Women in Tech: “The impression that you somehow don’t belong really keeps women away”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we 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 Julie Lerman
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?
Two years ago, we 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 Julie Lerman, independent consultant.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Julie Lerman
Julie Lerman is a an independent consultant who works as a coach and mentor for software teams around the world, assisting with architecture, performance, and modernizing software practices. She is Microsoft Regional Director and a long-time Microsoft MVP who has been designing and coding software for thirty years.
You can find Julie presenting on Domain-driven Design, Entity Framework, and many other topics at user groups and conferences around the world. Julie blogs at thedatafarm.com/blog, is the author of the highly acclaimed “Programming Entity Framework” books, the MSDN Magazine Data Points column and popular videos on Pluralsight.com.
What first got you interested in tech?
In college in the early 1980’s, our math professors built 3 computers from kits and taught a BASIC programming class. I was hooked!
How did you end up in your career path?
A few years later, I was at my first job and there was one computer in the entire company of 1000 people. After a few weeks it was on my desk because I was figuring things out with it. I definitely had a knack and as the company got more and more computers, people would come to me for help. At my next job, there were a few computers and a ragged dBaseIII book which I picked up and figured out how to use the computer to make my job easier. It really just kept expanding from there.
I present at conferences so women in software can see that they are not alone.
Did you receive support from your family and friends?
My family was always encouraging even though they didn’t understand what exactly I was doing but they were impressed. My mom had always been a great role model. She was a writer and her first novel, published in 1973, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She was always someone without limits.
However when I started programming, there were three women in the local (New York City) FoxPro community and they took me under their wings. I will always remember them and be grateful.
Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
Nope. NEVER! :)
A day in Julie’s life
I’ve been self-employed for a little over 30 years. With the experience I have gained in these years, I now work as a coach to help other software development teams in different companies. I don’t do anything long term for them. I will go in for a 3-5 days and work with them on architecture.
I recently ran a 2-day event storming workshop for a company who was stuck in a rut. That was interesting. It was more of a business exercise, helping them gain new perspective on their software and what problems they needed to be focusing on.
What are you most proud of in your career?
The more diversity we have in STEM, the more welcoming it will be for anyone who wants to participate.
The fact that I have helped a lot of people learn and advance their skills and careers.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I think that entering a male dominated industry is pretty daunting. I just heard today about a young woman who is great at math and science but doesn’t want to be an engineer because it’s dominated by men. One of the reasons I present at conferences is so women in software can see that they are not alone. And that we can be respected. And for them to witness ways to share and gain credibility.
Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?
The fact that it’s male dominated is a pretty big one. This varies in different communities. I was really surprised in Switzerland and Germany to see so few women attending conferences. In the US I’m seeing more and more. But getting the impression that you somehow don’t belong (which is not true and makes me sad) really keeps women away. Also …although I have not experienced it but I think it’s because of my age and decades of experience ….the rampant sexism that we see daily.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
From a biz perspective, I think it would have the same impact as many other industries when a diverse group of people are creating products, those products. From social, the more diversity we have in STEM, the more welcoming it will be for anyone who wants to participate.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I can’t answer that question. No crystal ball. Even though that discussion is gaining momentum, the haters are getting more aggressive. So it’s difficult to make any type of predictions.
What advice would you give to women who want a career in tech?
My advice is always to do what you love. I grew up with the idea that I could do whatever I wanted. There was no concept of being limited by my gender. Granted, I did have a somewhat privileged upbringing. I know it’s not always easy to just follow your heart. I’m sad to hear women saying they don’t want to go into engineering because it’s so male dominated. Perhaps the most important tip is to find a mentor …maybe not a single person but various people you trust to help you travel the path of your dreams.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- Women in Tech: Laurie Barth – “Diversity isn’t a debate, it’s reality”
- Women in Tech: Rebecca Simmonds – “Having more women in tech opens up the door to a more equal world”
- Women in Tech: Alyssa Simpson Rochwerger – “Accept opportunities, know your worth, and find mentors”
- Women in Tech: Hanna Stacey – “Diversity drives innovation.”
- Women in tech: Danuta Florczyk – “Professional competence against inequality — a perfect tool”
- Women in tech: Lina Zubyte – “We are building so many biases into technology”