The 20%: A Collection of Interviews
Interviews with four women where they discuss their careers, challenges, successes, and advice related to being a woman in the software development industry.
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“No matter where you start, all streams lead to the ocean,” Sreelatha Kandi, Senior Software Engineer and Manager at Solution Street, wisely said to me when telling me her origin story. While many of the women I spoke with came from different countries and walks of life, all have made their way into the software development industry. The commonality they share, undoubtedly, is their womanhood and love for programming.
According to Computer Science.org, only 20% of computer science professionals are women. As a young woman new to the industry, I was interested in speaking with other women about their experiences and passions within the field.
“When I’m working and coding, I’m in my own bubble and can problem-solve and create cool things. It’s like I forget everything when I’m working in my little world—my happy place… This job really pushes me to think about solutions,” Lerrie Garcia, Software Consultant at Solution Street.
When asked about their initial interest in the field, all of the women I spoke with started with a love for math and problem-solving. Throughout their education, they chose computer science, degrees in IT, engineering, and even some pushed to receive Masters’ Degrees. Some of my interviewees mentioned that computer science and programming were something they enjoyed and felt successful in because it didn’t require much memorization or proficient English skills—rather, the foundation of this field is in one’s ability to problem-solve.
The accessibility of this field became clear; computers can be a universal language. Whether these women came from The Philippines, India, or the United States, they were all able to recognize how innately approachable this field is no matter what ‘language’ you speak.
How We Learn and Grow
“Without mentors, I wouldn’t be here at all.” -Sreelatha Kandi.
Mentorship and guidance are a crucial part of this field. Each of these women spoke highly of mentors, guidance counselors, older siblings, and bosses who took the time to teach them. Kandi’s career changed drastically when her company encouraged her to participate in ‘pair programming,’ where two programmers sit together and watch the other code and solve problems. This method of working creates a shorter learning cycle, as Kandi said, and pushed her to climb from a software engineer to a senior-level one within a year and a half.
“You aren’t stagnant in this job. You’re always learning so much, and, hopefully, you can do more and achieve more with that information,” Dianne Bungay, Senior Software Consultant and Manager at Solution Street.
Finding reasons to stay motivated can also be a strong encouragement to keep learning. That’s exactly how Lerrie Garcia and Dianne Bungay have continued to be successful. Both spoke in-depth about how much they enjoy solving problems for clients using technology. Bungay went on further to explain, “In this industry, we have the chance to push boundaries.”
Whether it’s healthcare technology that helps save more lives and cure diseases or something that helps humanity see the future of what can be achieved—she finds this work to be inspiring.
The Future of the Industry: Working Women
Being a woman in this field is rare, but that fact doesn’t stop any of these women. Judy Johnson, Software Engineer at Onyx Point, isn’t afraid to be the only woman in the room. She works hard in her day to day life to volunteer and mentor young women and speak about why diversity and representation matter.
In her day to day, she doesn’t let statistics or her personal identities interfere with how she chooses to present herself at work, stating, “The part of you that people see is not anywhere near the whole of who you are.” Being in a woman in a male-dominated field isn’t the entirety of who these women are—just as we are more than our job titles, we are more than our gender in the workplace.
Despite overall satisfaction in their day-to-day jobs, each woman I spoke with admitted that they wished more women took up seats in conference rooms (and virtual meetings). This industry may need to shift for it to be a place where more women can thrive. In what Johnson called the ‘leaky bucket phenomenon,’ women often come to computer science in droves but find it challenging to stay and grow.
“In college, there were no problems with the ratio of women to men. At some point in their careers, women leave and often don’t come back. If only we could find a way to help them stay, maybe more women would be in the field and at the corporate and C-suite levels.” -Dianne Bungay.
Many women, like Bungay, want to start families or already have families like Kandi. It’s well-known that women have a harder time balancing family and work-life due to societal expectations and company policies that prevent flexibility. This was a concept Kandi complimented about this field, sharing that she appreciates how she can work from anywhere, still invest in her family, and enjoy other creative endeavors like painting.
Advice from Senior-Level Women
A common thread when asking how they have reached success in this field was breaking problems down and understanding we are all more capable than we think. Here’s what came to mind when asked what they would say if they had to give their college-self advice.
Johnson was succinct and clear with her advice, “You can do this. You’re smarter than you think.” Imposter Syndrome affected the way she saw herself at the beginning of her career, so she has learned that you can’t look for validation in the outside world, saying, “You have to be able to find the positive in other cues.”
She didn’t always know exactly what she wanted to do. At times, she felt jealous of all the people who seemed to have their life figured out. She encouraged others to not let this stop you from moving forward. “It’s okay if you feel lost… Test the waters, try new things, and if you find something you’re good at and that you enjoy, then that’s a good start.”
It’s without question that there is a sense of gatekeeping in this field. Some are intimidated by the concept of “computer science,” and get frustrated with the field as a whole when struggling to solve problems. Kandi gave a sound reminder that problems are simply problems, not proof of incompetence.
“Computers are not your enemy. Computers don’t distinguish between who they like and who they don’t. You will fail and run into issues. Some will seem big at first, but if you break it down into bite-sized pieces… you can conquer it.” -Sreelatha Kandi
Hearing that we have a support system behind us is, sometimes, the only reminder we need to keep going and delivering. Garcia reflected on how important it is to find motivation in the small moments, and she assures that the other 20% are there to help.
“If you have passion for what you’re doing, go for it. Even if it’s a small thing, if it clicks, it will spark into something more… Don’t be afraid. There are so many women who are there to support you.” -Lerrie Garcia
It’s important to listen to stories from the people within your industry. Beyond practical career advice, we can learn so much from one another. What I found to be most inspiring about these women was their determination, willingness to admit their struggles, and their kindness. They may only take up 20% of the industry, but that doesn’t stop them from being 100% ready for any challenge.
Connect with the Interviewees:
Dianne Bungay, Senior Software Consultant and Manager, Solution Street
Judy Johnson, Software Engineer, Onyx Point
Lerrie Garcia, Software Consultant, Solution Street
Sreelatha Kandi, Senior Software Engineer and Manager, Solution Street
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