Yes you can: encouraging girls to pursue IT careers

Last week I spoke with high school and college age women about the Journey to a Successful Career in Information Technology. I gave the keynote at an event jointly sponsored by the Student Resource and Women’s Center and Career Services at Washtenaw Community College. The event was part of their women in non-traditional careers series. It was fun to do – having a chance to encourage and inspire the next generation of information technology professionals.  And it was great to see some familiar faces in the audience – a number of women from our IT team decided to attend as well.

I started my talk by profiling real women in real IT jobs today – 8 women from our IT team.  Their positions include service desk, business analyst, programmer, database administrator, data architect, project manager, training manager, and infrastructure manager. I described what they do in a typical day and the skills they need in each position. One comment overheard after the talk: “This is exactly what these girls need – to see that women can and do work in IT.  Then they can picture themselves doing it, too.”

So what’s the job outlook for them? I believe it’s an encouraging one. I was able to share a few highlights to back this up:

  • There are projected to be one million more computer jobs than computer science students by 2020
  • IT jobs represent the largest portion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations
  • IT jobs are driving the growth in science and engineering occupations
  • Michigan is a state that employs a high proportion of computer programmers compared to other states

And finally I gave them a pep talk. I told them to pursue their dreams and passions and to persist when it gets difficult. I shared that when I started my first programming course as part of a technical school certificate program way back when, I wanted to give up. I didn’t think I could do it. But I hung in there, got the training, completed the program and landed my first programming job.  I shared with them my experience being the only woman on the IT leadership team for a 5 year period back in the 80’s and dealing with the “old boy’s network.”

My messages included:

  • Listen to your heart and find your passion
  • Don’t be discouraged by difficulty and setbacks
  • Explore your options
  • Plan your path but always be open to the possibilities – just think about the jobs today that didn’t even exist 10 years ago
  • Surround yourself with people who support your dream
  • You are the captain of “team you” – enlist people who can support, coach and mentor you along the way

I tried not to be discouraging or focus on the challenges women face in the field during my talk but the Q&A afterwards went right there.  The opening question was about the male culture in technology and how to deal with it. Are there are options for career changes into IT when you are in your 40’s? What to do when as a woman you are stereotyped as emotional? I addressed all these questions head on based on my experience and gave the best advice I could.

I closed by challenging them to imagine more women in technology – what would be different? And I asked them if they wanted to be part of that. I hope to see some of these young women applying for internships or entry level positions in the coming years.


Technology,where are all the women?

Women and technology, part 2

Washtenaw Community College Student Resource and Women’s Center

University of Michigan Center for the Education of Women

Michigan Council of Women in Technology

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