Tips for women in tech: “Setbacks and ‘failures’ are really learning opportunities”
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 Andrea Pretorian, Content Manager with BitIRA.
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 Andrea Pretorian, Content Manager with BitIRA.
Andrea Pretorian, Content Manager with BitIRA
Andrea is a native New Yorker who recently settled into the city of brotherly love. She’s passionate about empowering people with knowledge and facts so that they fear nothing. When she’s not managing content at BitIRA, she’s cooking up wild dinner menus at home or else chasing dreams of documentary film-making.
What got you interested in tech?
One of my first childhood memories was when our family got a computer, at a time when no one else that I knew had one. I watched my dad unbox and assemble it, and actually spent hours glued to watch how he navigated menus and performed simple tasks. At the time, I think he had the MS Office Suite and he was teaching himself Visual Basic. I always heard about new tech trends from him. I vividly remember how excited I was when we got speakers and could play audio.
I learned a lot from watching him, and I ended up supporting our computer teacher in elementary school. She sort of got stuck in that position and had minimal experience with computers, so I would troubleshoot any issues that arose, and helped keep the computers connected and functioning. From there, the rest is history.
A day in Andrea’s life
I have the title of “Content Manager” with BitIRA; there’s no typical day. There’s a lot that’s exciting about working for a company centered on investing in digital currencies. The industry is rapidly evolving, and so there’s always something new to sink your teeth into.
Cryptocurrency has both tech and financial/entrepreneurial implications, which combined with the notion of “investing for your retirement” can be really daunting for most people. I love making this subject easier to digest, so that people can empower themselves to make the very best decisions for their lives. We’ve been working on considering the social impact of crypto. I’m extremely proud of the women in crypto piece that we released, although we’ve also looked at the environment and even nonprofit fundraising.
A strong support system
I am extremely fortunate to have a mother who pursued chemical engineering in the very late 60s and 70s, and in Europe no less. Her go-to was to reinforce that if I put my mind on something, I can achieve absolutely anything I want—and that I shouldn’t stop until I do so. The one “issue” was that I have to be willing to work hard; but with that, she said, you can achieve anything.
It wasn’t until high school that I even realized gender discrimination was an issue; and while that may come across as sheltered, it was really helpful to develop the muscle memory of succeeding alongside my peers without having to think of myself as a woman versus the world.
Any obstacles along the way?
I actually ended up moving away from computers and wanted to pursue neurosurgery for awhile, but I became frustrated with the high demands and low rewards—at least, in terms of what I value in my adult life—that I anticipated as being part of that career, and I shifted back into tech. I started up a second degree in computer science and did really well in it, while also enjoying the heck out of data structures. I only stopped because that program changed and became more of a networks-focused one, vs the biotech and AI applications I was more interested in at the time.
I had a really critical experience there in that CS degree program. Look, I’ve always been interested in science, and I’ve traditionally—and unintentionally—pursued male-dominated career paths, so there was no shock there. But I vividly remember being in courses and getting “shut out” by the men in my class. It’s not like anyone said to my face, “Go away, you’re a woman and don’t belong here.” What happened was actually far more subtle, but just as dangerous: no one would talk to me. There was this invisible bubble around me and the three other women in my classes (that’s total, they weren’t in every one). The guys would work together on problem sets and support each other when they didn’t know the answer, but “somehow” no one would ever work with me.
Joke’s on them; I also vividly remember being the only one to get a score above an 85 on a really difficult exam. The guys were trying to figure out whose it was; never did they stop to look at me and consider that I might be the one.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
Of course; and not even in ways that are necessarily tied to my gender.
There’s an implied follow-up of “what did you do in response” to this question, and so I’ll answer that. First off, you give people the benefit of the doubt—up to a point. Mistakes happen, people don’t realize things can get taken a certain way, etc. I would never want to become an alarmist. But be honest with yourself: after what point does this behavior no longer seem accidental? At what point does it start to hurt? Be clear about what that boundary looks like for you.
If the boundary gets crossed, then it’s time to first confront the individual in whatever way is appropriate. I tend to work in small teams and I try to build rapport with everyone from the get-go, and so I’m totally comfortable approaching anyone with my concerns. I’d make sure to do this in a way that won’t be perceived as threatening by the other party; that can breed defensive behavior. I’d let them know where you stand; hopefully, they didn’t realize what they were effectively saying, and so they can change their behavior and you both can move on.
So what if it persists? You can either escalate it through your institution, ignore it, or choose to walk away. Again, this all depends on the person, and you need to do what’s right for you. One of the worst parts of all discrimination is that it robs victims of their agency. And so, you need to do whatever you need to do to restore your agency.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m not afraid of anything, and I think it shows. Whether it’s changing my trajectory or taking on some new, potentially difficult project, I welcome any challenge that comes my way. It’s taken all this time to internalize that setbacks and “failures” are really learning opportunities; but I think that once you do accept that mentality, it sets you free.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
There’s been a lot of characterization of this and it’s a fairly complex issue. I think one component that doesn’t necessarily get enough air time comes with examining what we value in each gender when they achieve “success”; this is important because it helps shape the career tracks individuals with a high level of ambition might choose. Successful men are intense and decisive, but successful women always have some element of charisma addressed about them. Tech’s rep was not always as particularly charming. As a result, it grew by leaps and bounds before women really had the chance to participate in key ways.
What obstacles do women in tech face?
- An establishment that excludes them, at best unintentionally. But since establishments resist change, it sets the barrier to entry high.
- Even if allowed to participate, women tend to have specific job titles as opposed to the men. Think of how many women you know in PR roles versus tech jobs?
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
Diversity is so complex, this question is impossible to answer, even if we focus on gender diversity. That said, it will come in waves. It’s easier to change policies rapidly, but deeply ingrained notions and attitudes will take a longer time. They also require reinforcement and self-awareness, which is why we all need to speak up when we see issues.
Tips & tricks
While I definitely believe in flagging issues and working to resolve them, I don’t operate from an “us vs. them” perspective; this makes it hard to answer this question, because any advice I can give would apply to everyone. Popularity and attractiveness come and go; it’s easy to fall out of favor, and so I would focus less on worrying about whether you are liked or what people are saying about you. Focus on your work. At the end of the day, it is the work you achieve that endures; make sure that it is as excellent as you can make it.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
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- “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”
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- 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”
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- Everyday superheroes: “I don’t have a role model, my career was based on my mistakes”
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- How to succeed in tech: Diffblue’s Jane Silber shares her tips
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- How to win the diversity battle: “By sharing my qualifications early in a meeting, it changed the entire dynamic of the conversation”
- Why aren’t there more women in tech? “We lack role models, and we lack support every step of the way”