women in computer science

My Career, Her Job

UPDATE: I expressed myself very badly in this post. As a result, I hurt and offended some good people, and some of them were quick to let me know. I’m sorry. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the response, but as soon as I saw the comments I knew I’d made a mistake. I appreciate people taking the time to call me on it.

I never meant to disparage marketing careers, it was a mistake to use the phrase “women near tech,” and I didn’t define “job” and “career” well enough for what I was trying to say.

wanted to talk about tech careers in terms of how much mobility one has. How big is the cage, and how tightly is it locked? Does a marketing person at a software company have different options from a software engineer at the same company? Is it different if they work at an energy company, or when they become sufficiently senior? There are a lot of corner cases where this breaks down, and those places are (to my mind) the most fascinating. I’d been thinking about this idea for a while, of how different options make for a different experience, and jotted down some incomplete thoughts.

I’m sorry. I did not mean to offend or disparage anyone. I need to take more care to work through these kind of thoughts and get some input from other people before I hit “Post!” I hope people will see that this was a failure of wording and not of intention.

Every so often there’s some article/panel/thing on women in tech that drives me nuts, because I look at who is on it and I think, these are not women in tech, these are women near tech. This is my life. Don’t tell me what you think it’s like! On reflection, the distinction between women in tech, and women near tech to me is this.

If she gets tired of being surrounded by the… terrible shoes, poor dress sense, low standards of personal hygiene, arrogance, patronization, or just plain feeling like the odd one out, does it require a change of job, or a change of career?

(I would like to say here, that aside from how smart they are, the vast majority of my colleagues are extremely normal.)

So Marketing at a tech company? Job. Software Engineer? Career. HR pro? Job. Technical program manager? Career.

This means if a woman spends enough time in tech they essentially become a woman in tech, even if that’s not their background. Sales – still job, but progress to be CEO of a tech company and that would look more like a career change.

Still a theory-in-progress, because I don’t want to be exclusionary, but I need some way to explain why when I went to a “women in tech” event where I only met marketing people working for tech companies, I left feeling very “not for me, probably won’t go along to one of these again”. I’ve no doubt that women near tech face their own set of challenges, and that women in and near tech have many things in common, but it’s not the same, and it’s helpful for me to have an idea of what differentiates.

8 replies on “My Career, Her Job”

This piece has me thinking, which is good, as my brain is fuzzy this morning traveling in on the early bus. 

I sit in the middle of the two sides of women in tech that you describe above. The bridge between is like something out of Indiana Jones (picture rotting pieces of randomly placed wood, frayed rope, high up over a huge ravine).

I can almost grasp the fundamental differences between the women on either side of the bridge, and then I get nervous about the rotting board beneath me, and the shakiness my position. It would be very cool to think about this more deeply. You are on to something here, Cate – the examination of both roles.

Wow, this is… impressively offensive. Because I choose not to write code or manage people I don’t and can’t have a career? That’s just bullshit. And speaks to extremely limited experience not only in the work world, but with people and roles outside a very narrow group.

And no, not writing code does not mean you’re a woman NEAR tech. We’re just as in it as you are. More so, I would argue, given that typically, developers don’t spend much time talking to customers, potential customers, partners, industry experts, analysts, other departments within the company, and assorted other groups. Compiling stuff isn’t the be all and end all of business, and I would welcome you to see just how successful a company with nothing but engineers would be.

Cate, you need to rethink this:

So Marketing at a tech company? Job. Software Engineer? Career. HR pro? Job. Technical program manager? Career.

You can’t actually think that people in non-technical roles, as you define them, don’t have careers? Whatever you are trying to say, that is not the way to say it.

Going into ANY field that you aren’t passionate about is unlikely to result in a ‘career’. For you, it sounds like that’s a ‘soft skills’ job. For someone else, it might be manual labour, or even tech.

Technical women should be supporting technical women. Professional women should be supporting professional women. People should be supporting people. I absolutely agree that conference/event/community organizers need to make their target audience clear to avoid over-specializing or watering-down events for attendees, but that isn’t a female or career-related issue. It’s an organizational one.

I’ve met a number of women that have started out in tech-peripheral roles (myself included), and only through working ‘near tech’ have they discovered they want to move into a more technical role. And I’m sure many have gone the other way. Maybe women in these fields love their careers as marketing/pr but find themselves drawn to the technical industry. Does that make them any less of a women-in-tech? Absolutely not – they’re in a technical field, just not a technical role. Does it mean that certain conferences might not be for them? Sure. But again, that’s an organizational issue.

A career is a long-term job-path in which you find passion and growth. We need to support women – people – finding THEIR careers so they can bring the most value to themselves, their organization – and maybe the world. I can’t decide what anyone else’s career is, and neither can you. 

The best we can do is connect with people that can help us and that we can help. You want a more technical conference with fewer marketers? Target it that way – I find watered down tech events annoying too. But just because that marketing person can’t participate technical conversation doesn’t mean they don’t have a career, doesn’t mean they aren’t in the tech industry and doesn’t mean they can’t bring valueable insights from a different perspective.

While I am not sure your career/job comment is a particularly fair one. I do sort of understand where you are going with it. Some people are in tech just because thats where there are jobs, roles like marketing at a tech company. Where your career is marketing, your job is tech. That doesn’t really make you a girl in tech. 

I stopped going to the only girl tech meetup because unfortunately it just wasn’t techie enough for me. If I am going to go a specifically techie meetup I want it to be techie, I don’t want particularly to have chats about standard girl things (I can do that with my own friends). Or worse talking about how hard it is to be a woman in technology… 

Clearly I didn’t word this well – have updated with apology and some explanation of what I was trying (and failing) to get at.

Hi Cate. Came across your post and thought I’d add in my two sense. 

As an Elec. Engineer by background, I had my fair share of being ‘in’ tech. I now work supporting tech startups and advising them on how their bright ideas can grow from being a prototype to a major brand & company. What I often find is the originators of these ideas – in many cases ‘techie male engineers’ – get stuck on their products and fail to think about the business as a whole. That’s where marketing, sales, HR and the likes step in. So while the tech guy was vital to the creation of the product, he would have no customers were it not for business folk.

I can see where you are coming from with your post, but also see the importance people ‘near’ tech play in navigating the rapidly changing tech industry. It is vastly different from any other industry, and I would argue that regardless of whether you are ‘in’ tech or ‘near’ tech, you live, breathe and eat TECH. It’s impossible not to with the way this industry is exploding.

As women in tech, we should embrace one another regardless of what function we are playing within a firm. If we try to sub-divide into even smaller groups, our tech support system will really dwindle down to nothing!

…I just have to add one more nugget to ponder! I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography and, surprisingly enough, he did not build any of Apple’s products. He openly admits to being a very bad ‘engineer’. He was in essence Apple’s marketing guru, and made the company what it is today! So while not directly a man ‘in’ tech, it’s hard to imagine he could be labelled as anything but a total techie.

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