Not engineers or executives: The other women in tech

When people talk about “women in tech” they usually mean female engineers or women who have risen to positions of executive leadership, but there are a lot of women in tech who are neither of those things. Analysts and project managers are to “women in tech” what stay at home moms are to the general feminist movement. Sure, people say they respect your choice, but that doesn’t mean they want you as their poster girl.

I taught myself BASIC on our first TRS-80 computer when I was about 7 years old. For years there were so few other people at school (kids or teachers) who had used a computer as much as I had that I stood out just for knowing the technology. I wasn’t aware that being a girl who wrote code was supposed to be extra special. Maybe if I knew I would have gotten a computer science degree to make my gender proud.

Instead I went to business school. I studied information systems, which means I know a lot about data processing and how to use software tools to solve problems and increase efficiency. I am not an engineer.

I started my career as a programmer, but I wrote code in COBOL, which is a programming language about as sexy as a pair of clogs. I dabbled a bit with sleeker languages, but I quickly became a full time business analyst and project manager.

I still felt solidarity with all women in tech. I didn’t have to be writing code to feel like a minority in my male dominated industry.

Then the media jumped on the women in tech bandwagon.

Once “women in tech” became a buzzworthy phrase the focus was on women who code. Attention was also given to those women, often former engineers, who had made it to leadership positions in technology companies. Exemplifying the convergence of “women in tech” and “women in leadership” those executive ladies are a listicle maker’s dream.

When I went back to grad school to study information security my main areas of interest were user education and data privacy, but I was acutely aware that those were “softer” specialties. They are not the sorts of subjects that make you a heroine of the women in tech movement.

As one of only two women in our program I worked intensely in our engineering and hacking classes to ensure that I did as well as, if not better than, my male peers. I wanted to demonstrate that my less technical focus was not due to an inability to do technical work. I felt I had to to excel on behalf of all women.

Then I got my degree and returned to being a non-technical woman in tech: a project manager, analyst, and compliance specialist.

I am not an engineer and won’t likely ever be an executive. I am not one of those women in tech you want for your profile pieces or your mentorship programs.

But maybe I should be.

Careers in technology are not limited to engineers and systems administrators. Tech careers include instructors, project managers, writers, user experience experts, and more.

Too often the proposed solution to getting more women in tech jobs is to teach girls to code. That’s not how to get more women in tech. It’s how to get more women who code.

Coding is great. It strengthens logic and project solving. It is rewarding to build something that works. If girls are good at it and want to pursue it that’s wonderful.

But not everyone will like coding or be good at it. That may make them think that they don’t want a career in technology at all. We need to let our girls (and boys) know that if they love technology there are things they can do other than become engineers.

Most of us other women in tech will never show up on a “Top Women in Tech” list, but we are are working our butts off to help those other women and men in tech succeed. It would be nice if we got a little respect too.

Nasa woman at computer
We’ve come a long way, baby. Well, maybe not all of us.
Image via NASA on The Commons, Flickr, Image # : C1951-27873


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