Today, June 23rd, is International Women in Engineering Day (INWED). INWED is an international awareness campaign which raises the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry. At Datalogics, we highly encourage women to join our software engineering team and we currently have 3 female engineers on staff; Samantha, Elizabeth, and Sahara. We interviewed them to learn more about their experiences as women in a STEM field and how other women and girls can get involved. Here are their responses!
What led to you to decide to pursue a career in engineering?
Samantha: For me, it was actually working at Datalogics as an “unskilled” software tester that finally piqued my interest. My dad had tried to get me interested through learning-to-code software and games a few times as a kid and I’d taken a Java programming class in high school, but I never really understood what it was I was supposed to be doing or – more importantly – why anyone would want to do it. When I saw an actual software company in action and heard actual Software Engineers talking about their work, I finally started to distill what had been a very complicated and abstract concept down to this simple one; Software Engineering is really just identifying a thing you want to do and then figuring out how to do it. This understanding slowly turned into a real interest and – eventually – a career.
Elizabeth: I decided to pursue a career in engineering because I was always good at solving problems, and I knew at an early age that was a strength I could use to build a career upon.
Sahara: My journey to an engineering career began when I was in 8th grade. When I was asked what I would like to pursue as a career, I replied that I either wanted to be a doctor or work with computers. In college, I started off on the pre-med track. As the classes progressed and I explored the different courses, I saw that I wasn’t as interested in medicine as I had originally thought. Having no background in computer science, I had enrolled in an introduction to computer science course to see what it was like. I found it fascinating that I could give a computer some instructions and have it solve problems. I saw that innovation, creativity, and problem solving were cornerstones of an engineering career and I found myself drawn to it.
What was the most difficult thing you’ve encountered as a woman in the engineering/tech field?
Samantha: Aside from my dad, there wasn’t really any push for me or girls in general to pursue STEM careers when I was a kid – a lot of those efforts are more recent – so I was a kid who loved science, struggled greatly with math, and had virtually no contact with technology or engineering beyond how to use a word processor or a search engine (I’m old enough that we had a whole unit of computer class on how to use Alta Vista – something which many people will ironically have to Google). Things opened up a bit in high school, but I was the only girl in my electronics class, the only girl in my shop class, and the only girl in that ill-fated Java class. The electronics and shop teachers were great and the guys in those classes were happy to work with me, but everything was different in the Java programming class. No one – even the teacher – seemed to take me very seriously or offer much explanation or assistance. Most of the guys taking that class had been playing around with programming languages for a while so the concepts weren’t new to them like they were to me and I often felt more than a bit left behind. At that point (2001 I think?) Java was still relatively new – that was the first semester my high school was teaching it – and the internet wasn’t what it is today, so I couldn’t really get much help outside of class. By the time I completed that class, I truly believed that I hated software engineering and was bad with computers and would never EVER pursue a career in that field.
Elizabeth: The most difficult thing I have encountered is first impressions I’ve had with closed-minded people, which can take away some opportunities and it can feel disheartening.
Sahara: I think the most difficult thing that I have had to encounter as a woman in an engineering field is dealing with imposter syndrome.
What have you learned that you would want other women and girls to know about working in engineering/tech?
Samantha: Not every company fosters the boys-club attitude that many of us were prepared for and, in fact, my experience has been that the field is very diverse and lacking in women more due to the lack of support for younger girls who might be interested in STEM careers than due to any widespread bias against women within the field. Since I’m still in school, I can see that there are a lot more women taking tech classes now than there were my first go-around, so I think the efforts I’ve seen in recent years to encourage girls and women to enter the field are starting to pay off. That said, women are still a very obvious minority in the field, so don’t be too surprised if you find that you are one of only a few female Engineers – or even the only one – in your company. Change takes time and patience, but I’ve been watching it happen from the front row and things are changing.
Elizabeth: The thing I would tell other girls is that your gender does not decide what skills you have, and do not let closed-minded people stop you from taking advantage of your talents.
Sahara: In college, I found a group of women who were also pursuing careers in engineering/tech and they became my close friends. They’ve introduced me to other communities in tech, and I find a lot of strength in that. So, my advice here is to find a community that you can share your passion and interest in tech with. Oftentimes, you will find that they will become a great source of strength, knowledge, and networking.
The second lesson learned is to ask questions when you’re confused or stuck on something. Asking questions will not only help you learn from your team/peers but will also help you get more familiar with the project/technology, etc. that you are working with. Nobody is going to be upset that you’re asking them questions, they will praise your initiative to learn and will be happy to help you get a grasp on things.
Another thing that I have learned is that it’s a good idea to get some experience (in some form) in the industry. In my case, I interned here at Datalogics in 2018 and now I work at Datalogics full-time with an excellent and very knowledgeable team. Having some experience in tech through an internship, volunteer work, or side projects will open doors to many opportunities, so take advantage of that.
The last thing that has definitely helped me is to be mentored and to be a mentor. In college, I had a mentor who had been a part of the tech industry for a few years and I learned many valuable things about tech careers and the process of landing an internship/job from her. Additionally, I mentored someone who was pursuing a tech degree and passed my knowledge and insights on to her. The lesson here is to get a mentor and be a mentor, so that you can increase your knowledge and pass on that knowledge to help someone else.
Did you have any female role models that motivated you to pursue this career, and if so, who?
Samantha: I can’t say I had any female role models for Software Engineering, but I actually think that’s ok. If there are any women in your life who have qualities worth modeling – strength, persistence, empathy, etc. – then those are the women to watch, regardless of their career paths. I think the qualities that make a person a role model are pretty universal – it’s using those qualities to carve your own path that makes them worthwhile. When it comes to life in general, I’d have to say that Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager was my primary role model for many years and for many reasons.
Elizabeth: I do not have any female role models and do not feel you need to look up to someone else to gain that self-confidence to be successful, and in some situations you may be the first to do something.
Sahara: Yes, my tech-centric circle of female friends and my sister were my motivators. They encouraged me to explore my interest in tech and that encouragement has led me to where I am today.
What’s your favorite part about working in this field?
Samantha: I think of every task I set out to do as a little puzzle and I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when each task is complete; It feels so good when all the pieces click into place and I can see the successful results of all the time and effort I’ve put in.
Elizabeth: My favorite part about working in the field of engineering as a woman and breaking stereotypes is that I get great satisfaction when I help make people more open-minded when they do get to know and respect me and my work. Part of that satisfaction, I think, comes from the world feeling like it just became a little bit better with each person you help open the mind of.
Sahara: My favorite part of working in tech is the culture of continuous learning. The tech industry is ever-changing and constantly evolving, so to keep up with it we must learn new technologies and see which ones we can leverage to create products that will solve problems for our company and our customers.
Resources to help you empower girls in STEM:
- Girls Who Code: is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.
- STEM Like a Girl: Our mission is to excite and empower girls with knowledge and confidence in STEM to become future problem solvers and leaders
- Engineer Girl: is a website designed to bring national attention to the exciting opportunities that engineering represents for girls and women.
- Society of Women Engineers: For more than six decades, SWE has given women engineers a unique place and voice within the engineering industry. Their organization is centered around a passion for their members’ success and continues to evolve with the challenges and opportunities reflected in today’s exciting engineering and technology specialties.
- Girls In Tech: Girls in Tech is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in tech. We have more than 60,000 members in 50+ chapters around the world.
- Girls 4 Science: Girls 4 Science is a nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing girls in Chicago, ages 10-18 years old, to (STEM) science, technology, engineering and math.