Women in tech: “We are building so many biases into technology”
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 Lina Zubyte, QA Consultant at ThoughtWorks.
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 Lina Zubyte, QA Consultant at ThoughtWorks.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Lina Zubyte
I work as a QA Consultant at ThoughtWorks. On my business card, I say QA means Question Asker because that is a lot of what I get to do. It’s fascinating how many thought-leaders I get to work with and learn from. Also, the special thing about this company is that one of the main pillars on which the company is based is social and economic justice, which means that ThoughtWorkers, even if very diverse and different, do have a similar set of open-minded values.
I care about people, social good and our world in general, so it is great to have this aspect in mind even if the main focus is working on quite challenging projects helping other companies to build their products.
There is no typical day for a quality analyst at ThoughtWorks, but the goal is always the same: trying to advocate for quality and help the team to build the quality in. This could be realized pairing with business analysts, product owners, developers; investigating quality improvements that could be made; looking into our automation processes (and other processes, too), and, in general, being the glue that holds a high-performing team together.
What first got you interested in tech?
I got interested in technology (more on a high level) when I was 13, after getting my first computer. I would spend nights talking to various people on IRC (Internet Relay Chat). I was curious about how the internet works – what a fascinating invention! I did some programming at school, but actually it was not something that attracted me that much because it did have a manly connotation to it – an extra class for that was full of boys. And even if I did grasp programming pretty well, I chose to concentrate on other subjects. Little did I know that I would end up working in tech.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
The first assumption when a woman is in a meeting is that she’s “not technical”.
I studied mathematics at university; I loved the challenges it imposed, especially the amount of problem solving. At one of the career fairs at university, there was a company that gave out logical tasks for one of their role applications (that was a software tester’s role and the goal was to evaluate out-of-the-box thinking patterns). I was not so much interested in the company or the role, but in the fact that this sheet of paper had some problems on it to solve. I loved the tasks they gave – there were lots of creative logical puzzles to solve! I had a blast, and this led me to consider software testing as a career.
That company turned into my first job where I obtained good testing fundamentals (and much more). With a change of a job, I learned more about test automation, monitoring, and product development in general. This shifted me towards the quality aspect of software – quality is so much more than testing.
There were many challenges on the way: from constantly trying to manage biases (my own, or those of the people I got to work with), people neglecting my job by telling me that it does not matter because I just “click around” or am “not technical” (don’t get me started on that! Everyone is technical, “purer” development roles may have more knowledge, but the word technical is super broad!), to impostor syndrome and questioning if tech is for me.
A strong support group
My parents do not know that much about tech at all, so my job up till now is a little mystery for them. The easiest answer is that I work with computers. Of course, they support me in my career decisions, but sometimes it’s hard for them to relate at a deeper level. I do have programmer friends, so that is a great support network, however, it took a while to form it.
I am extremely grateful to some of the people I’ve met at work who have shaped my career a lot. Also, I am happy to say that after speaking at some conferences I got exposed to more inspiring professionals in tech. This way I learned about Katrina Clokie and Charity Majors who are great role models for my interest fields.
Did someone ever try to stop you from advancing in your professional life?
There were some demotivating situations. For example, a person yelling at me in a very important meeting with stakeholders that they “should not listen to her!” These moments definitely can make you question if it’s worth it to continue in the field at all. However, I managed to overcome it, and I’m lucky enough to say that I was surrounded by a lot of great people from whom I could learn a lot.
What are you most proud of in your career?
When I looked through the window of a skyscraper hotel’s room to a breathtaking panorama of New York City while preparing the talk I was invited to give, I had a sudden proud moment realizing how I got there. It was not easy, but I grew rapidly, step by step. I, who is still a small-town girl from a tiny village in Lithuania on the inside, was actually invited to speak at a conference on my tech career journey, growth, and authenticity. At that moment I thought to myself that years ago I might not have guessed where a tech job would lead me, or how much growth I’d experience and how many obstacles I’d need to overcome to get there.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Sometimes it’s not an inclusive field, and there is a lack of role models, too. Look at the board meetings of most companies: they are most commonly filled with middle-aged white men. There are so many other examples of how tech’s image, in general, is turned into a “boy’s club” with foosball tables, beers after work, or basketball courts in some companies. Another image comes to my head from one of the marketing videos for a company I saw this year: a consulting company was advertising with a video where only men in suits were enjoying the luxurious life of consulting. More real-life examples of this can be found in Ellen Pao’s book “Reset”.
I have been in meetings where I was the only woman, not to mention men teasing me, commenting on certain aspects of mine, or the general impression that I had to convince them I deserved to be there. There have been multiple instances where I was not taken seriously until I proved I deserve to be in the meeting. None of these stories are appealing.
Another aspect of this multi-layer issue is confidence. Women are, from the very start, supposed to be the ones who “behave”. Think of school, where “boys will be boys” while “girls have to be nice”. We are seeding this mindset to kids, so not as many girls grow up to be bold and outspoken – those (usually considered as manly) qualities are very much praised in tech. This is why a lot of women may not even consider joining the field where there is an impression that you have to be lacking empathy.
Could you name a few challenges women in tech face?
You do not have to act like a “tech bro” to be in tech.
The main challenge is the preconceptions some other people may have when seeing a woman in tech. This does not only come from men. In Claire Shipman and Katty Kay’s book “Confidence Code”, there is a mention that when a female CEO enters a room full of people, she has to convince them by default that she was worthy, that she attained whatever she achieved herself. But if a male CEO enters the room, people tend to accept that he achieved it himself and that he’s worthy.
This is especially present in tech – the first assumption when a woman is in a meeting is that she’s “not technical” – sometimes we may even need to over-communicate someone else’s lack of communication. And it’s very draining to try to convince people again and again. Also, another thing that is not as valued are feminine values in general. In tech, the culture very often is full of confidence, boldness, even directness. All these are known as “hero” qualities (and heroes are often men…), what about empathy, people-centric ideas and caring? It can be quite an obstacle not to see examples of those qualities being valued. Luckily, it’s getting better.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
We need more diversity. It enables us to build more inclusive, human-centered products. Having a more balanced, diverse work environment helps all the team members grow in multi-dimensional ways. One of the biggest impacts definitely would be open-mindedness in general for the teams. We have to change our ways of thinking that tech is a manly field. Tech is not made just for a certain gender. There still is a long road in making tech more inclusive, balanced, and accepting.
For example, in Turkish there are no separated gender pronouns, there is one generic one and google translate up to this day struggles to give unbiased translations. For “a person is a doctor” the translation from Turkish to German is “he is a doctor”, while for “a person is a nurse” it’s “she is a nurse”. Who added this translation? Why? We are building so many biases into technology. Having more women work in STEM definitely would help manage these biases better, improve the quality of tech and even help other people grow in their understanding of the world around us.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
Come to think of it, it was not that long ago that women were not even allowed to attend universities. Imagine what kind of a rebel Marie Curie was in her day. And that was the 19th/20th century! It took years to start breaking gender norms, or what some call traditions. I am happy that the diversity discussion is gaining momentum, it helps a lot to improve the situation, but let’s admit it: there is still a long way to go, but we have to continue the conversation. More and more people being allies on the topic can improve the situation greatly.
What advice would you give to women who want a career in tech?
Tech is full of extremely interesting areas you can work in, and, the best of all, you can experiment to see which field you like the most. So keep the passion going strong: you may be different from others in the team or even company, and that’s completely okay. The industry is grateful to have you there! You do not have to act like a “tech bro” to be in tech. It needs you for being you.
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- Women in tech: Reema Poddar – “Women MUST promote and support their fellow women.”
- Women in tech: Sivan Nir – “You need to have passion and a thirst for learning.”
- Women in tech: Karen Hoyos – “Diversity should be represented at every level”
- Women in tech: Meghan Jordan – “Good products and good teams require empathy”
- Women in tech: Laura Drabik – “Don’t let someone steal your ideas, represent them yourself”