Tips from Women in Tech: Career Advice #1
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ever wish you could jump in your DeLorean time machine with Marty & Doc, head back to the beginning of your career and give your younger, ‘fresh faced’ self some sound advice from the lessons you’ve learnt so far? Great Scott, I sure do!
Growing up, there is no doubt we will all experience countless, valuable life lessons. The kind of lessons that will build our character, strength and help shape our future success. Some things we do just have to figure out for ourselves but how awesome would it have been to shorten the learning curve and have had a few game-changing survival tips from day one of our career?
I’ve been asking some fabulous women working in tech “What are 3 things you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?” and wanted to share their wisdom in hope others (at any stage in their career) can benefit from their knowledge, experience and discover ways to apply the lessons learnt to their own career/life.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Readers…to the DeLorean we go….
“Only three?! There are multiple things I wish I could tell my younger self… But at least I can write three of them here in this text 😊
When I started working I had spent several years practicing my analytical skills, but had very little experience in how to give presentations or how to present my case for business people. And your ability to communicate is an important factor in your career success. My first advice is therefore to become good at communicating through writing and performing. Find out how to introduce complex ideas and arguments. Don’t fear negative feedback. Keep refining the skill.
2. Don’t let perfect get in the way of great
There is an infinite amount of work to do. Learn to hand in tasks and projects even if they aren’t perfect.
3. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes
This is an important one. You should try taking on challenging projects early on, and not hold back because of fear of making mistakes. Remember that everyone is thinking about themselves and how things are making them look. If you make a mistake that might feel embarrassing for you, people around you probably won’t even notice.”
— Anna Baecklund (Head of Data Science)
“1. One great thing about working in tech is that there is always something to learn. This is one of the things that attracted me to the field. The challenge is to find a balanced approach to learning, to avoid burnout. I am not sure that I have managed to find this balance, but one thing you can do is not to rush to get tasks finished without developing a deeper understanding of the problem. How prospective employers view learning is important. Try to find a job where you can set off time to grow your skillset. In any case, continuous learning needs to be sustainable.
2. Knowing how to use technical terms and buzzwords in your daily work helps building confidence. I am no advocate of using multi-syllable words at every opportunity, but not using technical terms can put you at a disadvantage. Sometimes people use tech lingo to impress and give weight to otherwise weak arguments. Don’t let them get away with it and keep conversations informed and productive!
3. Regardless of how nice your colleagues are, if you are not part of the majority group you can sometimes feel lonely. Try taking part in the wider community — meetups, conferences, study groups etc — to find inspiration and meet people who are perhaps more like you. You will make new interesting connections with new perspectives and grow your skills. Feeling a part of the wider community has been important for me to keep energy levels up, especially now during Covid.”
— Sara Wänerskär (Developer)
“1. Choose your boss — Easier said than done but who becomes your closest boss really matters for your career as well as well-being at work. It should be someone that believes in you, listens and understands you but not necessarily someone that is just like you — we often learn more from people that are different than people that are alike
2. Build a network and identify informal mentors — Surround yourself by a diverse group of people that you feel that you can share your career thoughts, dilemmas, and bad days experiences with. People that support but that can also challenge you; peers in your own age group but also more experienced, at work as well as outside of work (people at other companies)
3. It’s ok when the plan doesn’t work out as planned — Actually, studies show that people with non-straight, traditional career paths, i.e. people that have “jumped around” more and not just worked for and climbed the ladder at one company, not just seen one industry, not just worked in one field / department are more successful and have higher salaries. Don’t be afraid to not follow the “supposed-to”-track, try follow your gut instinct instead. Spinning on the above, third advice: Remember to have fun — to the extent possible choose the companies, positions, boss, colleagues that give you the most positive energy. Life is about having fun ;).”
— Amanda Berninger (Director Strategy & Analytics)
“1. Having a background of being brought up as a very independent individual, who had always been able to do whatever I wanted to do, (in the sense of choosing education, where to study, where to live and so on).
I would never have believed that I would face inequality in the workplace so early in and obviously in my career. I had been lucky enough to also have had the opportunity to study abroad to widen my perspective. I was young and there were no limits to what I could do. In addition to that, the last years before I started working, I had been at Uni with a heavily skewed (majority male) gender distribution, but not experienced any major difference in treatment. It was therefore not prepared of a workplace that still had such bias towards the ability of men over women, and the fact that the burden of proof for inequality still ends on women and non-binary.
I got a fast wake up call, when I started in the gaming industry. Not because the intentions of people were bad, but because people still identify with the majority, and to the majority (guys) it was not a problem. So I wish I would have known more about the gender perception, unconscious bias and the fact that women are perceived to speak more than men even if they speak less in meetings. I once got the feedback that I talked a lot, and I adjusted that by talking less, instead of knowing that it is a perception issue.
Had I known more about this, I would earlier have learned to be vocal about issues in a workplace where the cool guys advanced, not because they were better, but because they were perceived better. I wish that I would have caught on earlier in the sense of questioning the culture and what was considered accepted in terms of language and jargon. Having that said, I am by no means an innocent when it comes to cracking jokes and being witty.
2. You often say that as an engineer you learn to learn. That is very true. When you start out you often feel that you have to know and understand everything, but the longer you work, the more you realise that you don’t have to know everything. Your work should be set up in a way so that you can learn and find out. Whether it is from help of a team, mentor, or just the nature of allowing time to investigate solutions in the work process. I wish that I would have had the support of a mentor or someone equivalent immediately when I started working, instead of having to figure this out. Especially since women tend to judge themselves harder on all criterias for a job, rather than owning and giving themselves credit for all the good qualities. Both on a technical skill level as well as on an emotional skill level
3. Changing jobs is a big deal, but not a huge deal. I would call myself a solution oriented person, who doesn’t shy from problems. Rather the opposite, I have a nagging need to address issues that sometimes have been left for years due to their complexity. It rhymes well with my need to find synergy and work together. I many times call upon people’s strengths to do so. And a lot of coaching and convincing. However, you can coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached, and the same goes for convincing someone who is not open to ideas to change. In the beginning of my career I often took it as a personal failure when people wouldn’t listen, or understand. I kept on trying, and always assumed that my approach was wrong. After all, you have the colleagues you have, and that’s what you have to work with. And of course that is true to a certain extent. However, the whole picture is larger than that. If you are not appreciated or set up to succeed, don’t task it upon yourself personally. Look at the outside factors as well, How much are you willing to invest in your time and ability? What is important for you to not exert yourself? And above all, make sure that your work is appreciated and recognised. I wish that I would have known when to stop, breath and regroup earlier in my worklife. And also, that if you are good at something, there are other jobs, with other people where you can be set up for success. I am not saying that you should give up on the impossible, but I am saying that there are options when things don’t work out.”
— Anonymous (Engineering Manager)
“1. Don’t wait around for anyone to give your permission regarding things you can control.
What I mean is, if you wait until you feel like you meet all the criteria, wait for the perfect role, wait for the right time to go out on your own, you’ll be waiting forever. Just do it. On a similar note, you don’t have to be 100% in on anything to give it a try. If you want to start a project in your spare time, just do it.
2. But if you can’t control it, ask for what you want because you’re much more likely to get it.
This is applicable to most things in life but especially at work. If you want more money, a better title, more benefits, etc. you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it when negotiating. If they’re already offering you a job, they’re not going to rescind it because you asked to go to a conference every year or to put senior in your title. In addition, when you’re in a role, if there’s something different you want to do at work, just speak up and say so! More than once, I’ve written up a new job description and presented it to a supervisor explaining exactly why I’m qualified for that role. This also extends to asking for help. After you’ve gone through the trouble of building a strong, genuine network, don’t be afraid to tap into it sometimes when you need it.
3. Take the big leaps if you can.
One of my only career regrets is that I didn’t move out of the town I grew up in earlier. I kept waiting to have the right degrees and the right experience before I thought I could make it in a bigger city but I genuinely believe I’d be in a better place professionally & financially if I would have made a move earlier. I live abroad now so I did eventually take the big leap and the network of people I have in my life now personally & professionally is truly amazing because of it.”
— Anonymous (Director of Insights)
I hope these tips can add some value, inspiration and insights!
💌 A huge thank you to the wonderful Women in Tech involved in this initiative, your support is greatly appreciated!💌