I was invited to a panel over the weekend for International Women’s Day to talk about my personal story and about getting more women into tech. I want to share my answers with you all.
I learned to code and continue to code because tech had a positive effect on my family.
My family and I are from India where the caste system (while officially abolished) is still in practice in some communities. We belong to the lowest caste, the untouchables. Through a scholarship for marginalized communities, my dad studied engineering.
This gave my dad the opportunity to move us out of India, where people like us don’t have the opportunity to lead a good life. Because my parents got us out of that social situation, I am one of the first women in my family to get a college education.
My dad inspired me to study Computer Science in the U.S. for my Bachelors and Masters. I faced hurdles along the way but I managed to find my own path.
Through my personal experience, I saw how much education - and especially being in tech - can make a difference. With the right resources, guidance, and opportunities, tech has the potential to raise one's economic status in one generation.
Today, I run Code with Veni where I help women transition to careers in tech. I built Diversify Tech to connect people like me who are underrepresented to jobs, events and scholarships like the one that helped my dad get an education.
My greatest challenge when starting out in tech was that I didn’t have anyone to follow
My greatest challenge was that I didn’t have many mentors when I was starting out. I didn’t have anyone to show me how to navigate college or find a job in the U.S.
No one told me that I could do more. Because of this, I lost a lot of opportunities when I first started my journey in tech.
I found my strength through women founder and women in tech communities
Everyday, I see ambitious women going after things I couldn’t even imagine. They inspire me to do more and that it’s ok to go after things that seem beyond my reach. The communities that have had the most impact on my life are Women Who Code DC, Dreamers & Doers and Women Make.
I’ve learned that given equal opportunity, and without society’s constraints on us, women are capable of doing much more.
In 2003, when I graduated from college, the best I had hoped for was that I wouldn’t be pressured into an arranged marriage.
My classmates, most of whom were men, were figuring out their careers. I didn’t really think about mine much. I was worried about meeting society’s expectations of me as a women which was to get married and have children.
I got myself out of that situation. I moved out of my parents house (a very big deal in my family for an unmarried women to live alone). Because of that I took my time to figure out what I wanted out life. I focused on my career. I eventually did get married. I have a 1 year old daughter now.
But I did this on my terms.
Women have plans. We have ambition. And we are capable. But we need society to stop putting us in boxes and move out of the way.
I started my newsletter, Code with Veni, to share what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out in tech.
Since I was the first one in my family to go to college in the US, I didn’t know a lot of things that might seem trivial to others.
I didn’t know that it was common to do internships during college. I wasn’t aware that there were scholarships available to women in tech. I didn’t know that you can negotiate your salary.
When I moved to DC and saw this movement of women getting into tech, I wanted to help and I launched my newsletter.
I highlight women who the readers can relate to, who are like them, who come from non-traditional backgrounds, who are women of color.
I also share plenty of resources to help women figure out how to start and thrive in tech.
I make sure that at least 50% of the articles shared are written by women in tech. It’s important to see ourselves in those who inspire us.
With Diversify Tech, I want to connect all of us.
With Diversify Tech, I connect underrepresented people with scholarships, jobs and other opportunities in tech.
One of the lessons I’ve learned is that I can’t work in a silo. I’m in the process of partnering with tech communities that already exist so that I can share resources at the local level. I’m trying to get companies to share jobs and tell us why we should work for them. I’m connecting with allies like tech conference organizers to get more of us to connect with those working in the industry.
We need to bring coding to all public schools
The Leaky Tech Pipeline report, points out that even though public education is available to everyone, the quality varies from neighborhood to neighborhood due to school funding and resources. Students who attend schools with a lot of poverty are less likely to have qualified teachers. Though it might feel like a basic thing for some, not everyone’s family has a computer at home.
I was curious and examined the curriculum of the high school that I went to with another high school that was in a poorer neighborhood within the same city. To my surprise and disappointment, Computer Science is being offered at my former high school and not at the school in the poorer neighborhood. They are only 20 minutes apart.
I’m glad for work being done by organizations like Black Girls Code, CSForall and Code.org. Black Girls Code is a nonprofit that helps girls from underserved communities gain tech skills. CSforALL is on a mission to bring computer science education to for k-12 students and teachers. Code.org is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools.
We need to keep pushing for policies to ensure equity in K-12 education.
Computer Science curriculum needs to be re-evaluated
I studied Computer Science in college. I got a C in the first intro to programming class that I took. I was honestly devastated and I thought of switching my major to something else.
In reality, that class wasn’t actually an introduction. A majority of my classmates already knew how to code and they breezed through it. It wasn’t designed for someone like me who was new to coding.
I ended up taking the intro class again and I did go on to get a CS degree. But as I got closer and closer to graduation, there were fewer and fewer women.
I like what Harvey Mudd college is doing to address this issue.
They split their introductory class. One section of the class is for people who really were beginners and hadn’t programmed before. Another section is for people who had some experience.
Professors let their students know that success in the class was based on their hard work and not on some ability that you are just born with.
They also used real-life examples and encouraged collaboration.
They saw results! About half of Harvey Mudd's college STEM graduates are women.
I hope more universities learn from them and follow this approach.
There are women in tech to hire right now
The number of women graduating with a CS degree shouldn’t be the only measure of success of women getting into tech.
In the 15 years of my career, a vast majority of the men I’ve worked with did not study Computer Science. My current male co-workers studied geography, international affairs, mechanical engineering, and Asian studies. They all learned to code on the job. This same opportunity to learn on the job should be given to women.
I’m glad to see that there are bootcamps that are helping people learned to code regardless of your previous educational background. There are a lot of women learning to code via bootcamps. Employers should open their minds and hiring these talented folk.
In order to advance women in tech we need to focus on our most marginalized groups.
We (communities, universities and employers) must include all women and not just white women.
Recently, a well known women in tech community was called out for racist behavior in their organization. A community meant for women shouldn’t be discriminating women of color.
We can’t move forward till we include women of color, queer women, trans women, and and women with disabilities - ALL women.
- Educate yourself on why inequality exists in tech and what you can do about it. A few resources I recommend are Project Include, the Leaky Pipeline Study from the Kapoor Center and the causeascene podcast by Kim Crayton.
- Self reflect. Look within yourself as an individual. Look at your organization. Are you actually giving equal opportunities to everyone? Are you including everyone?
- Finally, Do the work. Please don’t do a one off marketing campaign or an event (like the one you did for International Women's Day) and call it a day. Don’t leave it to just the women and women of color to put in the work. We all have to work together to solve this.
This is a pretty complex problem. I've touched on only a few points but I hope this gives you some insight into the larger issue and you'll take the time to learn further.