This blogpost is a guest article written by a participant of the Civic Tech Sisters program.
In Germany, less than 20% of all IT students are women. Is this a problem? Well, yes! Diversity is queen, especially in IT: Shaping the digital age needs a rainbow of people!
When I was a teenage woman, I did not choose a career in IT either. Here is my story, revealing 5 factors that still made me an IT professional later on in my life:
#1 Well-designed content
#3 Formal training
#4 Professional development on the job
#5 Last but not least, a strong, value-driven community, open for people just like you
The ever emerging field of IT must be open for people of all backgrounds. So please look for these factors, especially if:
After graduating with a degree in the arts, I was ready to conquer the world. But what was waiting for me? A series of depressing interviews, a patchwork of meager paid freelance jobs. Without a business background, I had become an accidental entrepreneur. My brother set me up a simple web page. A web page! There I was, in my mid-20s, witnessing how a new entity of the world wide web could be created from my living room. I was fascinated! Ever after, I spent most of my free time reading about online business. I read and read: blog posts, Wikipedia, online courses. Motivational, managerial, technical. Thanks to all these free and well-designed resources, I got the means to transform my situation into an online business.
Admittedly, easy-to-read content is not available on any niche subject matter, especially when we want to dive deeper. More often than not, it takes dedication, endurance and tolerance for trial-and-error to autodidactically acquire skills and knowledge.
I met Birgitta in an elevator. She smiled at me, introduced herself and I thought: What an extrovert! Birgitta was to become my mentor (I have had a couple great mentors), and a close friend. Her first acts were to have me raise my prices and connect me to the right people. She set me up with the director of an IT firm who was seeking a German teacher. I worked for his firm as a translator and trainer, but soon was asked to also take on little IT projects. Wait, IT projects!? I only had a diploma of arts! So he took the time and found me a school that would prepare me for another diploma: IT management.
It might be hard to enter a mentoring relationship. It takes time, trust and a visionary mindset. The good news is, there is a plentitude of possible ways to build up mentoring relationships. Make active use of “matchmakers”, such as MentorMe!
I had turned 30, worked at the IT firm Monday to Thursday and went to school Friday and Saturday. Preparing for another diploma would not have been possible without support, first and foremost, from my family: My siblings celebrated my enrolment, transporting me back to a student’s mindset more than half a decade after my first diploma. My boyfriend never questioned all the time I spent. The IT firm let me work flexible hours so I could take time off for school. I was the only woman in class, with all men teachers, and they were nothing but supportive. Tuition fees did seem like a small fortune, but half of it was covered by public funding (even though it was already my second career), and another share by performance-related incentives (I won a prize from a business network).
With all that said, for many of us the conditions are not as favourable. You might have kids to entertain, or your day job might just not allow for an extensive training program on the side. If this is you, look out for micro qualifications! There are many professional certificates in all kinds of IT sub disciplines that you can get after just passing a test or as little as some hours or days of preparation. They can make a difference on your curriculum, and, most important: they will make you more confident on your way to becoming a real IT pro!
Reading, getting the right connections and going to school alone does not make an IT professional. I have been very lucky to work with highly motivated colleagues who have the ambition to improve and transform the way we work from within. At work, nobody ever said, “this is too technical for you”. My manager established product management with requirement engineering and planned release cycles. I learned to administer tools and facilitated user groups. We got a coaching to improve our software testing maturity (which I utilized to get certified myself). Also, we had high quality personal development counselling, communication skills and design thinking training. I could relate: my original skill set as an artist integrated with my new profession!
Not all employers have sound continuous learning structures. Some managers, and I hate to say this, just wipe away the importance of their staff developing. If you find yourself in such a situation, which can be very frustrating, try to build learning alliances with your colleagues. Strengthen the pillar of peer-learning by actively exchanging the knowledge you have.
Over the years, I found many like-minded people: in my school’s alumni network, in my employer’s community of IT trainees, at the National Young E-Government Network, just to name a few. But most valuable to me: communities that open up the professional bubble, questioning it from a civic perspective, such as OffeneKommunen.NRW and the Civic Tech Sisters. There would be so many more to mention, my point being: My story is not so exceptional! Being a woman who made the choice early in her life to become an artist does not at all have to exclude also being an IT woman! The art experience has been an enhancement for me going into the IT path.
Had there been a fairy, back when I was studying the arts, whispering that once upon a time, I would become an IT professional -- I would have been bewildered, to say the least. Today, I know many women, and also men, who look back upon similarly unusual career paths. Now it is up to us to help perpetuate the kind of opportunities we had. So please share with us: What helps you become an IT pro today? Your different perspectives, trainings, experiences will be an enrichment to us. Leave your comment or get in touch to let me know: @clarisse_m_g