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Conor Bronsdon for LinearB

Posted on • Originally published at

7 Pieces of Bad Advice for Women in Engineering Leadership

Judy Johnson, a software engineer with over 35 years of experience, wrote the following article for our site Dev Interrupted so I thought I'd share. Please enjoy!
Have you ever attended an event in which you were asked to give advice to someone starting something new (career, baby, wedding)? Whenever confronted with that question, my answer is “don’t take people’s advice.” Not because all advice is bad, but because all people are different. I am unique, and some advice applies to me, and some not. Here are some of the items people have advised me, and why they may, or may not work.

1. “Don’t be too technical… or not technical enough.” Both? Sure… I cannot tell you how many times when functioning as a systems engineer, I was told, “You know how developers are…” Well, yeah, I coded for many years. And how often do we hear that the stereotypical engineer should not be a manager because of social awkwardness or the inability to delegate? I feel that it helps a team to have someone with hands-on experience lead them — somewhere in the middle is the best.

2. “Don’t bring treats to the office.” I can’t tell you how many articles say that if you bake cookies you’ll never reach “the corner office.” Why not? I guess baking gives the impression of being a submissive woman. People play golf, collect baseball cards, even brew beer. It is a hobby. And I love to bake. I made the most amazing ginger molasses cookies for a birthday last year. (Recipe at the end of the article!) It is also a stress reduction technique for me. In a former job, we did a management simulation for a class. We found that one way to keep morale up was to feed your team. Overtime? Get pizzas! Celebrate birthdays and accomplishments! We did really well in that exercise (until we were confronted by a debilitating snowstorm). But if I’d listened to the bad advice of many people — I wouldn’t bring treats to the office!

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3. “Be assertive.” It is important to be assertive. And I am much more so than I was coming out of college. And maybe if I were better at saying no, I would not be writing this article… However, as the adage goes, “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” On another note, there is something to be said for allyships, or the “good cop/bad cop” method. If I can keep the team happy and engaged, and someone else in the management chain or my tech lead may sometimes need to help me get a point across, would that be a bad idea? It shows teamwork and trust. Don’t over-index on assertiveness at the expense of collaboration and learning.

4. “Shoot for the corner office.” I have no desire to be in that space, figuratively or literally! I sit with my team and don’t mind interruptions (OK, maybe I need a “usually” on the interruptions). The past few assignments, I have been lucky enough to have the “Wal-Mart Greeter” desk, so I can be aware when people come by with issues, and I can experience the team banter. The idea of aiming at a corner office as a goal alienates you from team members.

5. “Working part-time hurts your career.” I worked part-time for almost twenty years, and was home after every school day to make sure my daughters were fed, taken care of, and got their homework done. How did that affect my career? Well, I got fewer raises and fell behind my full-time colleagues. But I learned to multitask, I learned time management, and I ended up with two amazing strong daughters who followed in my footsteps to become engineers themselves. You get to decide what’s important for you — and working long hours is not always the right thing for many people.

6. “Don’t have interests outside of work.” I am a big hockey fan, I read, I take nature walks and photos. I love live music, my favorite being metal. Again, how many stories do I have of people who think of me as a mellow music person (is it the cookies?) But, think about this, if you had a stressful day of work, and you are headed home in your car with the radio on, would it be more satisfying to hear, “You Don’t Bring me Flowers” or “I Sleep with One Eye Open?” You can guess my answer! Focusing solely on work will not only detract from your ability to connect with colleagues, it’ll create a life that you won’t fully enjoy.

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7. “Look like a manager.” I will put it out there; not only am I female, but I am old, I am overweight, and I have blue hair. This is probably where I could go on a diversity rant. I’ll just say that the more uniform your team is, the more likely you’re missing out on some important outside-the-box ideas and perspectives. It’s far more important to be good at what you do and a strong team leader than to look the part.

So next time you give or take advice, or assume you know the job of someone you see in the office or the grocery store, think about what makes us, us; not what about us makes us who we or others think we should be. Appearances aren’t everything — and listening to the wrong advice can be worse than not taking advice at all.
As promised, the delicious cookie recipe: Lara's Tender Gingersnaps


1 cup packed brown sugar
1–1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2–1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar


In a large bowl, beat brown sugar and butter until blended. Beat in egg and molasses. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves; gradually add to brown sugar mixture and mix well (dough will be stiff). Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°. Shape dough into 1-in. balls. Roll in sugar. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets.

Bake until set, 9–11 minutes. Cool for 1 minute before removing from pans to wire racks.

Nutrition Facts:

1 cookie: 100 calories, 4g fat (2g saturated fat), 15mg cholesterol, 70mg sodium, 15g carbohydrate (9g sugars, 0 fiber), 1g protein.

This article was written exclusively for Dev by Judy Johnson, an active member of the Dev Interrupted Discord community and participant on the Dev Interrupted podcast.

You can listen to Judy’s awesome podcast episode here:

Or you can chat with Judy — and 1500 other engineering leaders — on the Dev Interrupted Discord. Come see for yourself why the Dev Interrupted Discord has emerged as the go-to community for developers, attracting the attention of CTOs and VPs of companies like Netflix, GitHub and Google. Join the community.

Originally published at on August 5, 2021.

Top comments (7)

grahamthedev profile image

If you are going to share someone elses article from another site it is a good idea to set the canonical URL.

If you click edit on this article and go to the edit screen, down at the bottom next to "save changes" there is a "nut" icon.

If you click that you will see Canonical URL as an option at the top, copy the original article URL there and save.

Other than that thanks for sharing!

conorbronsdon profile image
Conor Bronsdon

Thanks for great advice! I'm still new here! Appreciate the help :-)

grahamthedev profile image

No problem at all. I hope I speak for everyone in saying welcome to DEV and we hope you like it here!

nobilitypnw profile image

Haven't seen a cookie recipe on this site before but I'm into it! haha. It's a good read.

andreidascalu profile image
Andrei Dascalu

I find these really strange .... for the most part it's because it doesn't really feel like advice but more reflective of a certain lack of true interest in the welfare of someone else by spewing out generalities. I've heard that kind of "advice" thrown at many (particularly the one about the "corner office", regardless whether the recipient was male or female - wtf, I'll aim for whatever the bleep I want in my career)

Except ... assertiveness. It's a general advice but I like to think it comes when the person saying it sees something that makes them think I'm not assertive enough. It's not because I may think I'm not, but simply the fact that I give the impression means that others may become inclined to dismiss my needs. In the workplace, as a technical manager, that's bad.
Being assertive isn't about being rude or dismissive (nothing to do with "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar" - speaking of which, you can catch even more flies with manure than with honey, doesn't mean start throwing s**t around though it seems to be working well for politicians). It's about being clear about what you need done and ensuring the message goes across clearly.
Of course, it also means that you should go about it while adapting to people. Some people do great with being directly assertive. Some do react better to some "honey coating". But those in the former category may react really bad to "honey coating" as being subtle about conveying your needs can make you appear disingenuous and manipulative.

olgertelfe profile image

Success in anything does not depend on your gender. But success depends on your leadership skills. Many people do not even know about it and think that success came to many just like that. As if they hadn't worked on it at all. There are several definite reasons why leadership is so influential in success here you can read about it. And at some points, even unexpected moments appear. A very informative and interesting article useful for developing success in the future.

nickhodges profile image
Nick Hodges

Wisdom and cookies. Name a better combo.