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Six Inspiring Women in Tech from 2020’s #DevTO’s International Women’s Day Talks

Sobia Fazal

Sobia Fazal

Software Engineer

Angela Dietz

Angela Dietz

Software Engineer, Intern

April 21, 2020

Connectors at International Women's Day Talks

Beyonce once said, “Who run the world? Girls.” With its emphasis on the ‘s’, at Connected, our women in tech community know just how important it is to stand together and hear each others’ experiences. Which is why a group of us jumped at the opportunity to listen to a group of inspiring women speak at  #DevTO’s International Women’s Day Talks. These women each discussed the overarching theme of growth, and how we can all progress our personal career paths, and the strategies we can employ to advance teams and projects.  Below is a breakdown of some of the most meaningful talks on the day with lessons we, as women in tech and beyond, can take into our everyday lives.

Elaine Arakill, Agile Program Director at RBC

Success looks different to everyone, so it is critical that we each define what success looks like for ourselves, and continually work towards this goal. Arakill explained how she has been able to drive toward her career goals and in the process, exceed her own expectations. She recommended we make a vision board; have a clear vision, map it out, and figure out how to get there. Your vision can adapt overtime, but it is essential to revisit this board often to keep you on your path. 

Another key learning from her talk: “Don’t wait for an opportunity to shine, seize your opportunities.” Identify your strengths and play to them. Women often undermine their own capabilities—studies have shown that men will apply to jobs with 60% qualifications meanwhile women are more likely to only apply to the same jobs where they are 100% qualified. Bet bigger on yourself; know that there are a lot of resources out there that you can learn from that would help you learn the other 40%.

Youri Wims, Web Developer at Ecobee

While individual prosperity and growth are important, team growth is essential, because it gives meaning to our personal improvements. When you surround yourself with the right community, your collective growth will foster your individual growth as well. Wims highlighted the importance of immersing yourself in a supportive community, particularly emphasizing the necessity of getting a mentor early. 

In addition to finding ourselves a mentor, we need to be mentors for our colleagues as well in order to build a network of support. This community is critical in helping team members raise their voice. When working with a team, each person must be given the space to bring forward ideas, and proposals, as well as question existing practices. This can be a daunting task, yet it is necessary for team growth, so Wims invites everyone to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” which is much easier to do in a group of people who are supporting each other.

Bhavana Srinivas, Senior Solutions Engineer at Netlify

Often, a lack of confidence can be detrimental to growth and development, because it keeps us in our comfort zone while drastically hindering ambition. Srinivas has personally experienced this, so she spoke about the infamous imposter syndrome that many of us battle with. A common symptom of imposter syndrome is questionioning: “Am I dreaming too big? Am I fitting in? Am I smart enough? Am I heard enough?” Even when Srinivas was asked to speak, she questioned: “Am I interesting enough? Why am I here? Do I deserve this?” She emphasized that it is crucial to crush all these questions in your head that make you doubt yourself. 

Her lessons were simple: believe in yourself, take risks, and seize opportunities as often as possible. There are more tech jobs out there than developer roles, so if you don’t want to sit and code 24/7, find what’s right for you. Srinivas was in this situation, so she ended up in a developer evangelist role, and moved into her current role as a solutions engineer—both of which she loved. In order to progress in our careers, we must have the confidence to take risks, and do work that you are passionate about.

Kate McLoughlin, Principal Product Manager at Shutterstock

Each of us are on our own paths, but no matter how far along each of us are, none of us are perfect, and we must all continually strive for improvement. McLoughlin was very passionate about this idea, and provided many pieces of advice for achieving this. She explained how we are all in a continual state of evolution and improvement, and we shouldn’t get upset when things don’t go as planned. The unexpected bumps in life are what make it magical and interesting, and we need to utilize these and make the best out of every situation. Plans are a means to the outcome, but not worth protecting at all costs; making room for improvisation is essential. 

In addition to her PM role, McLoughlin is also a musician, so she made an analogy to musicians’ “secret power” of continuous improvement. Slow but continual progress is critical, which is why it is essential that we always ask for focused, actional feedback. Rather than pursuing perfection, “pursue the pursuit of perfection.” In positions of leadership, it is essential to provide security and build confidence for your team, because when you do this, you create space for your awesome team to do awesome stuff. Micromanaging won’t be beneficial to anyone; instead, share important context and leverage your perspective to enable your team to perform their best work.

Kyla Fox, Founder of the Kyla Fox Center and a Clinical Therapist

A common problem for women in tech, and any other minority group, is the feeling of imposter syndrome, and feeling like we must abide by everyone else’s idea. We must not shy away from recognizing our talents and abilities, because failing to do so will ultimately hurt the team. Fox spoke in depth about the importance of this idea, as she has personally experienced the consequences of suppressing her voice: from working in unsatisfying job positions to being in an unwanted marriage. She explained how not using your voice not only negatively affects you, it also hurts those around you. This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. If each member doesn’t contribute their ideas, the outcome of the project will not be optimal. Teams tend to function best when they consist of diverse members, because everyone has unique knowledge, talents, and experiences. When each person brings these forward, the outcome is enhanced ideation, improved decision making, and more creative solutions. If people don’t raise their voice, the team will not reach its full potential.
  2. Failing to use your voice in the workplace can have unexpected repercussions on your life outside of work. If you feel like you are unable to speak up and be listened to, these emotions can accumulate and negatively affect your mood. Many people will then release this built up frustration at home by being overly demanding, pessimistic, and close-minded.

Jen Looper, Google Developer Expert and Cloud Developer Advocate Lead at Microsoft

When working in teams, there are always ups and downs which can make or break your project. Looper discussed the importance of “Finding your Fulcrum”, by finding a moment where things might not be going right, and taking advantage of this opportunity to turn things around for yourself and your team. Many women shy away from making this bold movement; however, this moment is critical to any kind of success. 

In addition to Looper’s prominence in the tech industry, she is a multilingual multiculturalist; she found her fulcrum which led her to her current leadership role on the Academic team at Microsoft, which perfectly combines these passions. Her message is clear to all women: You, and every other member of your team, are very talented, and you can’t ignore or undermine these abilities. Teams must recognize these strengths and use them in order to guide the path of your project and endeavours in order to maximize collaborative growth.

Each of the speakers offered us an opportunity to see part of our own story in their stories. As women in tech, it is easy to feel marginalized or other. In too many meetings we still find ourselves as an overwhelming minority. It is thanks to the efforts of the women featured here, that the path is being cleared for the rest of us, and it is thanks to all of us who attended that the community walking the path is becoming bigger and more impactful. Beyonce’s lyrics might not be true in the tech world right now, but the future and the present look brighter by the day.

Sobia Fazal

Sobia Fazal

Software Engineer

Sobia Fazal is a Software Engineer at Connected, with a focus on Android products. Her most recent projects include working with a social media giant to build the software for a smart home hardware product and building an app that acts as an agentive co-pilot for group touring sports.

Angela Dietz

Angela Dietz

Software Engineer, Intern

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