Women at 5 Seattle companies share advice for navigating the tech scene

by Quinten Dol
August 14, 2018

If you’re a woman working in the tech industry, odds are you’re outnumbered by men at your company — in some cases, by a pretty substantial ratio. And simply hiring more women doesn’t exactly mean gender inequality has been solved.

With this in mind, we asked Seattle techies from a range of positions in the industry — from founders to product managers — to share the lessons they’ve learned in their own career journeys and to fill us in on what their companies are doing to eliminate the gender gap.

 

skilljar software adoption software team
photo via skilljar

Skilljar’s platform allows B2B companies to create intuitive training programs for their products, boosting adoption and retention among customers. CEO and co-founder Sandi Lin says startups are a great environment for gaining and developing skills that can help women advance their careers later on.

 

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field or who are just getting started in their careers?

The technology industry has so much opportunity! Whether it’s in a technical or a business role, joining a fast-paced startup is a fantastic way to develop new skills, grow your career and make an impact. Since technology changes so fast, you’re always learning new things and surrounded by innovation. For people getting started in their career, I believe the most important thing is finding a team where you can be inspired, learn and expand your professional network.

Joining a fast-paced startup is a fantastic way to develop new skills, grow your career and make an impact.”

How is Skilljar working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

We are fortunate to have a diverse team — we are approximately 38 percent female and 35 percent of us come from an ethnic minority. Our management team is 40 percent female and our board is 50 percent female. Diversity attracts diversity — the tone comes from the top in terms of awareness and culture. We do strive to have an inclusive recruiting process by casting a wide net to attract a variety of candidates, emphasizing hands-on projects to demonstrate skills and following a rigorous, structured process that reduces the impact of interviewer bias.

 

What has the experience of working at Skilljar been like for you?

Exhilarating, enjoyable and challenging — in a good way! As a high-growth tech startup, the company changes completely every six months, so there’s always something new to learn. It’s a great environment for people who enjoy new challenges and have a “continuous learning” growth mindset.

 

karat product manager irena lam
photo via karat

Hiring engineers is tough — and these days, they have too important of a skill set to mess up. Karat helps businesses interview engineering candidates, using data-driven insights to inform their strategy. Product manager Irena Lam was hunting for a year before landing a job at Karat, and says it’s important for women to learn as much as possible about potential roles and maintain their motivation in the face of setbacks.

 

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field or who are just getting started in their careers?

Stay inspired. As someone who transitioned into product management from another discipline, it was paramount to envision myself in the role as early as possible. That goal didn’t materialize into a job offer until a year after I started looking, so in the meantime I listened to a slew of podcasts (covering product management, design, entrepreneurship and women in tech) and PM’ed hackathon projects. They all gave me great perspective around what I’d be doing (from high-level to the nitty-gritty) and became great talking points in future interviews. Most importantly, it kept me hungry. As I learned more, I became increasingly confident that I understood what was expected and that I could be great at it.

[Working at Karat] has further established my belief that work can be more than work — it’s an opportunity to solve real problems and help people.”

How is Karat working to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry?

Diversity and inclusion are core to our values as well as our business. We partner with leading tech companies to conduct first round technical assessments for their engineering candidates. We take this responsibility very seriously, so while our global interviewer team is assessed on technical skill, we prioritize fairness, professionalism and empathy just as highly. We also provide free practice interviews for software engineering candidates to level the playing field and ensure equity of opportunity. Human-first is top of mind in everything we do.

 

What has the experience of working at Karat been like for you?

I’ve been at Karat for about three months and it’s honestly felt like a dream. Cheesy as it sounds, I pinch myself daily because I’m continuously wowed by my love for the vision and the team. The trifecta of talented, humble and inclusive people exists! It’s also further established my belief that work can be more than work — it’s an opportunity to solve real problems and help people. Since 2017, we’ve surpassed 25,000 global interviews and our team has doubled in size. There is so much exciting work to be done, and we’re just getting started.

 

versive team seattle cybersecurity startup
photo via versive

Versive applies artificial intelligence to corporate cybersecurity operations, using their algorithms to recognize and link activities that give away the presence of hackers in a system. In addition to expanding their technical skills, Vice President of Product Ashley Fidler says women who are starting out in tech should also develop characteristics that will make them good leaders later on in their careers.

 

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field or who are just getting started on their careers?

For women just getting started in their careers, it’s important to focus as much on developing intuition and judgement as on developing subject matter and industry expertise. At some point, expanding your level of responsibility depends on good judgement rather than just being able to complete tasks well. This skill set takes time to develop, so it’s best to start early.

Within our team, there are strong connections across the organization, which has created a very positive and productive work environment.”

How is Versive working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

In addition to bringing as much diversity as possible to our company through hiring, we focus on sending diverse participants to industry events and making sure we increase diversity as much as possible with our event participation. It’s important for us to represent and highlight the diversity that already exists in cybersecurity so that we can encourage increased representation over time.

 

What has the experience of working at Versive been like for you?

I’ve had a very good experience working at Versive. The women in the cybersecurity industry have a strong community, which has been great to experience. Within our team, as well, there are strong connections across the organization, which has created a very positive and productive work environment.

 

chef software continuous automation company seattle
photo via chef software

Chef Software is building a continuous automation platform that helps businesses automate the infrastructure, application and compliance aspects of software systems. Principal Software Development Engineer Gina Peers says women in tech will probably encounter some form of bias in their careers — but has some great tips to help overcome it.

 

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field or who are just getting started in their careers?

Life’s not fair. Every industry has its share of all kinds of bias; tech is no different. Try not to focus on things you can’t change, but rather let the not-so-great stuff roll off, start where you are and make the next positive move given the situation. Stay open, observe carefully and use what you learn to combat bias going forward.

Go for it! You don’t have to know it all to take on an opportunity and be successful. Learn as you go, collaborate with others and don’t be afraid to fail. Failures are normal and inevitable; the goal is to fail fast and move in the right direction.

Stay technical. Never stop honing your craft; as a technologist, this expertise is what you bring to the table. Make sure any position you accepts allows you opportunity to stay hands-on and keep your skill set up-to-date and growing.

Find a a good place to be. There are lots of companies out there with strong cultures that want to be part of the solution. Find a place that appreciates you, then do all you can to enable your colleagues and help that organization succeed. That’s leadership!

I’ve seen that Chef invests in and promotes its own people, and that folks here both listen and are heard. It’s thrilling to be a part of the Chef mission.”

How is Chef working to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry?

Chef has a relationship with the Ada Developers Academy, where we host periodic events and sponsor an internship. Chef also participated in the Women in Tech Regatta this year, and plans to do so again. We also sponsor an internal women in technology group.

 

What has the experience of working at Chef been like for you?

I’ve been at Chef almost a year now, and I’m super excited to be aboard. The culture here is both vibrant and diverse. My colleagues are an open, intelligent, good-humored bunch not at all opposed to vigorous and healthy debate! I’ve felt included from day one. In my short time here, I’ve seen that Chef invests in and promotes its own people, and that folks here both listen and are heard. It’s thrilling to be a part of the Chef mission.

 

98point6 engineering team seattle healthech startup
photo via 98point6

98point6 delivers primary healthcare through private, secure text-based messaging, allowing doctors to treat the full spectrum of primary care medicine through the platform. Director of Engineering Christy Pope says women looking to enter the tech industry must be prepared to push the boundaries of what they know and be eager to expand their skill sets.

 

Do you have any advice for women who want to enter the field or who are just getting started in their careers?

Find opportunities to grow and push the boundaries of what you know. Look into meetups and hackathons, do courses online or work on open-source projects. Challenge yourself to the point of being a little uncomfortable, whatever that means for you. Go to a meetup about a topic you’re interested in and say hello to a fellow wallflower, or give a presentation — if that’s your jam. Find people who support your growth and be on the lookout for ways you can likewise give others a boost — not only is it good karma, you learn best when you’re teaching. Most of all, ask questions whenever you have them and don’t let the voice that tells you to stay quiet win.

Our culture is one that embraces diversity and makes sure everyone is supported and feels safe.”

How is 98point6 working to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry?

We act to reduce unconscious bias at every point in our hiring process. We start with our job descriptions, which we level at the minimum required skill rather than a list of “nice-to-haves.” This encourages everyone to apply instead of merely those who are confident enough to put themselves forward for a job above their skill level. We are innovative in where we look for candidates and consider people from different backgrounds, education levels, disciplines and types of companies. Our interviews focus on 98point6’s core values and we align all feedback to those values so we have concrete examples rather than just a “gut feeling.” Our culture is one that embraces diversity and makes sure everyone is supported and feels safe.

 

What has the experience of working at 98point6 been like for you?

Working at 98point6 has been fantastic, and the best part about it is the people. They make everything happen every day and they do it because they care about the patients, the doctors, each other and the company. Every member of the team is empowered and encouraged to speak up and make contributions. We all care deeply about building the right product and it makes a real difference.

 

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