An Open Letter to Women in Tech

for the days when you need a quick reminder of your worth


I’m writing this because it needs to be written. It needs to be written because it’s 2019, and women in technical fields are still dealing with discrimination and adversity — from subtle and indirect to obvious and direct — and I’m tired of it.

Before going into web development and technical writing, I used to be a sound designer and an acoustical engineer. After awhile, I grew weary of having to prove that I was competent, while my male counterparts were given the benefit of the doubt every single time.

  • I remember being told that I “don’t look like an engineer” and that I should be mindful of my attire while working.
  • I remember being told that design, as opposed to engineering, was a more fitting career path for me.
  • I remember having my technical drawings ripped apart while my male counterparts submitted sub-par paperwork and got rewarded with more lucrative opportunities.
  • I remember my request for specific equipment being scrutinized, while the men on the team could request whatever they wanted with little explanation.
  • I remember arguing about tech specs — literally arguing about graphs — until I was blue in the face.

And then I remember walking away from it all.

It took awhile before I gathered the strength to return to a technical field. I went to a coding bootcamp and studied full-stack development before deciding that a career in technical writing would be the most rewarding path for me.

While things may have gotten a little better for us, the fact that we still have to have this conversation means that things haven’t improved enough.

This means that at some point, you’re going to feel it. We all do.

So… if you’re having a rough day, this is for you.

Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash

On appearances

You alone decide what to do with your hair, your nails, and your physical appearance. You alone decide what to wear and how to present yourself. Whether you wear a suit, a dress, leggings, or jeans — it doesn’t matter, and you shouldn’t let it matter. You do know what you’re doing, and you don’t need to change your appearance to prove it.

On dealing with microaggressions

My philosophy is always Don’t let it go. You have a voice, and I believe you should use it — but I can’t tell you how to use it. I can only tell you not to let it go. Respond with humor, respond with sarcasm, respond with sincerity, or respond by seeking support — it doesn’t matter, as long as you respond.

  • Someone assumes that you don’t know {x}, so they try to give you a friendly overview instead of a technical explanation. They don’t take you seriously until you ask a question that stumps them.
  • You tell someone you’re an engineer, and they say, “Oh — wow. That’s crazy.”
  • You tell a recruiter that you’re looking for a certain position and they keep coming back to you with other roles. These roles are “easier to get” and you could always “get promoted from within” or “change departments later on”.
  • You lead a meeting and people speak over you. And then they have questions later on. And they ask someone else.

No, no, nope. Not happening. Shut. It. Down.

On empowerment

There are a lot of conferences for women in tech, and you should apply to speak at some of them. It doesn’t matter what you speak about, as long as you use your voice. Other people won’t empower us; we have to empower ourselves.

  • You don’t have to be an expert to speak at a conference.
  • You probably are an expert, though, so own it.

If there’s a project that you can lead, lead it.

If there’s an initiative that you deserve credit for, take the credit.

If someone reaches out for help, lend an ear, if you can. When once of us is lifted up, we all rise.

On feeling inadequate

Listen. It’s really easy to take things to heart, and I can’t tell you how to process the things that people say or do to put you down. I can tell you, though, that there’s probably no logical reason for you to feel inadequate.

On work-life balance

Women are not the only ones who desire a happy work-life balance. If someone calls you out on it: whatever you do, don’t apologize unnecessarily.

  • If you’re putting in the hours, you probably don’t owe anyone an apology.
  • If you’re meeting or exceeding the expectations for your role, you probably don’t owe anyone an apology.
  • If you’re meeting deadlines, you probably don’t owe anyone an apology.

When we apologize for things like taking a lunch break, not answering emails at midnight, or taking a half day to go to the dentist once a year, we change the culture of the workplace and we normalize having a poor work-life balance. And this affects everyone — not just women.

On career advancement

You deserve every promotion, every accolade, and every ounce of recognition that you get.

It might feel like you have to work twice as hard as the men on your team to get the same amount of praise. It’s okay. Well, it’s actually not okay, but in this moment… it’s okay. Close your eyes and focus on yourself. Don’t settle for anything less than you deserve.

On strength

You need to take care of your physical and emotional well-being. This means that it’s great to be an advocate if you can, but if you can’t, let the strength of your community lift you up.

On proving yourself

You already have. You should never feel the need to prove yourself again and again and again. I’ve perfected the eye roll and the exasperated Oh God, but you can use whatever strategy works best for you.

If you do decide to prove yourself (again), you might as well go overboard and really shut it down.

On being afraid to ask questions

Listen — everyone has questions at some point. I always say that if you don’t know what to ask, you don’t understand what you’re learning. It can be intimidating to ask a question that you believe you should know the answer to, but guess what — the best engineers ask questions, and clarifying questions are the best types of questions.

On giving and receiving feedback

The best thing to do is to solicit feedback, and to give yourself honest feedback on a regular basis. But on that note — don’t be afraid to give feedback, too. Your thoughts are valuable. Your perception matters.

Just say:

  • Hey, can I give you some feedback?
  • I have some feedback to share.
  • I noticed something that’s worth bringing up.

When you give feedback, you elevate yourself, even when others haven’t elevated you.

On believing in yourself

I guarantee that no matter what has happened and no matter what anyone has said, you are more capable than you believe. If you’re having trouble developing a sense of self worth, take some time to list your accomplishments, to publish your recent projects, and to reflect upon your personal and professional growth.

You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else, because everyone has had a different journey.

Believe in yourself and others will believe in you.

Whether it’s your first day learning to code, or your 10th year as a senior developer, it’s important to take pride in your work and to give yourself credit for your accomplishments.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but we aren’t finished.

If you need a little support, reach out to someone you admire. If you have support to give, reach out to someone who could use it.

We’re in this together.

Connect on LinkedIn.

technical writer • site reliability engineer • engineering leader • all views are my own • 👩🏻‍💻

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