Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
What got you interested in technology?
When I was 8, my mum bought the family a Macintosh computer. I spent ages on it, mostly making birthday cards in MacPaint and playing games like ‘Scarab of Ra’. I loved the freedom I had to create and explore on the computer, even if it meant I sometimes got things wrong: like when I accidentally deleted a favorite game because I dragged it into the trash can, thinking I was actually ejecting the floppy disk!
I had no clue what degree to study at university but chose electronics system design because it seemed the most challenging yet practical course. My first job was with hardware but I switched to software as it was fast-moving and exciting. Then I discovered open source software and loved that for the innovation & community that came with it, so I set-up a company to make it my day job.
The biggest obstacle my career faced was the UK Home Office & its immigration rules. Born and raised in Nairobi, I was a Kenyan citizen when I graduated and the immigration rules made it extremely difficult to work. In fact, the university careers department just advised me not to bother even job-hunting in the UK. I ignored them and kept finding creative ways to get visa extensions while I job-hunted. My persistence paid off, with some good fortune, I finally found a good job offer from a company who would sponsor a work visa. It was a turning point in my career and in my life.
All the women in my family supported me, but especially my mum! She is so tough, bold and driven. Now that I am a mother too I am even more in awe of how she worked, raised a family and kept her sanity. I can only ever do two of those at a time.
My kids tear up my todo lists and replace them with ones that say ‘Play, play, play’. Children are the ultimate paradox for working mothers: they simultaneously kill your career while giving you the strength, motivation and inspiration to do everything you’ve ever dreamt of and more.
Do you have a role model?
When it comes to the tech world, a big influencer is blogger & CEO Penelope Trunk. For a long t, me she was the only one realistically talking about how work and life interact in a real way. The biggest lesson I learnt from her (and am still learning!) was to constantly get out of your comfort zone and get comfortable failing.
A day in Tracy’s life
I am CEO & founder of Kichwa Coders, where we work with semiconductor companies to build tools and IDEs for their chips or IoT solutions so they stay relevant. On the fun days, a workday involves sitting down with clients to solve their problems using open source. Normally as a small business owner, it is really quite random: debugging issues, speaking at conferences, writing blogs & reports, evaluating new technology, business development or conducting interviews.
Earlier this year my company had a stand at a jobs fair for the first time – we are hiring! It was a major moment for me, alongside these other great companies and start-ups, talking to person after person interested in coming to work with me! It is such a privilege to be able to offer paid work and a worthwhile career to someone just starting out in the tech industry. To me that’s huge.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Tech has too many toxic environments, Silicon Valley being one of the most notorious. Tech doesn’t have a diversity problem, it has an asshole problem — there is too much allowance for tolerating assholes/toxic people. This quote from “How Our Engineering Environments are Killing Diversity” by Kate Heddelston sums it up:
Women in tech are the canary in the coal mine. Normally when the canary in the coal mine starts dying you know the environment is toxic and you should get the hell out. Instead, the tech industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying “Lean in, canary. Lean in!” When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn’t enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.
Challenges women in tech face
As part of a session discussing diversity in tech I listened dumbfounded as another woman talked about how woman aren’t very good at maths and logic. I never cease to be amazed at what a powerful thing built-in biases are and the entire systems we have that are setup to reinforce those biases.
Another example: In one of my online groups for female founders we mostly discuss typical entrepreneur issues. But on top of that, there are regular discussions about challenges women face. For example, in light of the recent VC scandals, there was one discussion about ‘abuse thresholds’. It can get really depressing – the fact that we have to even have these conversations — but this is balanced out by how inspirational and remarkable so many women out there are.
Success in diversity is all about constantly moving step-by-step in the right direction, like a river slowly carving out a valley. There is constant progress but it is hard to see it when you’re in the middle of it. Stepping back to gain perspective, I can see my university & work opportunities are 100x better than my mother’s generation. Equally, I’m doing whatever I can to ensure my daughter’s generation have it 100x better than I do.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Economically there are a gazillion studies that say we will be better off: like billions of pounds better off – like 2.6 billion per year in the UK alone. Additionally, engaging women is key to sustainability societies. There’s a saying ‘Women are the health of a community and keepers of the wisdom’. It would simply be better for everyone.
Tips & tricks
Careers in tech pay well and can be extremely engaging & rewarding. Despite the horror stories, there are lots and lots of great people in the industry, like me ! Technology will be one of the biggest factors shaping the future of our world so do come and be part of it!
If you enjoyed reading Tracy Miranda’s profile, don’t miss this interview about the role of diversity in modern day society and what we need to do to make a real difference and promote values like inclusion, diversity, and equality.