Diversity talk: Anyone who wants to learn and grow won’t continue in an industry that tells them they are stupid
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Sara Inés Calderón, director and Austin Evangelist at Women Who Code Austin.
Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Women in Tech — The Survey
We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!
Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.
Without further ado, we would like to introduce Sara Inés Calderón, director and Austin Evangelist at Women Who Code Austin.
Sara Inés Calderón, director and Austin Evangelist at Women Who Code Austin
Sara Inés Calderón worked as a professional journalist and in digital media for 10 years. As her career progressed she noticed that technology was starting to dominate the industry in important ways. More and more she found herself dealing with digital platforms, and adjusting HTML and CSS in order to format her work. Being a savvy professional, she realized that if she wanted to stay at the top of her game she was going to have to learn a more substantial set of technological skills.
Today Sara is a software developer at a consulting company in Austin, where she’s been working with new technologies like Boostrap and Angular to build products that will eventually find a global audience. In her spare time she has been working on a variety of other projects, a period tracker app with Women Who Code Austin Founder Holly Gibson, a multimedia project with another Sabio.la graduate named Julia Wells, documenting the history of Latina civil rights activists in Texas, She is also the founder of Más Wired, an online publication focusing on Latinos in tech and STEM.
Read her entire bio here.
When did you become interested in technology?
I started my career as a journalist, writing for newspapers, and as that field became more and more about web–based content, and technology really, I started thinking about how I could transition into a more technical set of skills. I worked for a few media startups and realized that what I needed to do was not just create content, but create the technology that delivered content. That said, when I was in high school I remember hearing about computer science, and not really knowing what that was, and even when I attended Stanford University as an undergraduate, I knew people who studied computer science, but I didn’t really know what that was or felt like it was something for me.
As far as obstacles are concerned, when you’re starting out and you do not have a computer science degree, also if you are a person of color, or a woman, there are definitely some expectations that you will run into that may make it harder for you to find your first job. Additionally, there is an unspoken apprenticeship that happens in technology, where older developers mentor new developers, and since most of the older developers are white men, when you come in outside of that category, you may not get the mentorship you expected. So I essentially had to find and seek out mentorship in a variety of ways in order to continue and further education and professional skill set.
I am very fortunate that my family and friends are really big supporters of mine, especially professionally speaking. I have a bunch of role models, none of them really work in technology, but they all have shown me how hard work and perseverance and being true to who you are — no matter what you face in the personal professional world — is of the utmost importance.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
There are definitely haters out there! Anytime I foray into the digital world, there’s a risk that some anonymous YouTube commenter is going to tell me he will rape me, or someone on Twitter will tell me I’m stupid, or someone on Stack Overflow will downvote me because they think I’m ignorant. I’ve written about some of my terrible experiences interviewing for technical rules where men will stare at my chest, talk over me, or hold me to a higher standard because they assume I know less than someone else. Of course, I’ve also met people in real life who challenge my ability to learn things because it’s “really hard”. All of that said, as I mentioned above, my role models showed me that hard work and being true to yourself are unstoppable forces in the face of almost anything.
A day in Sara’s life
I most proud of the fact that I always work to better myself and find more opportunities for myself, while also trying to help others. This is of the utmost importance for any serious professional, if you want to be successful, you need good people around you, and that is best accomplished by making sure that others are learning and have access to opportunities.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Technology is a shitty industry for women. Unfortunately, it is that simple. I worked in media for a long time but my experiences there never equal my experiences in technology, and I worked in the media for 10 years, I’ve only been in tech for three. Anyone who is smart, hungry, and wants to learn and grow will surely not continue in an industry that continually tells them they are stupid, incapable, and will never advance. Why would someone who is smart want to stay in a place where they can never make more money, advancing their careers, or be treated with respect?
That’s not even to mention how bro-ey & exclusionary the communities in technology are outside of the workplace. That’s why women are not in technology.
The world as we know it, impacted informed by technology as it is, would be vastly different if they were more women who created that technology. Absolutely. And that also holds true for people from other underrepresented communities, people of color certainly, and LGBTQ folks. For example, I doubt that online forums like YouTube or Twitter would be such rampant tools for harassment and threats if women had formed core parts of the teams that built them. Or people of color, or anyone else from a marginalized group for that matter.
Apple releasing a Health app that did not track women’s health, facial recognition that tagged black people as gorillas, needless tracking of gender and other personal information across the Internet, these are examples of the types of problems that would be avoided if the people who built our technology reflected the people who use our technology. We would have better products, more secure products, more useful products if the people who built them for part of the people that use them. Everyone would benefit.
Challenges women in tech face
One of the greater challenges is certainly the lack of mentorship. Given that there are so few women, to begin with, it can be hard for women to find someone to help them grow, especially if they don’t come from a traditional background — even if they do. Supposing even that was not a problem, pay equity is a huge issue, and often there are both documented and anecdotal stories of “company culture” that is extremely misogynist.
Additionally, for women who would like to pursue things like start ups, or freelancing, the question of healthcare is more immediate and concerning. That said, I am continually inspired by the amazing women I encounter through women who code Austin because in spite of all these things, they don’t stop until they find the rewarding and engaging careers that they are looking for.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I believe the answer is partly whenever large employers decide to really make diversity a core part of their business, and as more people from marginalized groups in technology decide to pursue, develop, and create their own Enterprises. I believe the Uber example highlights that cutting corners is not a sustainable business strategy, compared to a company like IBM or Google, that simply cannot afford to be so outlandishly exclusive and discriminatory. As consumers, the country, the market, become more diverse, business is going to have to figure out a way to keep up. Whoever does figure out how to keep up will be making more money, ultimately, that’s what will create the change.
Tips & tricks
What I tell people is that there are a lot of opportunities as long as you’re willing to put in the work, and bear the brunt of some things you might not in other industries. Certainly, the pay is much more generous than in other industries, the benefits also, and the ability to try new things and jobs is unparalleled. That said, I don’t know that I have met a woman or a person of color or someone from the LGBTQ community who has ever told me they’ve never had any brazen experiences with discrimination.
So I tell people: work hard, build community, learn whatever you can, and don’t stop looking for the right place or the right opportunity. There are practical things as well, such as building your online brand, engaging with relevant groups on Twitter, attending conferences, meet ups, and building things outside of work and then technologies you want to pursue, so that you can be paid for them in your next job.
If anyone ever has any specific questions they can feel free to reach out to me on Twitter: @SaraChicaD
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- “Technology reflects the people who make it”
- “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”
- Why women fall out of the tech pipeline
- Breaking the mold: ‘It’s not that you’re good — it’s that you’re female’
- How to avoid the culture of male programmers
- Creating an equal playing field is about more than just teaching someone coding skills
- The more women you see in STEM, the less intimidating it is for others to join
- The tech industry tends to lose women along the way. Change is underway
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Tips & tricks for women
- Transitioning into a tech career? Silicon Valley culture is one of the biggest initial obstacles
- Abby Kearns: “Diversity ensures continuous innovation”
- “In technology, you become a lifelong learner — More women should embrace this career”
- Cultural impact is not driven by gender, but by diversity
- Everyday superheroes: “I don’t have a role model, my career was based on my mistakes”
- Diversity talk: For tech, it’s less about a pipeline problem and more of a marketing problem
- Diversity talk: It’s important to receive support from tech communities
- Everyday superheroes: Women just need to see more of us — techie women