Woman — Latina — Immigrant — Software Engineer
When I decided to start the next chapter of my life, I started by looking back at the past. While it’s important not to dwell on the past, there is value in healthy retrospection. We allow ourselves to study our own nature and revisit the patterns and habits that shaped us, giving us the reasons for our past actions or inactions. Let me explain a little further:
I was a little girl when I first fell in love with computers and videogames, despite constantly being told “that’s a boy thing”. At the time I didn’t care much but over time, this rhetoric was repeated so frequently and with such urgency that it felt like a word of caution: I would have to give up my interest in computers and videogames and trade it in for ‘girl things’ in order to become woman.
What did ‘girl things’ even mean? Well, I never found out. For me there are no such things as gendered interests.
It is now years later and my interest in technology has not waned. Now more than ever, coding is a critical facet of our daily lives.
And, yet, despite the ubiquitous use of code, the tech industry is still dominated by men. A mere 1 in 5 positions in this field is held by women. Women are still underrepresented, underpaid, and often discriminated against in the tech industry. I am starting to see a light at the end of this very long and narrow tunnel, however. The way we see gender roles is shifting and is changing these statistics.
Looking back to the past I see that today I can do something that I know I would have enjoyed if I had believed I could do it. But there is still time. Becoming a software engineer now is not only a new challenge but a new way to start making a difference for myself.
Typically people get inspired to do something when they see others like them do it. I would have felt encouraged to make different choices if I had seen more women as role models growing up. Now that I have taken the first steps in this new journey, I realized that I had been discouraged by others when all I needed to do was to listen to myself. I wonder how many out there might have felt the same.
Once, a friend of mine told me that she had overheard a comment at a party, “Wow, a software engineer? You want to play with the boys?” And when I first decided to apply for a coding bootcamp I also heard negative comments such as “It might be hard to find a job, I heard that men dominate the tech industry” or “That will be way too hard”. It’s like when you sign up for a running competition and instead of people cheering you on, you get people doubting your choices and reminding you of how hard the race will be. It makes the race you committed to prepare for seem even harder to achieve and might lead you to believe that you won’t actually get to the finish line. Believe me, we know things are hard.
According to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women hold only 25% of computing roles and of those 25% of women working in tech, Asian women make up just 5% of that number, while Black and Hispanic women accounted for 3% and 1%, respectively. After graduation, only 38% of women are working in the field, according to National Science Foundation.
Pew Research Center report found that 50% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination at work, while only 19% of men said the same. 78% of women in tech also report that they feel they have to work harder than their male coworkers to prove their worth.
During the pandemic women in tech were also almost twice as likely to have lost their jobs or to have been furloughed than men (14% vs. 8%). Girls need female role models to look up to. It’s not a question of whether women are cut out for the work, it’s about recognizing and supporting their presence and talent in the field.
Of nearly 50,000 employees at one of the biggest tech companies, 83% were men, 60% were white, and 30% were Asian. Just 2.9% were Latino, and 1.9% Black. This same company announced a millionaire investment to bring more diversity to the company.
As a latina and immigrant in the United States, I have faced many challenges that are complex and nuanced. To add a layer to the complexity of the challenges I face, English is my second language, which only makes it harder to make my own decisions instead of letting others tell me what to do based on what they think I can and can’t do upon the judgement of all of the surface elements of my identity.
The only thing that makes a difference in the hiring process and in our belief of what we are capable of doing in the tech world are opportunities granted to us. Women from men, latinas and people of color from white and immigrants from native, that difference between us can all end when we are all given the same opportunities.
“I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
“To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. … It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”