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AZ Tech Beat | March 26, 2017

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Women Making Strides in Software Engineering

Women Making Strides in Software Engineering
Sara Parker

Traditionally, the technology sector has been a male-dominated area. However, more women are entering the field as well as STEM educational programs, and making significant strides in the tech space. I reached out to some women in the field and asked them to share their triumphs and challenges during their career in software development.

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JoAnn Lemm, an independent contractor and former Director of Engineering and Lead Software Engineer, is glad to find more women the technology workforce. “Some places I worked had as many women as men writing software,” she said.

Janet McDonald, a senior software engineer, says that she changed her major in college to computer science because it was a booming industry with good prospects and there were not many women. She believes that being a woman can have an advantage in this industry because companies need diversity.

Though diversity might be one focus for companies, both Lemm and McDonald have known of software companies that started women out in an administrative instead of a programmer role simply because they were women, regardless of their expertise in software.

Being a woman in this field, or any male-dominated field, does come with additional challenges. Women are expected to prove their competencies more often than men.

Mahsa Mojtahedi, a developer and software engineer, explained, “Sometimes, no matter how smart, creative and efficient we are, we have to show and prove our capabilities and validity of ideas. I have seen many male programmers throughout my career who are not as sharp as their women counterparts, yet they are rewarded and trusted more.”

Lemm weighs in, “Earlier in my career, getting ‘the guys’ to listen to ideas was the biggest challenge. They had a tendency to speak over me in meetings or discounted my ideas.”

Dr. Ly Sauer, Chief Enterprise Architect, states that another great challenge women face is to make time for all aspects of life. “Most men in our field have a wife who stays home and supports their career; this is not the case with women. On the personal side, I am a mother, a wife, a chauffeur/teacher/playmate to my children, a volunteer at church and a mentor to girls in the community.”

Lemm says that balancing work with being a mother is a difficult challenge to overcome. Fortunately, many employers offer training to help employees keep up with the technology and other challenges that may conflict with a time crunch in their personal lives.

Regardless of the uphill battles for women in technology, Dr. Sauer encourages women, especially young women, to enter the field.

“Women should chase their dreams and go as far as they want to go,” she said. “Spend the time to do more than just technology. Spend time to learn effective communication and leadership.”

McDonald stressed the importance of working hard and pursuing a college degree. “It adds quite a bit to have women in this industry . . . Don’t let anybody set you back and keep learning . . . Get that degree.”

Lemm does not see any limitations for women in this field as long as they are willing to do the work, including the work that others are not willing to do. As one of the sponsors for an Engineering Club at Scottsdale Preparatory Academy, “I’m pleased to say that half of the students involved are girls. I think it’s important for women in software and engineering to show girls that these are career options for them.”

Mojtahedi says she hopes that one day there will not be any jobs that are male or female dominated; people need to know their interests and follow them to their perfect career. “I also hope the women have fair and equal rights as men in any field. The women are just as intelligent and capable. Also, I especially believe the women should be more confident in themselves and believe in their capabilities.”

The valuable lesson I learned from these ladies is that there are no limits if you work hard and persevere. Women may have to fight against stereotypes, but nothing can hold us back if we keep fighting.

  • SleeZee Lyers

    fwiw, I don’t know what “traditionally” means. Between Ada Lovelace, Betty Jennings, Fran Bilas, Grace Hopper, Barbara Liskov, Meg Whitman, etc. etc. etc., I think it’s a shibboleth that IT has “traditionally” been unfriendly to women.

    Throughout my 30 year career, I have had many women superiors, bosses, managers, lead programmers, as well as women peer programmers.

    If traditionally merely means that more men than women work than yes, traditionally.

    If you are using it to bash on men or IT as women unfriendly, I think you are in error.

  • Hamid Shojaee

    It’s really great to see more women in the tech field. I’ve noticed it’s slowly moving in the right direction, but even from pure applicants standpoint, I think we have roughly a 10:1 ratio of applicants for our tech positions from men than women.

    I hope that trend changes as there are studies that have shown that the collective intelligence of a group can raise more by having a female member in the group. If the study is true, adding female members to a team could actually be a competitive edge.