Recently, I realized that I've been floating around the tech world for 6 years now! That's a pretty good chunk of time! In those 6 years, I've been in roles for business analytics, data processing, project management, and development. I've also been volunteering for local tech groups in DFW for 2 years now and have since taught a few classes and helped organized a ton of events.
I've been a "professional" developer for 2 of those 6 years but have been dabbling in it for over a decade. A part of me wishes I had pursued a career in development sooner and another part of me is glad I didn't. I can't imagine the lack of support, resources, and community I would have encountered if I had started out pursuing that path as opposed to art and business.
For the most part, I know I've been extremely lucky in my development journey. The majority of co-workers I've had have been nothing but supportive, encouraging, and helpful. However, there have been a few that made me feel discouraged, hopeless, and just plain stupid.
Here are a few challenging incidents I faced during my first I.T. job:
After about a year of being moved into a Project Management position, my manager told me I would never get from a PM role to a developer role because the transition is untraditional and "very hard". This was one of the most discouraging things I had heard. I didn't feel as if I had the support of my manager anymore and I didn't feel like my development skills were strong enough to try to find an entry level job.
At some point while I was both the Project Manager and Data Processor, I was tasked with doing a simple HTML project. I completed the project, fully and on-time, and re-iterated my interest in transitioning into development. The manager inquired if I would be able to take on more complex development tasks, to which I replied I wasn't completely sure since I had 2 other roles to balance. His reply was "you're either a developer or your not" and walked away.
Once I was transitioned into a Jr. Developer position, I noticed during our weekly demos if anything with the demo itself went wrong, our manager would look at me and get mad. Somehow, I ended up being the single source of blame and the best part is that I wasn't the only person who noticed. Most of the team noticed it as well, but no one ever said anything. So I decided to say something! And his response was basically, "I don't feel like I'm doing that but if I am I didn't realize it". Did he apologize? Yes. Did it feel sincere? No, not really.
As I progressed in my career, I realized the developer who told me I should have a speciality was not completely wrong. He's wasn't completely right either. While the delivery of that could have been better, I've noticed (more recently) that most developers do have a subject they're strong in. However, that doesn't mean they don't have knowledge in other areas.
My manager who told me "you're either a developer or your not" could have said many other things, such as "why don't we see if we can go over some of the tickets and find some you feel comfortable tackling with your work load" or "let's see if we can start looking for someone to fill one, or both, roles so you can transition".
So, all that to say if you're wondering how you can support self-identifying women and non-binary folks - whether in their first tech job or furthering their career in tech - here are a few suggestions:
Not everyone knows what you know so be patient when people ask questions. At some point, you didn't know about it either.
If someone is just starting out, be encouraging and supportive of their journey even if it doesn't match the path you took.
If you're going to say you're an ally, then BE an ally! Support them, speak up for them if they don't feel like they can, do your best to make them feel comfortable and safe coming to you.
Be a mentor in some way! Whether it be in technical way or even just helping with communication, organization, and other "soft" skills.
Not everyone learns or processes information in the same way. You may have to explain a concept differently, provide visuals, suggest materials for them to read, or resources to help them practice.
Please don't tell people to just "google" it - especially if they're new. SHOW them. Show them what you would google, what you would look for, and share your thought process. It helps them learn a different way to problem solve as well as a new starting point next time they're stuck.
Happy International Women's Day! Go forth and disturb the heck out of the universe. Especially the tech one.