Category Archives: Jobs

I feel WITty: Sallyann Freudenberg

There is an underground movement within Women In Tech… it’s called joy. Some of us have found joy in our jobs and our workplace, and we want to share it. To that end, we’ve started a new blog series called “I feel WITty”, where women who love their lives as geeks can express themselves and tell their stories.

Our first post comes from Sallyann Freudenberg, an Agile coach in the UK who loves to learn. :-)

sallyann

 

I have the best job in the world.

When I was a kid I loved to learn. Like REALLY loved to learn. So much so that my teacher asked me to bring my dolly to school and do my work twice – once for me and once for her – because I was so voracious. So much so that I used to get my Mum to make me a mini-school in the garage in the summer holidays and set me Maths questions.

Somewhere along the way I lost that love of learning for a while. I hid it away and made up a fictional version of me. A version that I thought would make me popular. A version that cared more about fashion, smoking and punk-rock than maths and logic and learning. Turns out that was the most unpopular I have ever been.

Somewhere around 17 I had an epiphany. I decided to take down the barriers and let the world back in. Having flunked my A’Levels I found myself at Staffordshire University (then North Staffordshire Polytechnic) being interviewed by the wonderful Dr. Zambardino. We chatted about my love of languages and logic puzzles and he must have seen some kind of potential in me because he managed to persuade me that a degree in Information Systems with French would be a good fit. I think I maybe only saw him again twice, passing in corridors, but I have never forgotten his name.

I honestly believed I was going to be doing some kind of French and Business degree. I was utterly stunned when I found myself sat at the front, one of only 4 or so girls amidst 100+ boys, listening to the lecturer say what sounded like “blah blah buffer blah blah accumulator”. With no computer background at all I was that annoying dork at the front that asked stupid questions that everyone else sniggered at. I kept asking the questions. I started learning again. The first programming language I learned was 6502 Assembly language. I hated the language, but fell in love with the logic and nobody was more surprised than me when I left with a First Class Honours degree.

I got a job as a programmer with a software house.  My interview technique then was the same as it is today. Be me. Be honest. If I am not enough then this is not the gig for me right now. I learned object-oriented programming from the talented guys at the IBM Object Technology Practice. I had imposter syndrome about a thousand times. I worked my way up the traditional career route from Programmer through Designer to Project Manager. Then I had another bit of a crisis. I didn’t like Project Managing very much and I wasn’t very good at it. It brought all my carefully unlearned behaviours flying back to the surface – I was the worst kind of command-and-control micro-managing PM. Plus, I was about to turn 30. I fled I.T., left the country, retrained as a scuba-diving instructor and travelled the world for a couple of years.

Then something strange happened again. I got bored. I yearned to use my logic brain. I found myself designing course scheduling software for scuba schools on little scraps of paper for fun. I realised I had to go back to my real passion. I started a PhD under the guidance of two fabulous supervisors, Prof. Benedict du Boulay and Dr. Pablo Romero at the University of Sussex in Brighton. I knew I wanted to look at psychology, expertise and programming and this thing called Extreme Programming/Agile had happened that looked fascinating. I got in touch with a bunch of organisations and asked if I could go and see what the heck this thing was that they were doing, meanwhile I learned about academic writing, attended the lectures and seminars for a Masters in Cognitive Psychology….oh…..and I had a baby.

Ten years on, I still love agile. I work as a consultant. I help people and organisations to make changes that I truly believe transform their working lives. Changes that I hope make the world of I.T. a little more ‘human’. Sometimes it’s pretty hard. Often it’s frustrating. However, it turns out through lucky coincidence that when people are happy they are more productive and vice versa.

Oh, and I have three children under 9. I’m militant about my work-life balance. I am lucky enough to have clients who understand when I won’t work full-time or holidays and a partner who understands that I sometimes need to disappear for days at a time. It’s all part of the package. I can never, ever give up learning and it turns out I can use that passion to help others and we can co-create organisations that flourish through learning as they go.

Did I mention that I have the best job in the world?

A Conference of Women

Today’s guest post is from Annie Wynn.
Annie Wynn has been a high tech wage slave for over two decades, from the east coast to the west, from startups to global corporations, and from programmer to product marketing to portfolio management. She’s currently working in Seattle. Annie balances work with a life of photography, kayaking, and writing. You can see more of that at wynnworlds.me.

thegirlsroom
Mondays are the best workday for me, with a full week ahead of good intentions and large chunks of time in which to level-set projects in progress, and get new things organized and moving forward. One Monday last month, however, the work week started a bit differently. I was in a room packed with women, participating in the first-ever day-long conference on women in engineering at our company. Given I’m a woman and I’ve been a programmer, a technical writer, a product manager, and now a program manager, I’m used to being in rooms mostly full of men. To be surrounded by over 200 women was indeed an amazing experience, but ultimately, it turned out to be a frustrating one.

Two panel discussions featured technical women from different divisions of our company. Nine of the ten were mothers, so the talking focused a lot on how to manage job and family obligations, and less on the other aspects of often being the only woman on the team or in the room. Yes, the challenge of raising kids while working is a big concern and a very visible one, but kids grow up, and you’re still going to be faced with gender discrimination and glass ceilings.

We need to move beyond the work/family questions and admit that much of the struggle women face in technical fields has nothing to do with being a mother. It has to do with being female. How do we present ourselves, plan our careers, handle the obstacles like gender stereotyping, and move ahead? If all you’re doing is focusing on how to manage your maternity leaves, you’re missing something.

Those of us who’ve been in the trenches for a while know what I’m talking about. We’ve been called aggressive where our male teammates were called assertive. We’ve been called out for being too strong for holding people accountable, instead of using our “woman’s touch” to get things done more sweetly. We’ve been expected to find that elusive balance of delivering the goods while not pissing anyone off because we’re supposed to be liked for our personality more than respected for what we do.

I cringed at some of the questions from the twenty-somethings at the conference: How do I get a mentor? What’s the best way to get ahead? I found myself thinking that men wouldn’t be asking these questions at all. They find a mentor, they figure out what it takes to get ahead. Some of us are still waiting like a Disney princess for someone to light the way and then reward our hard work by handing us the keys to the corner office. We focus on work/family questions because those are the easy ones, the solvable ones.

During each break, there was a very long line at the women’s room. Almost everyone commented about it because most of the time, we’re used to having the bathroom to ourselves in our buildings. If we’re going to get to the point where there is a line at the women’s room every day, we need to move beyond single-issue discussions like work/family balance and address the entire range of issues facing technical women in the workplace. Until we move past the “how do I get home for dinner with my kids?” questions and ask “why didn’t I get included in that meeting?”, we’re just circling around the big issues that will move us forward to an equal place at the table. And a long line at the ladies room.