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October 23, 2015

Women in Tech: One Woman’s Story

3 mins read

Earlier this year we started a dialog about the challenges women in technology face today. We know that these challenges present themselves in early days. Here’s a story about the experience of one of Excella’s Extension Center team members.

Entering the Classroom

Saiya was intrigued by virtual reality at a young age. Her high school teachers were very supportive and encouraged her to pursue computer science in college. She was accepted to a prestigious university and was on her way. While this should have been the start of a rewarding education experience that would build her skills and confidence, her experience took an unexpected turn.

In her classes, Saiya was in the minority – one of 5 women in a class of 60. As time went on she realized that not only was she one of few women in the class, many classmates had experience in CS dating back to high school, or even earlier. She also found her male counterparts more confident and more willing to talk about their technical prowess and successes, no matter how small. She had no real female role models to look to for support.

Feeling like a “newbie” compared to her male peers, Saiya was short on confidence. Her teaching assistants had many other students to attend to and her questions seemed “elementary.” Professors were supportive but intimidating. She struggled to utilize resources available to her and began to fall behind. Her motivation and enthusiasm began to wane.

Staying engaged

Over these last months we’ve discussed ways to keep women in technology programs as they build their skills and confidence. As it turns out, Saiya just needed a different approach to do just that. Read on…

In her sophomore year Saiya discovered the Excella Extension Center at a career fair. As an XC team member she became involved in a software development project for an Excella client under the supervision and mentoring of a senior developer. In a one-on-one and small group mentoring environment Saiya thrived. Developing solutions to a real business problem gave her more context for her work and enabled her to ask better questions just when she needed the help most. Her Extension Center mentors were personable and encouraging.

Pushing Ahead

As Saiya’s skills and confidence grew at the Extension Center, her confidence in her major continued to shrink. Challenged to get the assistance she needed to complete her coursework she fell further behind, with a seemingly insurmountable gap to catch up. Saiya felt compelled to switch majors (despite our best efforts to talk her out of it).

While Saiya is now pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Applied Business Computing, she still works at the Extension Center where she supports Excella client projects – coding in Python/Django. Saiya still enjoys coding and continues to grow in her technical skills and confidence. Combined with her passion for solving business problems, Saiya has an interest in technology consulting. She expects to graduate in May 2016 and is interested in pursuing a career with Excella.

So you have to wonder – what would have made a difference for her? What would have kept her a Computer Science major? Saiya feels that exposure earlier than high school would have been a big help for her skills and confidence. The women she knows who are most passionate about technology grew up in an environment that built their confidence early and developed into a passion as they grew. With early exposure in middle and high school, combined with programs such as those mentioned in our earlier post on resources for women in tech (link here), we can keep these talented young women pursuing their passions in technology.

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