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?
Without further ado, we would like to introduce Monica Beckwith, Java/JVM performance consultant, JavaOne Rock Star and JAX London speaker.
When did you become interested in technology?
I think maybe the first time I saw/rode in a train or maybe even a car. I was fascinated with wheels, speed, motion… I was also fascinated that people could calculate the time to destination based on speed. I think I have always loved Math and, as I got older, I fell in love with numerical methods and computer programming and logic circuits, so there was no turning back.
I have a Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering. My father was an engineer and my brother is an engineer as well. Like I said, I am a big fan of Math and then my next favorite subject was Physics. So to my father, engineering seemed like a right choice for me. But unfortunately, he passed away when I was in 10th grade. So, I think after that my brother took it upon himself to guide me in my career path. At that young age, it was mostly peer pressure that was the biggest obstacle and also knowing that I would have to split paths with most of my girl friends.
My father probably is/was my role model. One thing that I remember about my father was that he was a genius especially at Math problems. And he always used to encourage me to do my best. Same thing goes for my brother… and with my brother, it was also about sibling competition.
Sometimes, a few of my peers would attribute my success in education to sheer “luck” or something that discounted all my perseverance and hard work. There were also a couple of teachers that thought that I was in the “wrong” field.
I have always been honest about tech careers and I want to tell women/girls that the industry needs you.
A day in Monica’s life
I am an independent consultant working on solving performance problems for managed runtime systems. These problems could be related to application responsiveness due to the application ecosystem or it could be due to heap management issues or unoptimized code paths and so on… So I basically spend a lot of time looking at logs and searching for patterns and writing quick scripts or using tools to help me get to the bottom of any performance issue.
I have always been a workaholic. So, my typical workday starts with reading and answering emails from my cell phone. After that, I sit on my desk with my second cup of coffee and I start working on reviewing data and devising experiment plans. If I have access to the code, then I would dive into the hotspots based on the profiles. I am a very hands-on person and I like to immerse myself in the problem and stay there until I have the answer or a plan of action.
I am proud of being a performance-minded person who can bring her hardware knowledge to bring about improvements in the runtime. I am proud of my various contributions to the HotSpot Virtual Machine — a few JITTed code optimizations, performance analysis work that led to NUMA aware allocator and reduction in the object header size and a few others that escape me now, but more recently, I am proud of all the performance work I did with G1 GC.
PS: I giggle every time I hear someone refer to “InitiatingHeapOccupancyPercent” as “IHOP” since it’s just a short form that I coined and now people use it as some official term. And I am proud of the various presentations that I have given that have enabled people to experiment on their own. E.g. I see many people now researching G1 GC and investing time in “taming the (mixed) collections” where they use one or multiple options that I have exposed to them through my research, articles and talks.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
I think role models and peers matter. For me, it worked since I had strong support from my family and now from my husband and kids. It’s not only difficult at the start but to continue being in the tech industry is much more a struggle for a woman than her male peer. I know there were many times that I felt like giving up and at one point I did give up, but I always had the support of my husband and a few strong men that valued my work and wanted me to continue my contributions in the field of Java performance.
Not everyone has the resources or support from their family. Many-a-times (when I am traveling and presenting at conferences), I get to meet and talk with various women that tell me that they enjoyed my talk and the fact that I was there on stage with various male presenters and/or being the only woman presenter. It warms my heart and I quickly realize that women just need to see more of us — techie women.
I see many people now researching G1 GC and investing time in “taming the (mixed) collections” where they use one or multiple options that I have exposed to them through my research, articles and talks.
Challenges women in tech face
At different times in our careers, we face different problems. I remember I was the youngest in a meeting room filled with architects and I was also the only woman and this person two seats down from me just blurted out… “this must be boring for you, I see that you are already on your phone”.
I have always been a notes-taking person and at that time I didn’t feel like pulling my laptop out of my backpack, so I was taking notes on my phone. But it wasn’t his business to insult me like that. There are many times that during meetings, I wouldn’t have even gotten a word in or the credit of my work would have been not rightfully attributed to me. And as I became older it seemed like my suggestions were always lauded but not readily approved. Or people use my research and work without proper attributions. It really pains me.
There is another aspect of all this and that surfaces during job search. I have always done well in telephonic or those remote tests, but whenever it came to face-to-face, either I or them would back out. I would back out when I see the male interviewers strut their poor grasp of the subject matter in front of me and not welcome any correction or discussion. In the past, I have even heard that I am “too young” (mind you “not inexperienced but too young”) for a particular job post.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
I can tell you that it will take all of us to go out there and talk to girls and women and listen to their apprehensions and tell our stories. Sometimes when I have women come to me and thank me for “being there” and “talking about technology with so much passion” and “standing among men”, I feel that I have started a ripple… how far the ripple travels, only time will tell.
What should women know about this industry?
I have always been honest about tech careers and I want to tell women/girls that the industry needs you. Yes, the path is not easy, but that’s just cause there aren’t many of us and hence we need all of us to do our part. And together it can be done.