Crashing the boys’ club: 9 women share how they got into engineering

by Liz Warren
March 7, 2018
Women-engineers
Image via Shutterstock

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in tech. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, females make up 14 percent of the industry’s workforce. But it’s not because of a lack of talent or skill — the women we spoke with for this piece are some of the brightest minds around. Instead, it might be that there just aren’t enough examples of women in tech making the rounds online.

Allow us to help with that.

Built In NYC put together a list of some of the top female engineers driving NYC tech, and they shared some unique insights on what it takes to break into a male-dominated industry. Read on for their personal anecdotes and advice.

 

Priya Shrivastava
Engineering manager

At Bloomberg, Engineering Manager Priya Shrivastava is responsible for her teams' technical direction, innovation and product development. Since joining the team, she’s played a vital role in revamping one of Bloomberg’s flagship products, Instant Bloomberg (IB), the leading chat tool used by the global finance community. She talked to us about how she got her start, and how building a personal brand is crucial for women in this field.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become an engineer. But my calling really started when I began tinkering with the first computer my parents bought. Coding has been my passion ever since.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

I have been extremely fortunate in this regard and have never perceived my gender to inhibit me at Bloomberg. That said, in a male-dominated industry, it is important for women to voice their opinions in order to ensure they are being heard. They should seek new challenges and growth opportunities, and not be afraid to take risks in the process. It's critical that women establish their “brand” by highlighting their unique skill sets. By doing so, they can better achieve their full workplace potential.

 

Natasha Jaffe
Tech lead and manager

Tech Lead and Manager Natasha Jaffe came to Flatiron Health with a computer science degree from Princeton and five years of tech experience at Citibank. After some deep reflection, she decided to make the switch from finance to healthcare — and dedicated all of her vacation days to do so. Here’s what her journey has been like.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

The spring of my freshman year in college. I was taking all of these miserable physics classes and had a lot of overlap with computer science students in the engineering track. They just looked like they were having a lot more fun, creating value from day one! I took an intro to Java programming class back home that summer at the local university and knew that this was what I wanted to do.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Value the women around you. You have special access to a network of strong engineers spread out over many teams and industries — do not ignore it.

 

Natalie Weyerhaeuser
Senior software engineer

Senior Software Engineer Natalie Weyerhaeuser has worked at Foursquare since graduating college in 2015 — yes, 2015 — and already has some major accomplishments to her name. She designed and built the engine which ingests, normalizes and 'featurizes' third-party venue datasets in order to enhance the company’s database of places — arguably its core asset. She explained to us how she’s gotten to where she is in such a short amount of time.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

I was lucky enough to have a badass, trailblazing big sister. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t wanted to do everything she did. So when she took AP computer science in high school, I followed suit and never looked back. I love the simplicity of building something that’s a complete solution to a problem. There were a lot of times along my journey where I might have given up if I hadn’t had such a solid role model. My dream is to be that for somebody, someday.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Avoid the imposter complex. There are women I’ve spoken to who, for one reason or another, wonder if they’re qualified engineers. Maybe it’s because they have outside interests beyond coding. Guess what? That’s a good thing, and will probably mean that you’re more focused on work when you walk in the door. Stand tall.

 

Connie Ko
Senior software engineer

Senior Software Engineer Connie Ko was at IBM for four years before joining Grubhub. Since then, she’s combined her engineering and data analytics skills to produce insightful data on restaurant performance — something she considers to be her greatest accomplishment to date. We talked to her about how she got her start — and why confidence is everything.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

My high school offered computer science classes, so I took one and discovered I loved it. I had an amazing teacher who would create projects for us to take on for several months at a time, which was a great way to simulate the software engineering cycle. The class gave me great exposure to the field and I really loved the projects I worked on.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Be confident and be vocal. When you’re confident, you feel more comfortable letting your voice be heard. When working at a large company, it can be easy for people to overlook you — regardless of gender. However, if you are confident in your skills and not afraid to speak up, people will quickly see how valuable you are.

 

Namrata Kodali
Software engineer

Immediately after graduating college — where she studied both computer science and neuroscience — Software Engineer Namrata Kodali joined the team at Yext. There, she worked on one of her most impactful projects to date: building a subscription and billing system for some of the company’s largest customers. She attributes its success to domain-driven design and a little bit of magic — we think it was all of her hard work and determination, which she described to us here.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

I was lucky enough to go to a high school that offered computer science classes. They were among my favorite classes, so I knew I wanted to take some in college as well. And in my first year of college, whenever I sat down in the library to study, I always prioritized my programming homework, even if other homework was due earlier, just because it was more fun and satisfying. I followed that passion and found Yext, and I’ve never looked back.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Regularly take time for self-reflection and be active in curating your professional experience to align with your values and goals. Ask about things that are important to you such as a company’s commitment to diversity. Whether it’s a job opportunity, a role or team change, or a new mentor, it’s easy to passively participate. Instead of allowing these experiences to shape you, you should use them as tools to shape yourself.

 

Connie Liu
Senior software engineer

Senior Software Engineer Connie Liu came to CB Insights immediately after graduating from Columbia. In the four years she’s been with the company, she’s launched a major platform feature that now serves as the homepage clients land on when they log in. We talked to her about what attracted her to engineering in the first place.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

I had always enjoyed computer science courses in high school and college, but it was really in graduate school when I knew I wanted to get into engineering. Through making websites, setting up databases and creating applications, I saw firsthand how it helped solve problems and made mundane, manual tasks easier. Experiencing being able to change someone’s workflow for the better with technology is when I knew that I wanted to make a career out of it.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Take criticism constructively, make goals actionable and know you are your greatest champion. Criticism is an opportunity to learn, adapt and show what you can do. Make goals actionable by breaking them down into steps that you are actually able to complete and will get you closer to your ultimate goal. Be your greatest champion by advocating for yourself and making known your intentions or what you want to accomplish.

 

Autumn Preskill
Lead software engineer

Lead Software Engineer Autumn Preskill earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and joined Transfix as a software engineer. Less than two years later, she became the leader of her team and worked with them to release a software product from scratch in just a few weeks’ time. She explained to us how she got into engineering, despite it having never been in the plans for her.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

I've always loved building things that help people. I went to college intending to build physical things like airplanes or solar panels. I soon discovered that building software was a great way to contribute to the building of all kinds of things that help people, without having to specialize in any one area. I now build software that helps truckers but in the past, I've built software that helps manufacturers, utility repairmen, researchers, scientists and financial advisors.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Maintaining a growth mindset is crucial to breaking into any industry, especially one where you don't feel like you know everything yet. People might scoff that you don't know something today, but those same people are worrying too much about what other people think. Tomorrow, you'll have learned what you didn't know today, and before you know it those people won't have anything to scoff at.

 

Sarah Walker
VP of engineering

VP of Engineering Sarah Walker joined White Ops in 2016 and brings with her 17 years of experience building high-performing tech teams. Since joining, she’s built a solid team of her own — a group of engineers who she helped guide through building a data processing pipeline and real-time API that responds in 10 milliseconds or less at 100 billion events each day. She walked us through her journey into engineering and provided advice for others doing the same.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

I had a summer internship doing QA at Reuters when I was a sophomore in college. I loved solving problems and writing automated test code. At that point, I switched majors.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Advocate for yourself and don't be intimidated to speak up. It is hard to be the only female in a meeting or leading a team of all men, but I wouldn't have been able to be successful in implementing the changes needed for our team to succeed if I let it intimidate me.

 

Renee Orser
Director of engineering

NS1’s Renee Orser was in program management before ever being interested in engineering. She talked to us about how she was able to take her experience and apply it to the role she really wanted and ultimately attained: director of engineering.

When did you know you wanted to get into engineering?

I was working in program management in the nonprofit space, and our organization’s technology team tackled a particularly complex conversation with a process map. Using systems-oriented methods to make ideas a reality drew me into the engineering space and ultimately brought me through a variety of roles in the infrastructure and medical technology spaces.

What advice do you have for other women breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Recognize the strengths that you’re bringing to a team and don’t hesitate to rely on these strengths and be vocal about how others can best utilize them. Make sure that the impact you’re making is quantifiable and visible, and build relationships with those who value challenging the norm.

 

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