About eight years ago, I started an undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Sussex University in the U.K after securing top marks in my Information Technology A-Level. Throughout school, I always had a passion for computers, so a technology degree seemed like the right academic path for me.
In my Computer Science lectures, I was the only female. When students were choosing teams for group projects and debating in our seminars, I felt alienated. Instead of continuing three more years as the only girl amongst a class full of boys, I decided to transfer toward a more gender-equal subject like Neuroscience.
I moved away from a Computer Science curriculum. Instead, I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Cognitive Science. I don’t have any regrets. I learned a lot from my studies and now, as a recruiter, I’m in a job I love. However, I wish someone had told me to persist with my original plan.
Back then, I didn’t envision the rewards of a career in engineering:
- You get to build really cool products.
- You can have a global impact.
- There truly is work/life balance.
- Your earning power offers you the means to enjoy all life has to offer.
If I had known all this was available to me—I may have had the gumption to continue my studies in software engineering.
My life choices brought me to Microsoft. I started in a role in Staffing. My goal: to match talented people who are passionate about technology with good-fit, life-changing career opportunities: Whether that may be creating the next generation Xbox, wearable technology, or inventing a breakthrough medical device, the possibilities are huge!
The gender imbalance in this industry was nagging at me. I wanted to be the one to make a difference. My then-manager encouraged me to create a female engineering meet-up in our Estonia office – the birthplace of Skype. That conversation launched Codess. It’s a community for female coders initiated by Microsoft. We deliver worldwide networking events and mentoring sessions. Our outreach begins during academia and continues in the careers of women all the way to the executive level.
My Director believed in me. He told me to “think big.” I strategized and planned the execution of Codess programming. I got the budget I required. I gained full responsibility for the future of the organization. Since then, we have hosted 13 Codess events worldwide, with many more planned for this year.
Joining Microsoft gave me the opportunity to make a difference. Driven by my own experience, I developed a personal mission to ensure women today and tomorrow are given the advice and support they need to make informed decisions about careers in engineering.
What do I wish I could tell my 19-year-old self? 3 things:
1. Don’t worry about what other people think.
During my teenage years, I let the opinions of my peers influence my decisions. At times, those opinions steered me away from the ideas I believed in. Those people are no longer in my life. What people think and say about you isn’t important. What is: How you feel about yourself.
2. Find hard work you love doing.
There is nothing more thrilling in life than finding a job you love. There is nothing worse than spending every day in a job you hate. The advice I would have given my younger self and friends: Don’t base your curriculum or career choices on what other people are doing. Find something you are passionate about and never give up.
3. Nothing is as bad as it seems.
Develop perspective: The things that are stressing you out right now won’t matter next week, let alone in five years. When life seems difficult, it can be hard to see past the details: a deadline, a job interview or a personal problem. It will pass. It is important to work hard but stay relaxed.
When I look back at my life in 20 years…Along with all the other advocates out there, I know I will have accomplished my mission when the number of girls and boys studying Computer Science is equal. Toward that mission, I’m so excited about this: I was chosen to speak about diversity at LinkedIn Talent Connect London 2014.
My advice to women who may be considering a career in computer science…Be brave and think big. You have the chance to design and build our future. You can do anything with your life – you just need to do what you want to do. And stick with it.
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