance some of the disappointing stories covered in the media with some inspiration from the women I have admired for years. After a sending a quick Facebook post, some emails, and a few direct messages on Twitter and LinkedIn, I quickly started receiving responses from women (and one man) agreeing to participate.

The common thread among all the women here isn’t simply the fact that they are women; but, rather, the fact that we are all technologists doing something we love and care deeply about.

Here are the stories and advice from women in tech, highlighting the diversity of roles and opportunities in the tech community. Told in their own words, these stories show the journeys these women have taken, what they have learned along the way, and what technology innovation they hope to see in the future. They have inspired me for years, and I hope they inspire you as well.

Women of Catchpoint

Dawn Parzych @dparzych
Director of Product & Solution Marketing 

I figured it was only fair for me to participate in this as well. My first job out of college was a teacher, I didn’t venture into the tech space for another 5 years. My first tech job was developing websites.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I want a fully interactive hologram. Video conferencing makes working remote easier, but there is still so much I miss by not being physically present. If I could “see” things and interact with people through my hologram that would be great.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

The best advice I was ever given is “women can have it all, just not all at the same time.”  This really resonated with me as I made a difficult decision to leave the workforce for a brief period of time. I always thought I would keep my career after becoming a mom, when we became foster parents to a 6-year-old boy (who we went on to adopt), that changed. Our son was having a hard time adjusting and I couldn’t give my career and family the attention they both needed. The career had to be placed on the back burner. Before I hear, “why didn’t my husband quit his job?” “why is it always the woman that quits?” – he did as well. Knowing this didn’t mean I was failing made the decision easier. Being aware of your limitations and changing your priorities is OK.

Natasha Callender @kallsey
Performance Engineer  – Catchpoint

Natasha’s first job was for her parents’ video production company where she did whatever needed to be done. The highlight of working there was watching her father and uncle build a television production truck from scratch before the first Barbados GospelFest. Helping her father take an outrageous idea into reality was quite the experience.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

A carbon nanotube capable of being the basis of a space elevator. I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise describing the construction of such an elevator and it’s an idea that captures my imagination like little else. First, because it is in the realm of possibility and second, because the ability to reach Low Earth Orbit without rocket propulsion would open the doors to advances that are currently science fiction.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Without regard to success or failure, find something technically interesting or challenging and just try to do it. Make a habit of working on something new. Technology changes too fast to rely on formal instruction alone. My experience has been that the most valuable skill anyone can have in tech is both the ability to learn and the willingness to fail spectacularly. The caveat being, of course, that those failures lead to continued learning. In fact, the best advice for women in tech comes from the literary world. It’s a saying I keep in my inbox, on my phone, and I scribble on the inside of every new journal and notebook. It’s my insurance against laziness and complacency.

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your work. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.

“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent. Never let pride or laziness prevent you from learning, improving your writing, changing its direction when necessary.

“Persist.”

— Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”

Camille Fremed
VP Technical Operations 

Camille took a job as a secretary in the group working on the RISC processor at IBM T.J. Watson Research center to get her foot in the door at an excellent company that provided a technical path for those interested in pursuing this dream. From there, she moved to HR and primarily worked on the systems that supported the organization and taught herself to use every tool she could get her hands on. Her final transition to tech occurred when she joined the group creating and supporting the compilers and OS for IBM’s Unix Platform.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Universal affordable online education.  That would include the delivery, available network, and material. Gadgets are cool, but education is cooler.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Don’t be intimidated, no language or tool is insurmountable. Classes are great but nothing beats teaching yourself and surrounding yourself with mentors who are bright and want to share their knowledge. I would not be where I was today without the amazing support and push I received from my mentor and manager in my early days at IBM. Sometimes you will need to take the not-so-ideal job to get where you want to go, don’t shy away from that.

Women today have a lot more opportunities in tech then when I started out, but it is still largely a male-dominated world. Look to what interests you rather than what can make you the most money, and find a mentor that you can trust and learn from.

Remarkable Women in Tech

Suzanne Aldrich @SuzanneAldrich
Solutions Engineer – Cloudflare
Suzanne’s first job was as a Technical Consultant for HREF Tools Corp. She was the administrator for a rack of Linux and Windows 2000 servers running IIS and WebHub. She lead a team to transfer an entire rack to a new datacenter with less than 2 hours of downtime.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?
I would like to see an invention designed to help people optimize their day-to-day lives so that they have more time for family and friends instead of worrying about chores. This invention could use big data and augmented reality to provide the information necessary for making better decisions on tasks like buying groceries cheaper and more quickly, catching the best window of time for your daily commute, and finding the best-suited people to help you out with tasks.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?
Always keep digging in and never give up. Even when it feels like you will never be able to solve a technical problem, that’s almost always the point where you’re really close to solving it. The expertise you develop solving these issues is the same set of skills you will use every day at your job. You don’t have to know everything about technology in order to be an IT worker; you just have to be willing to stretch your brain with new concepts and tools. Every day I strive to learn something new.

Suzanne Carter  @iambrandsuz
Manager, Analytics

Suzanne’s first tech job was as a telephone interviewer with Gallup. She then moved up to a role as survey coder using paper and pencil! Today, software takes care of a lot of the work that used to be done with paper and pencil, but the skills in validating the results stay the same.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I’m really interested in what biotech has to offer. Precision treatment. Treatments for the heretofore untreatable. For selfish reasons, I’d like to see hearing loss reversed. There are two biotech firms I’m aware of that are working on this issue, so: go, team, go!

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Don’t underestimate what might get you there. I wanted to be a psychologist because I was fascinated with people – so many different attitudes, reactions, behaviors – from there, I became fascinated with data of all stripes. I love data and what gets me access to lots of it.

Tammy Everts @tameverts
Director of Research & Editorial – Soasta

Tammy’s first job was as an editor at a company that published educational, non-fiction books for children. Two lessons she learned from that were how to be conscise and explain difficult concepts so anyone can understand have been hugely valuable throughout her career.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I’m really looking forward to seeing autonomous cars become mainstream. It’ll validate the fact that I never learned to drive!

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Keep your mind – and your options – open. There’s a very good chance that the job you’ll have one day hasn’t even been invented yet. If someone had told me when I was a teenager (back before the internet as we know it had been invented) that some day, I’d be blogging about web performance for a living, it would’ve sounded like complete gibberish.

People talk a lot about “imposter syndrome,” and I’ve definitely suffered from my share of it over the past twenty years. But I’ve recently realized that there’s a flip side to imposter syndrome that you can harness and use. I call it “outsider syndrome.” I’ve always felt like an outsider, both as a nerd and a woman – and as someone who’s chosen to live way outside the Bay Area and other tech hubs – but I’ve realized that my outsiderness gives me an objectivity in my research and my writing that I might not otherwise have. I see things from a different perspective than an insider might, and it makes me comfortable asking weird questions and approaching problems and data in unusual ways. I’ve come full circle and now I value and cherish my outsider status.

Laura Hendrickson
Program Manager F5 on F5 – F5 Networks

Laura’s first job at 13 was in a kitchen washing dishes, taking out trash, setting up and breaking down, and washing the floors. Her first tech job was as a Help Desk Analyst at Medalia Healthcare.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Something that gives me amazing work/life balance.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

If you love tech, heck if you love anything, don’t let anyone talk you out of doing what you want. And don’t be afraid to disagree with people (or agree with them) and never lose your voice in the room.

The women who I have had the good fortune to work with have been confident in their abilities and in what they do. They understand gender dynamics and don’t cow to them. And they respect their own intelligence.

Helen Johnson @mizhelen
Technical Account Manager – Dell EMC Technologies

Like many Seattleites, Helen’s first job was in a coffee shop. Her first technical job was as a Network Analyst at XPoint Corporation (now a part of TCS).

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

A Roomba that cleans the toilets? Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing more tech applied to organic farming–what that invention would be, I’m not entirely sure.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Do your homework and don’t be afraid to speak up, be it in class or meetings. Also, be yourself.

Lori MacVittie @lmacvittie

Principal Technical Evangelist – F5 Networks

Although it may be dating her, Lori’s first job was as a Programmer/Analyst for an electronic tax software company.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Hover boards. We were PROMISED there would be *real* hover boards.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Stick with it. 😉 Seriously, there are a lot of career paths that start with development or administration that lead all over the organization. All require technical acumen, but not all are focused on coding/systems. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that computer science produces only coding machines. Lots of young women discard an IT career because IT has an image problem. You’d be surprised to find how many women are actually involved in technology that aren’t coding. I love code, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t the only way to contribute to IT.

Women in tech are technologists first, women second. If you keep that firmly in mind when you interact with them, life would probably be a bit easier for everyone.

Moriah Musto @hillobsession
Senior Digital Product Manager – CVS Health

At the age of 15, Moriah’s first job was selling sneakers at the New Balance outlet in Boston. Out of college, she landed her first tech-related job as an analyst covering online financial services at a research firm.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I’m really passionate about food and I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity to reduce food waste / improve food distribution. Perhaps there’s a tech solve here.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Beyond the obvious classes in computer science and math, stretch yourself creatively and make sure you’re a good writer and communicator. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you can’t effectively communicate. Separately – be open; I have a career now that didn’t even exist when I was in high school. Separately – relationships are very important. Stay in touch with classmates, colleagues, and everyone that you can.

Find your squad – they don’t have to be exclusively women in tech, but having a network of other motivated, smart women to bounce ideas off of, commiserate and get/give pep talks to has been key to me challenging myself professionally.

Lynn Perry @LyPScratch
Senior Technical Writer – F5 Networks

One of Lynn’s first jobs was at an answering service as a switchboard operator, patching calls through for doctors, lawyers, and other situations. Lynn’s first technical job was as an editor at an environmental consulting firm, using Xerox 350 line and page word processing systems. When changes were needed, she would mess around until she figured out the software and hardware.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I have to admit that having a transporter would be awesome! No more commute! I doubt if five years will do it, but I’m amazed at what has happened in the past 30 years. Essentially from the first personal computer to a wristwatch that does all that and more.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Learn how to learn fast! Being a quick study is the most important quality for working in software, in my opinion. Be great at googling for information. Do as much as you can on your own, but not enough to screw anything up. My absolute very first experience with a computer (on an IBM PC in 1984), I formatted the hard drive, and someone had to set it up again. It’s one of those things you only do once, but has wide-ranging repercussions.

Be willing to risk failing. Learning how to fail with grace is a hard talent (one I have not mastered, frankly).

Find and use mentors. Meet those people who know more than you and are willing to share. P.S. Not everyone is willing to share.

Get used to learning new tools. Every three years for the last 30 I’ve had to learn entirely new tools for creating content, tracking bugs, managing source code, communicating knowledge, and just in general learning the new interfaces for the existing tools (like Outlook, Word, and internet browsers).

Find a company or technology you like, then seek out people who work in that industry. Read what they read. Meet in their groups. Invite yourself in, if they don’t invite you. Learn the jargon. Contribute ideas. You’ll be looked to at work, to solve problems; practice doing that where failing isn’t so potentially disastrous.

Make sure you love the software or hardware, the technology, and/or the people. This is a demanding business, and will ask much of anyone who chooses it.

Kristen Rountree
Documentation Manager

Before her career in technical writing, Kristen was a trade journalist working on magazines and newspapers in industries ranging from advertisting to aerospace.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

A virtual playmate for my cats during the night/early morning.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

In school, don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you it’s too hard, go into something else. Several women I knew back in college dropped out of engineering programs because they thought they couldn’t handle the work, whereas the men weren’t encouraged to think that way – especially at that time.

Melissa (Mel) Ruby @Melruby75
Senior Manager, Enterprise Analyst Relations – NVIDIA

Mel’s love for the Dewey Decimal System at 15 led to her first job shelving books. She read more books than she shelved.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

We are still far behind in what data can do for the world. I’d love to see business and consumer inventions in how information important to me is prioritized, meaningful, and still keeping a record so I can archive my life.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Be a female. Did you notice my nickname Mel? When I was young, I felt a need to emasculate my name to fit into a male dominated tech industry. Now, it’s part of my brand and I don’t mind as much, but I regret the original intent. Be a female. It’s good.

Read “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.” And don’t take anyone’s bullsh*t.

Cynthia Schmidt @busyITMom

Sr Professional Consultant – Teradata

After her first retail job as a cast member for the Disney Store, Cynthia was fortunate to participate in the college internship program. She was selected to fill a data modeler role at Piedmont Natural Gas.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

I have been in the data facet of the IT field for over 20 years. High tech inventions always start with data. Honestly, this question strikes fear in me, because really this is what data is or will soon be collected to generate- the need for a high tech invention. The amount of data flowing around is incredible. This is the one part that needs better control. The ease of gaining data, both positive and harmful, is staggering.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

You can do this. There are lots of facets in the IT field. The best I suggest is to get an internship or talk to as many different departments in the IT field, you will probably find one that interests you.

We do not have to act like men to get ahead. Constantly I am told by other managers that they were advised I may be difficult to work with because I am passionate. My response to this, if I were a man I would be commended, given a raise, and promoted because I struck out to provide high-quality results for the client. It is all about spin. It is still unjust but we have to work together to make sure it remains an open field.

Heidi Schreifels
Senior Exam Development Manager, F5 Certification – F5 Networks

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Energy efficient, yet flattering light bulbs. 🙂

An artificial pancreas.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Be curious! Learn a little about all of the things that interest you. Learn a lot about all of the things that excite you.

Experiment! Build stuff, break stuff, rebuild it, rebreak it. Make mistakes and learn from them. Focus on the work. Take risks.

Find or build an environment where you are respected, where new ideas and innovation are encouraged.

Brush up on your “nerd culture.” Knowing the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, inventors/inventions, comic books, gaming, Neal deGrass Tyson, D&D, etc. will help you connect with your peers. Sure it’s a stereotype, but it’s accurate. Plus, you’ll impress them when you tell them you’d rather wear a blue suit than a red suit if you were ever to appear on Star Trek.

GET CERTIFIED!! Certifications provide you with an immediate credibility in the world of technology. It validates that you know your stuff.

Rebecca Shawgo
Sr Research Project Manager – Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Rebecca’s first job ever was painting barns for a farmer down the road. Her first professional job was a research scientist at a startup.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Self-driving cars that really work

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Be open to where the job takes you, collaborate as much as you can, communicate as much as you can, learn as much as you can. Stand up for others and stand up for yourself.

Sometimes, it sucks to be the change you want to see in the world.

Julie Stoner @julie_n_stoner
Director – Cerner Corporation

Julie still works for the same company that kicked off her tech career, Cerner. She started as a laboratory solution delivery consultant and was recently promoted to director.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?

Technology is moving so fast these days, it’s hard to keep up, let alone project the future! I hope to see all the advancements become more secure. As fast as technology is developing, the bad guys out there are moving just as fast to figure out how to hack it.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?

Do it! Women bring a different perspective in problem solving, people management, and development, and IT needs it to grow. Doesn’t mean it’s always easy working in a still very male dominated industry. Take advantage of the opportunities are given, even when they don’t seem to be the ones you want and don’t worry about failing.  Failing is where we learn.

A quote that has resonated with me from the first African-American female astronaut, Mea Jemison, is “leadership isn’t really about being in charge… It’s about using your place at the table and not always minding your manners.”  I have found that women aren’t always given a spot at the table, but take it – and run with it once you have it.

Estelle Weyl @estellevw / @standardista / webdevtips
Open Web Evangelist – Instart Logic
Estelle’s first job, or unpaid internship, was as a French/English interpreter at the International Animated Film Festival. At the festival she learned about the different forms of manual (non-computerized) animation.

What high tech innovation do you hope to see in the next 5 years?
Something that coalesces all the other high tech inventions. I have way too many high tech gadgets I already need to keep track of, including the finding the clicker that helps me locate all the mobile gadgets and car keys.

What advice do you have for young girls or women looking for a career in IT?
Follow your own passions, not someone else’s. And don’t let anyone judge you for whatever those passions might be.

Sheryl Sandberg is often quoted “women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. .” the “Lean in” part argues that women should start applying even if they only meet 60% of the requirements.This is fair. However, it doesn’t address the inverse fact. “women only get accepted for open roles if they meet 110 percent of the criteria listed. Men only need to meet 50 percent of the requirements to be considered qualified.” While I made up that quote and those statistics, it is close to reality. We won’t reach full equality by convincing a few women to lean in. The hiring process is not a single sided equation.