At this year’s Women in Tech (WIT) panel at NetApp Insight, CEO George Kurian cautioned the audience not to focus solely on STEM as the only way to bring more women to tech. This point hit home for me.
I didn’t come to tech through STEM. I grew up poor. Both of my parents dropped out of high school. No one in my family attended college. I also didn’t get my first computer until I was 17 and that was only because my father got a disability settlement. There was nothing about being a technology professional in my pedigree.
Somehow, I stumbled into tech. After dropping out of my first year at a Great Books Liberal Arts college (on scholarship), I used the skills from my high school typing course to land an office job. From that, I ended up at auction house, where in addition to typing the catalog, I also had to convert it to HTML. Because this process always went awry, I learned HTML along the way.
In my next job after the Auction House, I was a web assistant updating static websites. Fortunately, this was in the “Geocities” age of the Internet. As time went on, I added programming in languages like ColdFusion and .NET to my skill toolbox. I prodded down the Web Developer path comfortably for years.
Eventually, I end up working as a SharePoint Developer for a government contractor. When that project ended, instead of laying me off, they transferred me to the Network Team as a Senior Systems Administrator. At this point in my career, I probably wasn’t qualified to be a Systems Administrator let alone a senior one. The funny thing is that this is the point in my career that I have felt the happiest. The rapid growth that happens when you take on a job that is way out of your comfort zone feels AH-MAZING!!
My story is not traditional. For anyone other than me, I would say that these differences are an asset and that this allows them to bring a unique perspective to their jobs. However, I battle the insecurity that makes me feel like I’m worth less than someone with a B.S. in Computer Science or who is the progeny of engineers. The focus solely on women from STEM potentially can de-legitimize the entire class of women in tech who walked non-traditional paths.
Making diversity only about race or gender is easy. However, diversity is more than just hiring people who look different. Diversity encompasses the entire spectrum of things that make “you.” you. Things like socio-economic background, age, education, personality and the path your tech career are essential are all relevant differentiators.
Now that I’ve shared my tech origins story, what is yours?! By sharing our stories, we can broaden the perception of paths or backgrounds that are necessary for a career in tech. I believe that this is a crucial step in diversifying the tech community.